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Thursday, June 28, 2012 - Page updated at 07:30 p.m.
New college football playoff system feels like a compromise
By Bud Withers
Seattle Times colleges reporter
Is it possible that an innovation can warrant a half-hip-hip-hooray? A waist-high five?
College football's tortured march toward a playoff system that will begin after the 2014 regular season feels like that — a compromise. Proponents of a playoff have long clamored for eight or 16 teams. Some people were OK with the bowl system, even the BCS.
What we had with the BCS was essentially a two-team playoff. What we'll have now is four. You could react to this with: Big whoop. I'm convinced that the endless, rancorous debate on the subject, and finally the intense wrangling by the league commissioners to bring about a playoff, actually has served to dignify the baby they birthed.
Still, it's a sea change for the sport, given the warped evolution toward picking a national champion. My favorite misguided process was in 1978, when the AP went for 11-1 Alabama over 12-1 USC, although the Trojans beat the Tide by 10 — in Birmingham.
Then there was 1984. BYU went 13-0 against four teams that finished with winning records. The whole thing was decided when it beat a 6-6 Michigan team in the Holiday Bowl — on Dec. 21. Left at the altar was 11-1 Washington, which upset No. 2 Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.
After that, we had a bowl coalition and then a bowl alliance, and finally the BCS, the most reviled contraption since the Ford Pinto. And soon, a playoff, with a whole new set of issues and imponderables:
The controversy is just beginning. The scramble to be fourth, and not fifth, is going to resemble the dawn opening of the front door at Walmart on Black Friday.
Losing late shouldn't be a death sentence. The alchemy of the poll system dictated that if you were going to lose, you needed to do it early. Now it shouldn't matter.
Who's going to choose? The elephant in the room is the makeup and size of the selection committee. I'd guess it has to be around double the size of the 10-person NCAA basketball committee to mitigate the flak it will absorb.
Will the Southeastern Conference man up? OK, the SEC is the best football league around, no questions asked. But strength of schedule — the nonleague part you can control — matters to the basketball committee, and it will matter here. It might not be enough to schedule Aunt Tillie's Finishing School anymore.
Get ready for a football RPI. The BCS formula used a number of computer rankings, and it would seem the selectors will need some consistent input from the microprocessors to go with their criteria of win-loss record, head-to-head results, strength of schedule and conference standing.
We should get a better championship game. Some teams in the BCS title game have been dreadfully out of sync after a long hiatus from football. Ohio State, hailed in 2006 as one of the best teams ever, lost 41-14 to Florida after a 53-day layoff. Just six months ago, LSU showed up without vital signs against Alabama. That should go away now, or at least work itself out in the semifinals.
The Rose Bowl is diminished again. Or is it? In years when Pasadena doesn't host a semifinal, the Rose is back-burnered, and that's hard to take for Big Ten/Pac-12 traditionalists. In the other years, it appears the old matchup will remain intact, and that's a good thing. The Rose is still the best, most hallowed bowl, but the clarion call for a playoff simply doesn't accommodate the old purity.
The money could be obscene. Some estimates have the early annual take from TV rights to be $450 million to $500 million, or as much as three times what the BCS bowls are bringing now. Which, of course, means marble floors and gold restroom fixtures in all those football facilities everybody simply must build now.
Go for it, Seattle. Final Fours are no more here, but if you want a football game played in football weather — without a strong possibility of snow and ice — then you won't find a better stadium than CenturyLink Field. If New York can get an outdoor Super Bowl in 2014, Seattle merits a long look in college football's racy new world.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or email@example.com
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