Almost since its inception the Bowl Championship Series was fraught with controversy. While the system was tweaked several times over its history the criticism from college football coaches, university administrators and fans continued unabated. Each year deserving teams were left out of the mix while suspect teams were included.
Despite claims by those who designed the Bowl Championship Series, the facts are the system watered down the college football bowl system. As just another variation on the same old mythical championship theme, all other bowls, even the other Bowl Championship Series bowls, were rendered anti-climatic and their results meaningless. The only bowl that really mattered was the one hosting the championship game.
Other NCAA sports and other divisions of NCAA football decide a national champion through a post-season playoff system and most wanted to see the same kind of system to decide the championship for the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision of the NCAA.
Finally the decision makers in college football gave in and agreed to replace the Bowl Championship Series with the new college football playoff. The format of the new scheme as explained at the College Football Playoff official website is simple.
Using metrics like win-loss records during the regular season, strength of schedule, head-to-head results, conference championship winners and other factors they deem relevant, a 13-member selection committee will choose the top four teams that will be invited to the playoffs that begin at the end of the 2014 season. The teams will be seeded with #1 playing #4 in one semifinal game and #2 playing #3 in the other. The winners of the two semifinal games will advance to the national championship game.
Unlike the Bowl Championship Series no computerized or human polls will be used by the selection committee to choose the top four teams at season end. Instead individual selection committee members will rely on their own experience and judgment and together they will reach a consensus. Of course since they will be using essentially the same criteria that human polls have always used to rank the top teams in college football it is difficult to imagine that the selection committee will arrive at a materially different conclusion when they choose the top four teams to play in the inaugural playoffs in 2015.
At the end of the 2013 season, according to the ESPN 2013 NCAA Football Rankings – Week 16, the consensus picks in both the Associated Press poll and the USA Today poll were;
1. Florida State
4. Michigan State
It seems reasonable that had the new playoff system been in effect for 2013, the selection committee would have chosen the same four teams. Had that been the case, Florida State would have played Michigan State in one semi-final game and Auburn would have played Alabama in the other with the winners advancing to the championship game. An Auburn vs. Alabama semi-final game would of course have given the Crimson Tide another shot at the Tigers who narrowly defeated Alabama during their final regular season game.
Chances are had the new playoff system been in effect for the 2013 season, the championship match up may have been exactly the same as that produced by the Bowl Championship Series unless Alabama could have bested Auburn in a semi-final game rematch. But based on the outcome of one of the Bowl Championship Series bowls played in January 2014, some arguably deserving teams would have been left out of the playoffs under the new system.
Take the Allstate Sugar Bowl played on January 2, 2014 as just one example. Alabama ranked #3 in both the Associated Press and the USA Today polls entered the game as a 16-point favorite against Big 12 runner up #11 Oklahoma. Oklahoma defeated Alabama 45-31 in a game where Alabama never saw the lead again after briefly going ahead 17-14 in the opening seconds of the second quarter. Oklahoma essentially dominated the game from start to finish.
The results of that game illustrate that it is a reasonable assumption that while Alabama likely would have been selected under the new playoff system to play in a semi-final game, it seems doubtful the Crimson Tide in 2013 was the third best team in the nation despite the fact that the team was ranked #1 for the majority of the season. In addition, the better team in the 2014 Sugar Bowl would likely not even have been considered for the playoffs.
The Bowl Championship Series allowed only two teams to play for the national championship. The system practically demanded that teams remain undefeated throughout the season to have a chance at playing for the championship. More often than not one or more arguably deserving teams were left out of the national championship picture causing controversy almost every year.
The new four-team playoff system is no real improvement. It simply uses two semi-final games to replace the poll-based Bowl Championship Series. The controversy will remain, college football top-tier championships will remain mythical and those involved and that follow college football will not be satisfied. The argument remains that other NCAA sports and other divisions of NCAA football decide a national champion through a legitimate post-season playoff system. Coaches, universities, players and fans of the major subdivision of NCAA football deserve no less.
The 24-team tournament format used to determine the NCAA Division I Football Championship (FCS) is a far better system than the new four-team college football playoff that will decide nothing more than a mythical champion for the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). If an authentic playoff system is workable for one subdivision of NCAA football it is impossible to justify why it isn’t practical for all of NCAA football.