The first and most important goal for the new College Football Playoff selection committee should be figuring out a way to discourage major teams from scheduling opponents from lower divisions.
Let’s be clear: the College Football Playoff committee isn’t going to fix what’s wrong with the postseason. If you think that’s the point of this whole charade, then you also probably thought the government shutdown was about making America better. No, college football won’t realize its full potential until there is a 16-team playoff, but, until the contracts are torn up and renegotiated, this new 13-person panel can still do some good for the sport.
College football likes to tell us it has the best regular season in sports, but that simply can’t be the case when more traditional rivalries are dying every year and nonconference dates are being filled in with easy victories. Alabama has won two championships in a row and is the No. 1 team yet one-sixth of its schedule is simply unwatchable. Where’s the fun in that?
Now, obviously, college football has a loftier mission statement than simply trying to make it as competitive as possible. Other things are also valued. For instance, tailgate parties and one extra home game a year for more tailgate parties. But, as a general rule, the sport as a whole does not benefit from Miami scheduling Savannah State, no matter how much fun you had tailgating before that 77-7 blowout.
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That’s why this College Football Playoff committee has the potential to be so beneficial, and not just because of the guaranteed entertainment value of the committee members being put on an island in the Pacific for the greatest season of Survivor ever. Now taking bets on Tom Osborne going all Lord of the Flies.
But, seriously, right now, at the advent of the selection committee and the process by which it is going to value teams, a system needs to be created to award better nonconference matchups. If the committee rigs the system to make that the No. 1 goal, then everything else will work out.
That’s right. The system needs to be rigged because, let’s be real, it’s not like the BCS system wasn’t rigged in the first place. There is nothing wrong with doctoring the numbers to help create a more exciting regular season.
Understand, this committee isn’t only about identifying the best four teams for a playoff. To begin with, that’s not really even possible at this point. The model that will be implemented next season is simply, as numbers guru Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com told me so brilliantly on the phone this week, “BCS on steroids.” And Palm is right. It’s not really a playoff at all.
But the sport eventually (hopefully before I’m dead) will have a full-blown playoff, and it’s important to get things right in the meantime so that college football can, truly, be the most exciting sport from beginning to end in the country.
In other words, teams such as Florida need to be encouraged to play teams such as Miami every season. Instead of Alabama playing Chattanooga the second-to-last week of the season, the Crimson Tide should be playing Texas or UCLA. I don’t think anyone is going to object to Oregon opening the season with Auburn instead of Nicholls State.
The committee said in a release that “no one single metric will be identified as paramount over all other data,” but maybe that’s the wrong approach if it’s going to encourage teams to continue to buy wins by scheduling opponents from a lower division. Again, the status quo is detracting from the sport.
The committee will convene soon to hammer out the metrics that will be used to rank teams. The system will be similar to basketball’s RPI, but differences between basketball and football make it important to value specific metrics more than others.
There are fewer games in football, which means less data will be generated for analysis. And that’s why a greater value needs to be placed on nonconference strength of schedule than most other metrics. It will encourage teams to schedule better opponents on nonconference dates while also providing a clearer national picture overall. And maybe, just maybe, it could help balance the playing field.
Thinking the selection committee’s most important task is figuring out who’s fourth and fifth in the rankings is shortsighted. No, the first task should be establishing a foundation for the future that fundamentally alters college football and points us in the direction of a 16-team playoff. There are some initial signs that the committee is thinking big picture. Condoleezza Rice, one of the committee members, told Stewart Mandel of SI.com that “strength of schedule among conferences will be a very important element.”
Hey, if Condi can convince University of Florida athletics director Jeremy Foley to schedule the Canes every year, she might just win over a few voters in a very important swing state.