Mark Story: Eight-team playoff ideal for college football

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJune 14, 2012 

Alabama LSU Football

Alabama linebacker Cory Reamer, left, blocks LSU safety Chad Jones (3) as teammate Javier Arenas (28) runs past in the second half of an NCAA college football game in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Nov. 8, 2008. Alabama won in overtime 27-21. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

TONY GUTIERREZ — ASSOCIATED PRESS

Some aspects of the current college football playoff debate should be simple.

The way to choose teams for any potential playoff is a selection committee.

No more convoluted BCS-style formulas.

No more computer ratings being determinative.

In the name of Bear Bryant and all that is good about football, no more Harris Interactive poll.

Just a committee of experts, preferably a panel of current school and conference administrators as with the model used to select the field for NCAA men's basketball tournaments each year.

For all the politics and human failings that come with a committee, informed decisions made by people are the best way to choose teams.

It is at the number of teams in a prospective playoff where things get tricky.

The college football grand pooh-bah conferences, the SEC, the Big Ten, the Pac-12 and — who would have believed this a year ago? — the Big 12 seem to have settled on the idea of a four-team playoff. Amazingly, all the other current FBS leagues seem to be going along with that, too.

They shouldn't.

For a multitude of reasons, any college football playoff needs to have at least eight teams.

Let us count the reasons an elite eight is better than a final four.

A four-team playoff seems a precursor to the much-discussed four, 16-team super conferences. Take the champion of each super-conference and, voilá, you've got a four-team playoff.

The problem with that is four, 16-team super conferences encompass 64 teams. There are presently more than 64 universities whose football programs aspire to play at the highest level.

Consider: Take the current membership of the SEC (14), Pac-12 (12), Big Ten (12) and Big 12 (10) and you have 48 teams. That means the entire membership of the ACC, the Big East and the Mountain West plus football independents such as Notre Dame and BYU would be scrambling to get one of the 16 remaining slots in the "super conferences."

An eight-team playoff relieves the pressure for (much of) the conference musical chairs that has laid waste to so many traditional college rivalries and much geographic common sense in recent years.

In an eight-team playoff, you could give automatic bids to the champions of the SEC, the ACC, the Big Ten, the Big 12 and the Pac-12 and maybe another to the winner of either the Big East or the Mountain West (to be determined by the selection committee based on which champ is perceived to be the stronger team).

Then, you would still have two at-large bids for the two best teams, regardless of conference, from the rest of college football.

As Dan Wetzel, the Yahoo! Sports columnist who is, arguably, the foremost journalistic expert on the inner workings of the business of college football, recently pointed out, had the Big East and ACC been advocating for an eight-team playoff all along, they likely would not be mired in the quagmire of uncertainty they now face regarding their futures.

The knock on the eight-team playoff seems to be that anything more than four teams is too far down the path of "professionalizing" college sports for university presidents to ratify.

Hello, reality check.

Big-time college sports long ago sold its soul to become part of the big-business-entertainment complex.

Allowing eight teams, instead of four, into a tournament to determine a college football champion isn't going to substantially add to that.

Based on the experience in college basketball, once a football playoff starts, the pressure to expand the field will be irresistible.

When Kentucky won the 1978 NCAA men's hoops championship, there were 32 teams in the tournament.

When Louisville won the 1980 title, there were 48 participants in the bigger dance.

In 1985, when Villanova stunned Georgetown in Rupp Arena in the NCAA finals, there were 64 teams.

This past season, when UK won its eighth NCAA crown, there were 68 schools that sent teams to the championship tourney.

Once it's started, a football playoff is going to grow. The money and demand for more schools to share in participation will ensure that.

So why not start at eight teams now and eliminate much of the incentive for more of the conference hopping that has taken so much of the collegiality out of college sports?

When it comes to a college football playoff, eight is great.

To start.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com

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