On the Potential Problem With the CFB Playoff Committee

October 26, 2014

In about two days, college football fans across the country will tune into ESPN for a groundbreaking unveiling: the first ever college football rankings as determined by the now 12 member selection committee.

On one hand, this can be viewed as a great thing. Out with the BCS rankings. In with a system that allows teams to play into the national title game, as opposed to being selected via a combination of complicated computer formulas that no one really every truly understood.

Maybe I’m being cynical. Maybe I should shut my mouth, because people who have been around this game longer than I’ve been alive are in charge and moving things in the right direction. Maybe there’s a reason very few people are listening. But I have a bad feeling that at about 8:30 PM Eastern standard time on Tuesday, October 28, I won’t be the only one thinking that we’ve been somehow duped by the powers that be.

I look at the current AP Poll and the way that things have been shifting over the past few weeks, and a couple of disturbing trends have emerged. The first is fairly apparent, the other a bit more subtle.

The obvious trend is the premature way pollsters are responding to a highly ranked team being upset by either an unranked squad or one that is situated near the bottom end of the Top 25. Starting with Texas A&M shooting up to No. 9 in Week 2 following a blowout victory over then No. 9 South Carolina and most recently with LSU jumping six other victors to No. 16 following its home upset over previously No. 3 Ole Miss, it’s been a non-stop game of musical chairs this season.

Texas A&M has since come back to Earth after climbing as high as No. 6 in the AP poll and is currently in the midst of a three game losing streak.

LSU should be commended for a job well done Saturday night, but was a 10-7 victory at Death Valley in which the Tigers committed four turnovers enough to tell us that they are now the No. 16 team in the country when a 41-3 victory over Kentucky a week prior told us they were only No. 24?

Who are we giving the right to vote in the AP poll, again?

Perhaps it doesn’t matter. If the Playoff Committee has any stones, they won’t even look at the current polls when making decisions. It’ll make the rankings show the most entertaining hour of the week and render useless the opinions of AP voters who primarily use ESPN’s bottom line to direct their judgment with the exception of the regional teams they cover.

But my fear is that the described scenario will not be reality. I find it more likely that, in an attempt to avoid rocking the boat too much in the inaugural run, the Playoff Committee will be little more than a confirmation to what has already been decided. In this case, you might as well look at the AP poll today and not tune in Tuesday evening.

This is where the second, more subtle trend becomes a factor. And it exposes a major flaw in the new system.

The trend, which is to let the current opinions floating around drive what teams are in position to qualify for the playoff, will make this new system little more than a four team BCS scenario.

Let’s take a look at the facts.

When Alabama lost to Ole Miss on October 4, the Crimson Tide were the No. 3 team in the country according to the AP poll. The next weekend, Alabama had dropped just four spots to No. 7. Now, the Tide are back to No. 3. The only team to beat them? Ole Miss, which sits at No. 7.

When TCU lost to Baylor on October 11, the Horned Frogs were the No. 9 team in the country according to the AP poll. The next weekend, TCU had dropped to No. 12, one spot behind Oklahoma, the team that the Horned Frogs had beaten just two weeks prior. Now, TCU is back to No. 10, two spots ahead of…Baylor.

This past weekend, TCU scored 82 points in a lopsided victory over Texas Tech. The Horned Frogs remained at No. 10 in the country.

Why? (The fact portion is over.)

Two reasons.

The first is that, as a team that began the year outside of the Top 25, TCU is already at a major disadvantage. The Horned Frogs could be the best team in the country, but a loss by a team that has had to climb the rankings is so much more detrimental than a loss suffered by a team that started at the top.

It’s silly, considering how little the AP voters know.

The second reason is because Georgia is sitting just ahead at No.9 and the Bulldogs are a member of the SEC Conference.

The SEC is still regarded as the dominant conference in college football, and although that cannot be marked as fact, it may very well be true. As a result, it would not have mattered if TCU had posted 102 points on the Red Raiders, it was not going to be enough to jump the idle Bulldogs. Those floating opinions are driving the pollsters’ decisions, and they’ll likely drive the Committee’s decisions as well.

As long as this opinion resides in the head of anyone that matters, we’ll continue to see the top SEC squads swap spots with each other at positions three through eight while the rest of the country works around them. When humans have decided that the SEC is best, it’s hard to justify a move that sends Ole Miss back to No. 12 after a loss.

But it’s similarly easy to punish TCU after a consubstantial loss.

Keep in mind that this isn’t a rant against the SEC. It could be any conference that gained a reputation as the dominant league in the country.

We don’t need 12 well-dressed professionals to tell us that. The writing has been on the wall since the BCS era. But the difference now is that we don’t have the “computers” or the lack of a play-in scenario to blame.

If the Committee keeps things status quo, we’d have three SEC teams and an ACC team in the inaugural playoff if the regular season ended yesterday.

Alabama must play Auburn in the Iron Bowl and Mississippi State meets Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl, so by default two of those teams will be eliminated from contention before the season is over. But then there’s Georgia, currently playing gatekeeper to the other conferences at No. 9 yet also one of the few teams with the reputation (ahem, ability) to jump a two loss SEC team ahead of it.

It’s an SEC world these days and we’re just living in it. Assuming that the Selection Committee, made up of 12 human beings with the same susceptibility to biases as the AP voters, can even the playing field is believing in a dream.

The only answer is automatic bids.

Each of the Power Five conferences would be guaranteed that its regular season champion receives a playoff berth. If Notre Dame is ranked in the top eight of the playoff rankings, it would also be guaranteed a berth. The two or three remaining spots would be selected by the Playoff Committee.

That’s a playoff. That’s an even playing field. That’s a situation where humans aren’t to blame for succumbing to the biases of popular opinion. It’s a fair argument to say you should have gotten a chance at No. 5 if you win your conference. It’s entirely different story to say you were No. 9 and didn’t win anything.

Fans of the SEC would probably look at me like I have three heads and tell me I’m just bitter because the SEC is better.

What they don’t seem to understand is that the rest of the country isn’t that interested in a “playoff” consisting of three teams from the same conference which may have already played one another during the regular season.

The only way to fix the problem is by expanding the playoff to include automatic bids.

Until that happens, the Playoff Committee is just a convenient way to mask the fact that the same problems that plagued the BCS still exist.

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