One reason our best versus deserving debates over the college football playoff field are so spirited is that the selection committee isn’t as committed to either standard as it pretends to be.
Some of that is due to the hand it’s dealt. By that, I mean conference championship games. It’s worth remembering those were created in a time prior to the BCS or the CFP, and weren’t meant to serve the purpose of separating the wheat from the chaff nearly as much as generating additional revenues for the owners of the sport. (A goal which, I should remind you, is the raison d’etre for all sports in this country above the high school level. But I digress.)
Anyway, that’s why we’re left with lamentations like Pete Fiutak’s.
Georgia lost to LSU by 20. Yeah, okay, but that doesn’t mean it’s not one of the four best teams right now.
For all of the rightful gushing and love given to Alabama for beating all 12 teams on the schedule by more than 20, Georgia has beaten everyone but LSU – I know, that’s sort of a “besides that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” thing – by 14 or more, and it’s tenth in the NCAA strength of schedule rankings.
It’s not fair that Georgia has to play Alabama in the SEC Championship instead of Pitt, or Memphis, or Northwestern, or in the case of Notre Dame, no one at all. It’s not fair that it’s going to be punished by playing the Crimson Tide – but it doesn’t have to be.
It’s the nature of the beast they’ve created. It’s not intellectually consistent because it’s a patchwork job. The underpinning belongs to each individual conference and Notre Dame, at least in years like 2018, while the structure on top tries to lash all that together with a binding material that, again, is driven by financial considerations as much as anything. That’s an especially difficult construction because there are only four playoff spots for five power conferences and Notre Dame.
I’m not making this point because I’m a Georgia fan worried about his team getting screwed by the selection committee if the Dawgs play a credible game against Alabama — something that hasn’t happened yet this season — but come up just short and receive a New Year’s Day bowl game as a consolation prize. Indeed, if you read Fiutak’s piece, he makes the same argument for Ohio State that he does for Georgia.
But here’s the thing about best. Look at this set of stats and assume Georgia plays well enough in the SECCG to leave the status quo in place.
If that’s a decent measure of quality, Georgia should certainly be in the field of the four best teams in the country, regardless of the outcome of the championship game. Should Oklahoma and Ohio State win their respective conferences, though, there’s no way a two-loss conference championship game loser is going to the semi-finals. Does that make either team better than Georgia? Of course not, but that’s not really the issue.
This is why I keep coming back to the feeling that the playoff field is destined to grow and to grow beyond eight, ultimately. Cinderella will be the emotional factor that some will point to as why that’s a good thing, although it has nothing to do with determining the best.
If we’re looking for fictional character metaphors to illustrate the motivation for expansion, however, I’d suggest Frankenstein. In its case, the whole was something less than its parts. As the powers that be try to please all the various parties with skin in the game — the power conferences, the Group of Six, Notre Dame, ESPN, etc. — what seems inevitable to me is watering down the product in an attempt to satisfy the demands of all.
What we’ll wind up with will be neither solely about the deserving nor the best, but as long as the money flow is there, the people running the show will live with it and bullshit the rest of us.