Playoff system produces new politics

The Big 12 has a psychological disadvantage.

The SEC has a competitive disadvantage.

Notre Dame gets every advantage -- join a league, already!

Welcome to the Summer of Our Discontent.

This is what happens when there is no football. We watch playoff politics instead. SEC media days got longer while the number of people willing to indulge in the league's excuses for missing another national title got shorter. Big 12 fans were left debating which two teams they want to add to a conference that has no plans on expanding anytime soon. Coaches were clamoring for eight teams in a playoff that has committed to four teams.

The only thing that's growing right now is Ohio State's suspensions.

Months after everyone raved about the College Football Playoff -- which went absolutely swimmingly in its debut -- there are suddenly summer cries to make it bigger and better, to mandate scheduling uniformity, to declare louder than Donald Trump that nobody else in the country has a more difficult schedule than insert-your-Power-5-conference-here.

Everyone needs a title game!


"Why not make it 64?" said Mike Leach, genuinely baffled.

"I love it when he says that," chuckled Bill Hancock, the executive director of the College Football Playoff.

Media days and the annual ESPN car washes had a new spin this summer -- a playoff plot line in which coaches and commissioners were able to candidly reflect on the sport's new system, tout their league's strengths and question that of others. The only people with the power to change the system are the university presidents and the conference commissioners, but one topic that quickly gained traction was some concern about Notre Dame's status as an independent in the playoff era.

"You don't have independents in the NFL," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "Leagues are leagues. I just think it's difficult to assess a team that's not in a league. It's nothing against Notre Dame, it's just my opinion."

He certainly wasn't alone.

Many of the coaches agreed they would like to see more standardized scheduling across the country.

Some conferences play eight league games, some play nine. The Big 12 is the only conference without a title game. Some conferences play FCS schools, others want to eliminate the small programs from their future nonconference schedules.

"The committee should have a uniform way to compare," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "... Lots has been made of the Notre Dame situation, with them being independent, and I'm not going to tell Notre Dame what to do, but as far as the committee is concerned, to be able to compare a Notre Dame with a team with a similar record and they don't play a conference championship game becomes difficult. It's difficult for TCU and Baylor also. It's hard to put you in the same category as other people when you don't do the same things other people do."

Everyone seemed to be doing the same thing at media days -- stating their case:

• "The Big Ten is back, and I don't think in a casual way. ... Watch out." -- Michigan interim athletic director Jim Hackett.

• "The Pac-12 will have the toughest schedule in all of college football." -- Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott (again).

• "If we line up and we win 12 games this year, we're going to be in the final four." -- Baylor coach Art Briles (again).

• "Now, when I talk about champions and winning championships, we have an aspiration, really the expectation, that we're going to have at least one team in the playoffs." -- SEC commissioner Greg Sankey.

• "I really think the ACC is one of the top two conferences. It's the ACC and the SEC." -- Boston College coach Steve Addazio.

Simple math reminds us one of those Power 5 conferences will be left out of the four-team playoff.

If it happens to be the SEC, blame it on the NFL draft.

Nick Saban did.

"So we're trying to get ready for a game, and then all of the sudden a guy finds out he's a first-round draft pick or a guy that thought he was a first-round draft pick isn't a first-round pick," he said, "and we're trying to get ready to play a playoff game."

Hey, at least Alabama made it to the playoff, considering what a disadvantage the league has.

"Look at the SEC West," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn told Travis Haney. "All of the teams are in the Top 25. What other conference can say that? Then, if you win that, you've got to play another really good team from the East. And then you're in the [playoff] semi, having to win two more games. That's why I think it's critical that we move to eight teams [in the playoff]."

Hang on, SEC, the ACC has something to say about that ...

"For seven years in a row, the SEC was the league and they earned their credibility, but now the ACC is winning all the awards, we're beating the SEC on the field, our bowl records are better," NC State coach Dave Doeren told David Hale. "It just hasn't become reality in society yet. The perception is the SEC is still stronger. They have more money, they have a network, but they haven't done the same things the ACC has done on the field the last two seasons."

The offseason debates are good, but the games are better -- and they're the only place to truly make a statement the selection committee will hear.