College Football Socialism: How a Fourteen-Team Playoff Would Benefit the Collective
So this season is what college football fans have been waiting for: finally the BCS selection process is gone, making way for the new four-team playoff structure. The outdated BCS procedure has been a black mark on college football for a long time: basically giving all the strength to the powerhouse conferences and allowing others to fall by the way side — very rarely did the Mountain West, Mid-American and Conference USA have a shot for the national title.
Furthermore, the BCS selection process, which was a convoluted mess, was hard to explain and unfairly left deserving programs out of bowl games and the national championship. This was even worsened by the contractual obligations for conferences to play in specific bowls. For instance, if an ACC team was not up for a national title bid and made a BCS bowl game, they were required to play in the Orange Bowl or a Big Ten team needed to be in the Rose Bowl: thus mashing together a variety of teams in an unconventional order — in reality, the three should have played the four and so on.
So the next best option was to implement a four-team playoff: which did not fix the problem, but only put the issue on the back burner until 2025. Obviously, the four teams who make the playoffs will be happy, but what about the fifth and perhaps even the sixth program that probably deserve a shot. So this brings us to the next notion of who is making this decision and what are the parameters behind their choices.
So the actual committee is thirteen people who have some type of affiliation with NCAA football. Furthermore, the voting process takes into consideration the strength of schedule, conference championships, head-to-head results and overall records: and with any conflict of interests, where a member is directly associated with a program, they have to recuse themselves from voting for that specific team.
Now, the newfound importance in the strength of schedule is going to be vital for teams to get into the final four. However, how are you supposed to build a strong schedule, if you are in a weak conference: thus deflating the already lesser programs. Perhaps teams play plenty of non-conference games, but why would bigger schools in the SEC, PAC-10 or ACC play teams from a notoriously weaker conference: it does not benefit their chance of moving from a five to a four seed, resulting in a never-ending conundrum that affects teams of smaller stature. Yes, there are merits to the new playoff — it is a vast improvement over the severely outdated BCS — yet that does not mean it is the best option.
A better solution is a fourteen-team playoff; simply, this makes the most sense when coming from a football enthusiast standpoint. There are ten conferences — this does not count the FBS Independents — and each conference winner will get an automatic bid to the postseason: thus making teams earn their right to be in the tournament, with the top two seeds overall garnering a bye. That leaves about four wildcard seeds, which could be decided by a committee: thus making the decision important, but not as vital as the current committee’s decision — the actual guidelines for these four wild card teams could be decided later, but most likely they will go to conference runner-ups who are the most deserving.
Now, this leads to the most interesting aspect of the debate: do the weaker conferences deserve an automatic bid? And my answer to that is a clear-cut yes: these schools deserve a chance to improve their conferences — an automatic bid does that — which in return will get them better recruits. The five powerhouses — SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 — have a stranglehold on the ESPN 100: out of the top 100 recruits in ESPNs 2014 class, only six went outside the five powerhouses — with four going to independent Notre Dame, one going to junior college and the final player going to Boise State (Mountain West). Originally, the stronger teams will likely win the fourteen-team system, but as time moves on, students will realize that all of these schools have equal opportunities: thus eventually spreading the recruiting wealth and hopefully building up the weaker programs.
But this also brings to the light another key problem about the four-team playoff: money. As ESPN’s Brett McMurphy states, “The financial gap between college football’s haves and have-nots is about to grow even larger,” with the five powerhouses allegedly earning $91 million annually from 2014 to 2025 — and the have-nots, the other five, earning around $17.25 million each. There is no doubt that the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 make a large amount for the NCAA, but this habitual over-compensation needs to stop if they ever want to fix the game. College football may have adopted a new system, but they kept the old politics: with bowl game affiliations still earning some conferences tens of millions of dollars — a concept that is mind-numbingly backwards.
But I am realistic and I know like every other sport this is monetized: but the system could be working so much better. And before this idea gets called socialist and anti-capitalist, this fourteen-team playoff provides the biggest opportunity for thrills: something all sports fans can comply with. In the end, fans have to sit year in and year out, hearing the same debates that plagued the BCS system: and nothing will change till 2025. But hopefully by then, the CFP Administration will create a policy that benefits the whole organization and not just five conferences — but this hope is nothing but blind optimism.