It has been 150 years since college football was born at Rutgers. And, still, somehow — 116 years after the first World Series, 90 years since the first NCAA Tournament, 41 years since college football’s first Division I-AA playoff — the FBS remains embarrassingly incapable of crowning a champion in a just and appropriate manner.
Significant strides have been made.
The much-bemoaned BCS killed decades of illogical endings — championships being split, and/or being decided by writers and/or coaches — with the important first step of ensuring the top-two teams would play for the national title, however controversial the selection of the pair would be. The introduction of the four-team playoff was progress many never believed they’d live to see, but it remains plagued with problems.
In five seasons, only 10 different teams have reached the playoff. The Big Ten and Pac-12 champions were left out each of the last two years. Central Florida, which had consecutive undefeated regular seasons, hasn’t come close to sniffing a bid.
The fix is easy: Add four more teams.
Too many? An eight-team playoff would comprise just over 6 percent of FBS teams. The NCAA Tournament invites over 20 percent. The NFL has 37.5 percent. MLB has 40 percent. The NBA and NHL let more than 50 percent in.
How can it be too many when the system currently has less playoff participants than power conferences? How can you justify 60-something teams being told a national championship isn’t an option before the season begins, a dream afforded to every 16-seed every March? In the playoff era, a 1-seed has yet to win the national title.
Currently, the biggest factors the 13-member committee considers when selecting the field are strength of schedule — a factor outside of many teams’ control — and the most inexact metric known as the eye-test.
The ideal eight-team field would include all five power conference winners — the SEC, Big Ten, ACC, Pac-12 and Big 12 — a Group of Five representative and two at-large teams. Instantly, conference championship games would regain meaning, while deserving teams who fall short — a la ’16 Ohio State, ’17 Alabama — could still advance without coming at the expense of a conference champion. There was a time when college basketball believed only conference champions deserved an NCAA Tournament berth. Then the calendar hit 1975.
Most importantly, the playoff would always provide an opportunity for Cinderella, the foundation of March Madness — the most beloved postseason of all — a long missing ingredient from college football. Let’s stop assuming we know what would happen if UCF played Clemson, any more than we knew Vince Young couldn’t topple USC, and the Colts would put Joe Namath in his place and Phi Slamma Jamma would wipe the smile from Jim Valvano’s face.
To compensate for the additional playoff round, merely shorten the regular season by a week. Is anyone going to miss Clemson against Wofford? Or Alabama against Mercer? Or Georgia against Austin Peay?
Then, move up the conference championship games by one week, and put the quarterfinal playoff round in its place, which should be played on campuses — adding unrivaled atmosphere to games previously reserved for hit-and-miss neutral-site locations — while not drastically altering the current bowl format, and allowing the student-athletes to take their final exams in the first few weeks of December.
The backlash against expansion is tired: Adding games isn’t feasible. The bowl system would be weakened. The regular season would be devalued. In reality, a larger playoff field would create more contenders, ushering in week after week of de facto playoff games. Similar arguments were made before the BCS was blown up, but billions and billions of dollars changed hands, and suddenly the Herculean feat was no longer impossible.
College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock told The Post the Board of Managers — comprised of university presidents and chancellors representing the 10 FBS conferences and Notre Dame — have discussed different formats and will continue to do so, but nothing is imminent. Hancock said they are preparing for possible changes in the future. But one hurdle to immediate implementation is the $7.2 billion deal ESPN signed for the rights to the four-team playoff, currently entering the sixth year of the 12-year contract. The deal could be renegotiated, but the all-time greatest roadblock to progress in college football somehow still stands in the way — the bowls.
Almost all lost their luster before the playoff was born. There are dozens you don’t even know exist. But the old network of bowl commissioners remains in place, each protecting payouts threatened to shrink from another round of the playoff. To put an eight-team playoff in place prior to 2025 would require voiding every bowl contract, and the guarantees afforded to the Orange, Rose and Sugar Bowls, of featuring non-playoff, power conference champions.
Unfortunately, most motivation for change comes from those without the power to put it in place, exactly as it had been for so many years. An expanded playoff will eventually come, but the seemingly never-ending question in college football remains — when?