Playoff necessary for college football

A four-team playoff was just what the college football doctor ordered.

Was a postseason reform necessary and will it make the sport better? Absolutely and of course. Should we increase the bracket size? Not so fast, my friend.

The Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, which consists of 120 universities, makes it virtually impossible to find a happy median when it comes to crowning the national champion. The “plus-one” system doesn’t appear perfect for the FBS, but it doesn’t necessarily mean more is better.

Let’s start by examining the typical season under the current BCS ranking system.  The regular season is already a playoff in itself. Since every game matters, the top four teams are ranked in the four highest spots with little dispute anyway, and conference championship games in every major conference would practically be the first round of the playoffs. College football is the worst of all American sports when it comes to parity, and reaching out to lower seeds is almost meaningless.

With “super-conferences” growing every year at what appears to be an increased rate, there might not be any need for more playoff matchups outside of the SEC, Pac-X and the two Big-X conferences. I can see the best programs from the ACC, Big East and the new Mountain West/Conference USA eventually merging with the bigger four.

And the mid-conferences? Sorry, but most of the Utah, Hawaii, TCU and Boise State-caliber teams have already moved on to larger conferences that either already have a BCS bid or will eventually get one. There are hardly teams in the WAC and Sun Belt that recreate those same stories.

A larger bracket will complicate a lot of things, and it will certainly damage college football’s greatest aspect: tradition. The Rose, Orange, Fiesta and Sugar Bowls will already lose a lot of their respective values with this current move, but their histories and importance will still be somewhat preserved under the new playoff system and at least two of them will be the semifinal games. It’s hard to imagine what all of them would be like if it were even less meaningful.

A longer postseason can take away the important sense of urgency during the regular season, water down the thrills of upsets that every college football fan looks for each week, create an even larger challenge for the players’ role as student-athletes and provide the athlete a greater chance of an injury or concussion.

Then there are the athlete compensation discussions, which Texas coach Mack Brown proposed last week. The more players travel, get hurt, miss school and continue to appease sponsors, the stronger the pay-for-play arguments could get.

Who knows, maybe a larger tournament might be the answer for college football like in every other sport, but in the meantime, enjoy the playoff beta. The four-team playoff is a significant change in itself and it’s going to take time for everyone to get used to. Unless the college football world is ready to demolish everything in its current system and start over from scratch, expanding the playoff doesn’t appear to be the answer for now.

 

Reach the columnist at jnacion@asu.edu

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