College Football Playoff still provides unnecessary controversy

There is no debate. Alabama had no case for inclusion in the 2017 College Football Playoff field.

That did not stop the CFP selection committee.

The CFP selection committee has made qualification a moving target for most programs. The Big 12 was inexplicably left out of the inaugural playoff, and the committee cited the absence of a clear-cut conference champion.

Last season’s Penn State team was an even more outrageous omission. The Nittany Lions defeated Wisconsin for the Big Ten title, yet were passed over by the committee for Ohio State, whom Penn State defeated earlier in the year.

The target moved again. This time, the message was clear: Your conference championship means nothing if your inclusion in the playoff means a prestige program is left out of the field.

Today, the CFP selection committee was at a crossroads, as two prestige programs pounded the table for the fourth playoff spot. One is a two-loss conference champion who defeated a previously undefeated team yesterday. The other is a one-loss team who watched their conference’s championship contest at home.

There is no debate. Alabama had no case for inclusion in the 2017 College Football Playoff field. The Crimson Tide did not play for their conference championship. Ohio State did — and won. In this clash of blue-bloods, the result is the same as the 2014 national semifinal: The Buckeyes advance.

That did not stop the CFP selection committee.

Pundits across the nation — especially Gary Danielson, who needs a cold shower after he discusses Alabama football — pointed to the Crimson Tide as the most complete team in the nation.

They’re not. Clemson is. Ask Miami.

Those same pundits pointed to Ohio State’s blowout loss to unranked Iowa and asked how such an unsightly blemish can be ignored.

They’re ignoring what happened in Indianapolis last night.

Commercials for the SEC end by saying: “It just means more.” The CFP committee agrees, much to the dismay of the rest of the country.

For two years on the spin, the Big Ten champion has missed the playoffs. The Big 12 and Pac-12 have each been represented in the playoffs twice.

Meanwhile, the champions of the ACC and SEC have never missed a playoff. Although the ACC has teams stretching from Boston to Miami, only two teams have won the conference title in the playoff era: Clemson and Florida State.

All four playoffs have been held with at least two teams hailing from the southeastern portion of our country. This year, it will be three. Should Florida State rebound from a moribund 2017 campaign, a scenario in which four southeastern teams make up the field — for example, Georgia as SEC champion, Florida State as ACC champion, and one-loss Alabama and Clemson — is not out of reach.

Were the CFP committee interested in removing this controversy, my playoff expansion proposal could ease their minds. In this much simpler plan, the playoff field would expand to six teams: The champions of the five power conferences, and the highest-ranked Group of Five team.

Now, this would mitigate the importance of the committee, as the most important decisions in college football would be out of their hands. It would also eliminate the conjecture on which talking heads feed over conference championship weekend. But there would not be any doubt as to which teams deserve to play for the biggest prize in college football.

The six teams in this playoff model would be seeded in the order they finish in the final CFP rankings. Last year, the field would have looked like this:

  1. Alabama (SEC champion)
  2. Clemson (ACC champion)
  3. Washington (Pac-12 champion)
  4. Penn State (Big Ten champion)
  5. Oklahoma (Big 12 champion)
  6. Western Michigan (highest-ranked Group of Five team)

The top two seeds — in last year’s case, Alabama and Clemson — would earn first-round byes, awaiting the winners of the Penn State/Oklahoma and Washington/Western Michigan games, respectively.

National quarterfinals would take place on the campus of the higher-ranked team one week after Conference Championship weekend. The national semifinals would remain in place, allowing student-athletes time to focus on final exams and the holidays.

This year’s field, were my six-team model in place:

  1. Clemson (ACC champion)
  2. Oklahoma (Big 12 champion)
  3. Georgia (SEC champion)
  4. Ohio State (Big Ten champion)
  5. USC (Pac-12 champion)
  6. UCF (highest-ranked Group of Five team)

This model alleviates hollow debates like the one most fans and experts have been embroiled in since the final whistle blew in Indianapolis Saturday night. It more closely resembles the NCAA basketball tournament format, rewarding conference champions in the way the CFP committee suggested they would when selecting their four-team field.

For myriad reasons, a model like this will never see the light of day. Most importantly for the NCAA, the country’s prestige programs, and the college football media, a playoff like this would remove prestige programs like Alabama from the conversation before the final CFP rankings are released.

After all, college football is an entertainment business. A sensible playoff format may be good for college football, but it isn’t good for business.