This is a lovely ode to why the college football playoff should remain capped at a four-team field. For all its good intent, there is one hugely ironic paragraph in the middle.
… Take Saturday’s edition of The Game. If both teams knew that, win or lose, they were probably getting into the postseason field, would they have tried any less hard? Of course not. But would there have been less energy in the Horseshoe once that game got rolling, less intensity during the overtime period? Of course. Ask any NFL player or coach who has been involved in a late December game with a division title on the line … and two teams with records good enough that one is going to get a wild-card invite anyway. That’s how the conference championship games used to feel, even during the latter half of the BCS era. Perhaps two would matter. This weekend, they will all be in play, just as they have been during the previous two editions of the playoff.
The irony lies in that Michigan sits at number five in this week’s selection committee rankings, on the cusp of getting in to the playoffs in the event something goes south with Clemson and/or Washington. I guess it’s a good thing that it wasn’t a lock before The Game was played last weekend, but what’s the message being sent if, in the end, two teams from the Big Ten make the postseason without winning their division, let alone the conference?
The message will inevitably be that the postseason wasn’t inclusive enough. That’s what you get when you allow the selection process to be an opaque, touchy-feely affair. So, while I don’t disagree in the slightest with this sentiment…
This is supposed to be hard, isn’t it? After all, it is the postseason of America’s second-biggest sport. And what makes this sport so unique, what separates it from the NFL, is a level of passion and a degree of difficulty that exist nowhere else.
As such, is expanding the College Football Playoff field, a move that would inarguably pave an easier road to a postseason berth, going to stoke those fires? Not a chance. It would sprinkle water on them.
… I think it doesn’t matter. As long as there’s more money and as long as there’s sentiment to make the playoffs more inclusive, there will be incentive to grow them. As for the excitement, Bill Hancock will still be there selling that; it’s just that the focus will shift more and more to what happens in the postseason. The passion will slide from four vs. five to eight vs. nine to whatever comes.
Subjectivity in selecting a national champion is both college football’s unique blessing and curse. It’s to the sport’s credit that, at least for now, it does make a real effort to construct a postseason field driven by regular season excellence. (Not to mention that a significant part of the fun of being a college football fan is arguing about which teams are most deserving.) The down side is that it leaves itself open to the irresistible urge to fix any problems of random unfairness in a given year by expanding the opportunity to participate.
And when you take that down side and add to it the likelihood of greater financial rewards to the system for creating new product, along with giving coaches new standards for job security, you’re really greasing the skids. That’s how you get to a 68-team field (almost expanded to 96, remember) for March Madness before you know it.
Needless to say, I don’t see this stopping any time soon, no matter how much energy is felt in the Horseshoe.