A couple of golden not-so-oldies for your consideration…
Once upon a time,
Six years into the current College Football Playoff system a four-team selection criteria has proven vague and inconsistent, leaving questions and controversy brewing. Concerns are pointed at a 13-member panel that includes sitting athletic directors and a cloaked voting process.
Indeed, former SEC Commissioner Roy Kramer said there’s a reason he believed cold, hard numbers should be more heavily relied upon than human opinions in determining national championship playoff qualifiers.
It’s why he designed the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) the way he did leading into its application prior to the 1998 season.
“We were concerned with regionalism and the emotion,” Kramer said, explaining why the BCS relied on a pre-determined formula of computer rankings and polls rather than the veiled committee approach used by the current College Football Playoff.
“It’s very difficult to totally separate yourself.”
But not now.
The sport’s most important media outlet is ESPN, whose dominance in the TV, talking head, and online journalism realms has expanded as local papers have withered and died. The network has mostly unchecked power to set college football’s narratives via its studio shows and in-house opinionists. What ESPN naturally considers the defining achievement of a season, now, is earning one of the four spots in the ESPN-broadcasted playoff. One of the top stories on ESPN’s college football page when I was writing this story was about how Georgia and Oregon’s big weekend wins raised the possibility of getting “a second chance” at a “first playoff impression.” ESPN, more than anyone or anything else, is the entity creating those impressions, as major sports media becomes increasingly dominated by takes—provocative, declarative statements of opinion whose effectiveness and virality derive from their capacity to enrage.
And that’s only going to get worse with a 12-team playoff field. As I wrote then,
The CFP, by broadening the field, has morphed the discussion into a more general debate on several fronts — best versus more deserving, relative conference strengths, the value of conference championships, etc. And, as noted, it’s had the inevitable effect of diminishing the role of the regular season — if you doubt that, maybe you can explain to me why the Big 12 took it upon itself to tack on a conference championship game for a league that has its members play a round robin regular season schedule.
All that, plus the outsized role it’s given ESPN in shaping public perception of the sport.
The damage is done; the horse is out of the barn. I can’t even say I’m angry about it. Looking back now, given the money driving college athletics, honestly, I’m a little surprised they held off as long as they did with the CFP. But they’ve gone down the rabbit hole now and there’s no turning back. I’m sure that pleases many of you, but I’ll bet in a few years even those of you enthusiastic about postseason expansion will concede that it’s a shame college football lost a little of what made it unique.
All of you who insisted eight was the magic number, the obvious stopping point, the logical culmination… whatever, now should realize the only logic that matters is how much product ESPN needs and what it’s willing to pay for it.