As the details spilled out Tuesday evening concerning the newly created four-team playoff that will determine college football’s national champion beginning in 2014, my thoughts drifted back to one of Winston Churchill’s most famous quotes.
No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.
The same can be said about this new era in college football we’re about to enter. A seeded, four-team playoff won’t solve all of the problems. There will still be teams squawking about being left out or not getting a fair shake, and even though the contract is for 12 years and runs through 2025, it’s only a matter of time before we see a serious push to expand the field to eight teams.
But given the way college football has settled on its national champion up until this point, a four-team playoff makes all the sense in the world.
It’s sure to make a lot of cents, too.
From the SEC’s perspective, a seeded, four-team playoff gives the league a better chance to get two teams to the dance every year. There are two more spots available than under the old system, when only the top two played for the title.
But the fact that a selection committee will be doing the picking, thus replacing the old BCS standings, is anything but ideal for the SEC.
Polls and computer rankings were typically going to favor the SEC when everything else was close. The coaches and players on that 2004 Auburn team might not agree. But, again, we’re talking about four spots now and not just two.
Auburn would have made it in had a four-team playoff been in effect during that 2004 season, but those unbeaten Tigers were left out of the BCS National Championship Game.
We still don’t know who’s going to be on the committee, how many people are going to be on the committee and how much weight the committee will give to certain factors.
For instance, will winning your conference championship trump making it through a killer schedule and posting key victories away from home along the way?
Go back to the 2009 season. Would Florida, which was No. 5 in the final BCS standings following its loss to Alabama in the SEC championship game, been included in a four-team playoff that was selected by a committee?
My guess is that the Gators would have benefited from a selection committee that season and received the fourth spot over unbeaten Cincinnati, which had finished No. 3 in the final BCS standings.
As fate would have it, Florida destroyed Cincinnati 51-24 in the Sugar Bowl that postseason.
In 2008, Alabama was No. 4 in the final BCS standings after going unbeaten in the regular season and then losing a close one to Florida in the SEC championship game. In that scenario, the Crimson Tide would have squeezed into a four-team playoff based on their ranking in the BCS standings.
However, had a search committee been in place, Alabama might have fallen out of the playoff equation in 2008. Oklahoma, USC, Texas, Texas Tech and Penn State all had just one loss, while Utah was unbeaten. Florida also had a loss, but was a lock after beating the Crimson Tide in the SEC championship game.
It’s worth noting, too, that Utah whipped Alabama 31-17 in the Sugar Bowl.
The bottom line is that a second SEC team that goes 11-1 and doesn’t win the league crown isn’t going to be guaranteed a spot at the dance just because there are two more spots now.
Every year, the teams are going to be dissected, and from the sound of it, the committee will place a large degree of importance on winning your conference title.
More than ever, SEC teams will need to have an impressive nonconference win on their resumes. Winning away from home will be important, too.
Those of us who’ve been around this league for years swear by how grueling the grind is of making it through eight SEC contests. Will the commissioner from the Mountain West Conference properly respect that grind when he’s serving his term on the committee and making his selections? Likewise, will the athletic director from Pittsburgh take that grind into account when he’s pondering his selections?
There are still details to be finalized. But my best advice for those in SEC land is to wade cautiously into this brave, new playoff world.
What might look like a sure thing through SEC eyes -- as in a team that’s 11-1, ranked highly in the polls, but doesn’t make it out of its own division -- might not look so attractive to those on the committee who are more impressed by conference championships.
Granted, all conferences aren’t created equal, which has been the SEC’s rallying cry during its streak of six consecutive national titles.
The SEC considers itself a cut above.
We’ll see if those on the selection committee agree.