College Football fans have been denied the fairer system they were promised. The playoff was sold as an improved system to make sure the national champion was decided on the field. A committee was appointed to ensure the system would be better than the BCS that preceded it. They are failing.
The committee isn’t clear about which teams they are choosing. The vague mission of the playoff, that the national champion be decided on the field, is the genesis of the problem. It is unclear whether the four teams who are to play in the playoff are to be the four best teams in America or the four most deserving. In the FAQs the Playoff calls the four teams the best, but the rest of the literature seems to go out of its way to avoid saying the best.
The committee gives criteria. They choose four teams for the playoff based on “conference championships won, strength of schedule, head-to-head results, comparison of results against common opponents and other factors.” Well isn’t that nice? Look at all of the factors the committee is going to look at. They certainly are being thorough. We should have confidence in their choices.
It Could Be Based on Anything
There is nothing about these list of things the committee might be talking about that should inspire confidence. Sure, these are things which are relevant, but in what weights? Is a conference championship more important than a difficult schedule? Are head to head results the most important thing? What in the world are other factors? They actually list other factors. Does that mean that uniform choice will matter? What about big names? Would Ohio State sell more tickets and garner higher ratings than TCU? Would name recognition alone be a reason to put a team in? It might be. That might be one of the other factors.
Repeating Past Mistakes
This isn’t the first major sport to use a committee and their subjective guesses. We pretend each March that a committee does a good job picking the NCAA tournament basketball field. When a team gets left out who belonged in, it is rationalized two ways. First, we ignore the complaints by saying, “yes, you had a good case to get in, but so did other teams.” Then we marginalize the compliant, “look, it’s not like you were going to win anyway. We’re talking about the last team in. It’s not like the 65th team is going to win it.”
The football committee will use the first argument, “oh, we looked at other factors and decided. It was a tough choice, but we are very pleased with ourselves.” The committee doesn’t have the luxury of the second excuse. While the last team out of the NCAA tournament probably can’t win it all, the next few teams left out of the playoff certainly can. The fifth, sixth and seventh best teams in America are capable of winning two games in two weeks against anyone. Ohio State proved that last year.
A system designed to pick the best teams based on highly subjective and secret factors is going to fail at it mission. This isn’t a problem the committee needs to solve because it’s not really their mission. They aren’t really interested in putting the best teams together in a playoff. They have no interest in determining the most deserving teams at all. They want interest.
How do they get it? They have viewers on tv and tickets sold. They manufacture controversy so that interest is highest. How else do we explain TCU’s tumble out of the rankings last year? How do you explain the wild swings eo often last year?
Here’s the thing about those wild swings. They are solely for the purpose of generating controversy. That’s all they are there for. The committee has been up front that there will be swings. They view this as an improvement on traditional polls. With new information each week, they contend, they completely re-evaluate all the teams and rank them as of now. They aren’t giving deference to old rankings.
Is that really what they are doing? Did the committee really learn so much about the teams in one week? Were they so wrong about who the best teams were last week? The rankings and the playoff are supposed to reflect the committee’s view of the best teams and not the most deserving. When there are wild swings or undefeated teams jumping other undefeated teams, is the committee saying they got it wrong last week or are they just generating controversy and interest?
Championships Will Remain Mythical
The playoff is supposed to eliminate the mythical national championship. It hasn’t. It’s only replaced the polls and computers of the BCS with the secret deliberations of a committee. The committee has then taken it upon themselves to generate controversy so they can generate more money for the conferences who employ them. There is no reason to believe this sort of system doesn’t produce anything that isn’t mythical.
The playoff’s mere existence is a financial boon. It doesn’t need a committee ginning up controversy. It’s not fair to the players and coaches to move them around at random and to call it deliberative rankings. When the committee ranks teams for any reason other than most deserving, they undermine their legitimacy and the playoffs.