Fixing college football: How about this for a Playoff?

college football playoffSEC commissioner Greg Sankey, coming off like an absolute ass, says Central Florida should look “inward” to address the issues keeping the twice-undefeated Knights out of the College Football Playoff.

Which was only a setup to Sankey getting owned, big time, by UCF athletics director Danny White, who responded that there is nothing his program can do inwardly to “fix an inadequate postseason for college football.”

The college football season is little more than pretense for the inevitable matchups involving, let’s see, Alabama, Clemson, and then two other schools from among the second-best team in the SEC and the champs in the Big 10 and Big 12, usually in that order.

The Pac-12, ostensibly the other Power 5, doesn’t even get to play anymore, much less anybody from anywhere outside the cartel.

Which renders all but a handful of games involving a small handful of teams from Week 1 all the way through the bowl season basically exhibition games.

I cover, and have for years, UVA football. UVA football is never, in a million years, going to be in a four-team playoff. At best, UVA football sneaks its way into an ACC Championship Game as a two- or three-loss team, lightning strikes, and the ‘Hoos pull the massive upset to get a bid to the Orange Bowl.

And, at least UVA fans have that dream. If you’re a fan of a Group of 5 program, you know from the get-go that the ceiling is a patronizing bid to a New Year’s game that, if you win, the reason you win will be because the Power 5 team that you played didn’t care, and if you lose, well, it’s because you didn’t deserve the bid, because you’re nobody from a nobody conference.

This will never happen, because the powers-that-be aren’t bright enough to see that there’s tons more money to be made by going this route, but a 16-team playoff is the only thing that makes sense, not only as a way to finish the season, but make Week 1 all the way through that much more meaningful.

Here’s the way you lay it out: as with March Madness, you make winning a conference championship mean something, so you give automatic bids to all 10 conference champs. All 10: meaning, not just the Power 5, but also the AAC, C-USA, MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt.

Then, you have six at-large bids. These, almost certainly, will go to Power 5s, same as it’s almost a certainty that Power 5 schools get the at-large bids in March Madness.

From a scheduling standpoint, games up to and through the national semifinals are played on-campus. When you hear these kinds of proposals fleshed out as hypotheticals, you often have people say, hey, we can have this playoff and not have to kill the current bowl system, and the way to do that is, we play these games at current bowl sites.

No. That’s dumb.

Play that out, and you’ll see why. Let’s say you’re an Alabama fan. You’re going to the championship game, but to get there, you have to get tickets and a hotel Playoff Week 1, then Playoff Week 2, then Playoff Week 3, then for the Championship.

Do you really go to all four? Or do you cut your losses and wait to go to the Championship?

We already have an issue with bowl games being played mainly for TV in mostly empty stadiums. Why not have people watching on TV and sitting in the stands?

Play the games on campus sites, and you reward the teams that have good seasons with home-field advantage, and you play the games, guaranteed, to sell-out crowds.

If you’re wondering where I got this brilliant idea, it’s from the NFL, which plays its playoff games at the higher seeds, with only the Super Bowl at a neutral site.

You still want bowls, fine. There’s still an NIT for basketball teams that don’t get bids to March Madness. They still sell tickets, and those games are televised, so theoretically, anyway, people are watching, or at least have the opportunity.

Me, personally, I couldn’t care less if the bowl system as we’ve known it died a quick, painful death, but that’s just me.

Those games mean nothing, and really, the way we do things now, playing thousands of games a year to end up with Alabama, Clemson, and then two from among SEC2/Big 10/Big 12 champs, means nothing.

But, now, 10 conference champs, plus six at-larges, now, suddenly, every week, every game, carries some meaning.

Every conference game, all across the country, Power 5 and Group of 5, is effectively a play-in to the playoff. Not everybody is going to go undefeated, but you don’t need to be undefeated to get into your conference championship game.

Every conference but the Big 12 splits itself into two divisions. Let’s go back to the team that I cover, UVA. UVA was 4-1 and atop the Coastal Division heading into November. This year, that was nice, and meant a chance at a game against Clemson that, you win, all you’re doing is costing the ACC millions, by knocking Clemson out of the playoff, and maybe you get a slightly better crap bowl game for your troubles.

In a 16-team playoff with automatic bids going to conference champs, though, you win your division, you go into that game with Clemson with a shot at sneaking into the playoff as the ACC’s automatic qualifier.

Play that scenario out for every other team in the country. (I presume the Big 12 would split into two, to join in that fun.)

Every conference game means something.

Non-conference games do mean a little less. I’m not as certain as to what would happen here. Do we see top Power 5 programs go even more conservative with scheduling to try to buttress their at-large chances, as a fallback? Or does the selection committee actually start to value tougher schedules, which we hear is supposedly the case, but then, how could we know, because the same teams get in every year?

One thing is certain: we’d have to give up the 12th regular-season game. Not a big loss, that. We’re only talking one less FBS vs. FCS, or one less Group of 5 also-ran taking a big check to get its kids heads bashed in at a Power 5.

This system prints money for college football, the Power 5 and the Group of 5. TV ratings just for the Playoffs would be through the roof, and tickets for those games would be snatched up within minutes of being made available.

Regular-season TV ratings and attendance should also see spikes. Because, again, every game means something.

Now that you’ve seen this idea fleshed out, it’s going to be hard for you to go back to the real world, and listen to the arguments about how the current system is fine, the bowls are good rewards for teams for a season of hard work, and the rest.

You now know that there’s a way of doing things sitting out there waiting to be put into play that makes every single game from Sept. 1 on mean something, and the people who have the responsibility to make it happen just simply choose not to.

And you have to then pretend. That you’re OK with it.

Good luck with that.

Column by Chris Graham


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