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Are College Football Playoffs Fair - Enough?

Matthew Tucker played for TCU, Texas Christian University
SD Dirk via flickr
Matthew Tucker played for TCU, Texas Christian University

Matthew Tucker played for TCU, Texas Christian University
Credit SD Dirk via flickr
Matthew Tucker played for TCU, Texas Christian University

Let’s start 2015 with a little hypothetical: Let’s imagine that you’ve been driving a clunker for years and you finally have the opportunity to upgrade. But, instead of the sports car you’ve always wanted, you get a minivan.

If you’re a fan of big-time college football, that’s the real life situation you find yourself in. After years of deciding the season’s winner in the worst possible way, the people who run the sport have devised a slightly better method, namely a four-team playoff. Those four teams, Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State, were chosen by a 12-member committee and met in the Rose and Sugar bowls last week, with Oregon and Ohio State emerging as winner. Those two schools will meet next Monday night in suburban Dallas in what is purported to be the first ever national championship game. This is supposed to be an improvement on the mess that has been in place for decades.

Sorry, but, from this perspective, what we now have is a steady diet of hamburger after years of Spam. It might be an improvement, but filet mignon is better and easily achievable and affordable.

A quick primer is in order: Unlike the rest of college athletics, which is governed by the NCAA, football at the highest level is run by 10 conferences. Technically, that’s not true. Only the five biggest leagues, the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 12 and Southeastern, have a realistic chance to send a representative to this four team set-up. And if you were paying attention, you noticed that there are five conferences and only four teams, meaning at least one league will always be on the outside, assuming that the committee doesn’t take two schools from the same conference.

This playoff system is reportedly being funded by $7.3 billion in television rights fees being paid out by ESPN over a 12 year deal, meaning there’s plenty of money to go around, if all the parties want to share. And therein lies the rub. Leaders of the Power Five, as they are known, have no interest in divvying up that much scratch beyond what their coffers can hold. So, they are determined to keep the playoff numbers as low as possible. The playoff is supposed to remain at four for the entire ESPN contract and while there is some clamor for expansion to six or eight teams, there’s every chance that it will stay a four team set-up for the foreseeable future.

The leagues and ESPN will no doubt point to the fact that the two semifinal games were the most watched games in ESPN’s 37 year history that they are right. But it hardly seems fair that young men at schools like Western Kentucky and Marshall shouldn’t have the same chance at a championship as schools like Kentucky and West Virginia. That’s the way it happens in every other sport, so why not football?

Let the 10 conferences decide their champions, then let the committee pick six other schools then seed them, like the basketball tournament. The nation will be riveted and the sports fan will finally get the Maserati he wants rather than the Odyssey he has to settle for.

Copyright 2015 WYPR - 88.1 FM Baltimore

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Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.