Obama’s playoff would be wrong kind of change

Published 4:03 pm Tuesday, November 18, 2008

This playoff thing has officially gotten out of hand.

If it weren’t bad enough that an overwhelming majority of college football fans think the sport needs a playoff to determine its national champion, President-Elect Barack Obama has joined the discussion on the wrong side.

Obama told national audiences on both 60 minutes and on ESPN’s Monday Night Football that he supports an eight-team playoff.

“I don’t know any serious fan of college football who has disagreed with me on this,” Obama said. “So, I’m going to throw my weight around a little bit.”

I’ll assume the slight Obama is talking about his weight in the figurative sense. After the reaction to Obama’s election, any weight throwing would be apocalyptic for all those serious college football fans, like me, that don’t want to see our sport move toward a playoff.

Wait, you say I’m the only one that doesn’t want a playoff?

May be, but I don’t want a playoff so much that I’m willing to throw my weight around. As I’ve argued before in this space, college football is easily the most intriguing sport in our fair country. Now, I’m not naive enough to believe that the lack of a playoff is the sole reason behind people’s passion for college football. But it doesn’t hurt. Think about it: Why are regular season losses in college basketball taken with a grain of salt? Why are National Football League rivalries unimportant?

College football’s unique feature is the importance of the regular season, where one loss has significant implications for a team’s championship aspirations and the only solace for a team with three or more losses is the prospect of a win over a hated rival.

All that said, I dislike the Bowl Championship Series as much as the next guy. My solution is to, first, fill five BCS bowl slots the way they would have been filled traditionally—for argument’s sake we’ll say Oregon State and Penn State to the Rose Bowl, Alabama to the Sugar Bowl, Miami to the Orange Bowl and Texas Tech to the Fiesta Bowl. The Big East champion, Cincinnati, gets in, as well as at-large teams Texas and Utah.

Next, take those last three teams mentioned and assign them to bowls in a way that would have the highest ranked teams in the BCS playing each other. So, we would have the Rose Bowl plus Alabama (No. 1 in the BCS right now) and Texas (3) in the Sugar Bowl, Texas Tech (2) and Utah (7) in the Fiesta, and Miami (23) and Cincinnati (19) in the Orange.

Finally, after all the bowl games have been played, one more round of BCS rankings determines what two teams will play in the national championship game one week later. It’s a plus-one that allows bowls to keep their traditional tie-ins and makes it almost impossible for a team that isn’t a conference champ to win a national title (Texas would be the only team out of the eight BCS squads without hardware already).

We would probably have to cut one week off the beginning of the regular season, but a team that doesn’t play in a conference championship game wouldn’t be at such a huge disadvantage in a potential national championship game because they would have played one week earlier. Also, unbeaten and highly ranked teams, such as Alabama and Texas Tech, would be rewarded in the bowls by getting the chance to impress against better competition.

My proposal is not a playoff—that requires at least eight teams, right?—but it is a change we can believe in.