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Take Two: College Football Playoff

Every Friday, Inside NU will do a "Take Two," giving you our opinions on a major topic surrounding Northwestern or college sports in general. Today we look at the college football playoff and what it means for the sport going forward.

Take 1: Chris Johnson (@chrisdjohnsonn)

It’s official, well, almost

The BCS, an annual point of hand-wringing acrimony for most college football fans, will henceforth cease to exist. The 11 conference commissioners and Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick emerged from Wednesday’s meeting having reached a consensus on a seeded, four-team playoff model to replace the existing BCS. The new system will be presented Tuesday to the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee, who can either give their stamp of approval or reject the new model and force the commissioners to reconvene and hash out the remaining details.

At first glance, this is great news for all involved. Fans get the system they’ve been demanding for over a decade, players and coaches benefit from a fairer, more equitable system without the quirks and unexplainable loopholes involved with the old model, and the added TV revenue—conservative estimates project the windfall to reach upwards of $400 million annually—can help fund athletic programs around the country, rather than end up on some bowl commissioner’s hotel budget.

Another bonus is the proposed model for selecting teams. Rather than kick ourselves in the head trying to make sense of six different computer rankings, one poll constructed under the ridiculous premise that coaches can vote objectively on a subject in which they have a direct vested interest (Coaches poll), and another whose participants, on the whole, lack the sort of informed, college football know-how to decide the sport’s postseason participants (Harris poll), the proposed model endorses a selection committee that gives preference to conference champions and strength of schedule, among other criteria. While the specifics remain a mystery—again, nothing is official until the presidents give the definitive OK next week—transparency seems to be the buzzword being used in conjunctions with all selection committee-related discussions. For fans who have long desired a more clear-cut, well-explained culmination to the college football season, it appears the sport’s power brokers are finally seeing the light.

Still, there’s one major drawback from the proposed model. Rather than hosting semifinal games at campus sites, the new system reportedly will stage semis at bowl sites based on a predetermined rotation, with the national championship game bid out to cities annually. This is partly the fault of Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney and Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, who were steadfast in their support of semifinals at campus sites in the early stages of playoff discussions but later relented in favor of preserving the relevance of the Rose Bowl. With the bowl rotation system, SEC and Big 12 teams in the four-team playoff will continue to play in warm weather cities and indoor stadiums, which eliminates the possibility of, say, Alabama traveling to the Big House or Oklahoma trekking out to Autzen Stadium. But I wouldn’t completely rule out a switch to campus site-semis in the future. Under the proposed system, fans of teams that qualify for the national championship game will be forced to travel twice—to the semifinal game and the championship game. Playing semifinals at campus sites would save fans the money, hassle and general inconvenience of making two major trips in a one or two-week span—the layoff between semifinals and the championship game is yet to be determined—not to mention create a more authentic, traditional college football feel. Plus, what better way to test that “SEC Speed” than on a cold Saturday night at Camp Randall Stadium, or any other cold weather stadium of your liking? I’m certainly not alone in wanting to see the South’s best teams playing meaningful elimination games outside of their cushy surroundings and 80,000-seat domes. But even if the campus sites proposal gained traction among a large number of the commissioners—a highly unlikely scenario—there were still significant hurdles in reaching a consensus on the plan, from presidents with logistical concerns over hosting monumental sporting events in remote, isolated areas to players and coaches bent on preserving the “bowl experience.”

All in all, there’s little to be upset about here. The proposed system is far from perfect, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction towards a fairer, more legitimate college football postseason structure. Personally, I’d like to see the commissioners scrap up their plan, rework the kinks, logistics, revenue splits, and come to a consensus on some sort of eight-team model. We may never get there, so for now, I’ll begrudgingly accept this four-team model and look ahead to January 1, 2015, the target day for the first national semifinals in the sport’s history.

Take 2: Kevin Trahan (@k_trahan)

The journey to a college football playoff had a somewhat anticlimactic ending Wednesday, as the inevitable finally came true: college football will have some sort of postseason tournament.

The rise of a playoff was hardly a surprise — eventually public support always wins out — but how it happened is what was so significant. This isn't just a a small step like a plus-one, it's a full-fledged playoff that all of the conference commissioners apparently agree on (I'm still having trouble believing Jim Delany and Mike Slive agreed on something, but I guess miracles can happen).

Theres's still a chance the proposal won't pass the approval of the Presidential Oversight Committee. In fact, Nebraska President Harvey Perlman, the Big Ten's representative, is strongly in favor of a plus-one and Delany said that the Big Ten will still push for that model in order to save the Rose Bowl (a quick aside: The Rose Bowl will not die regardless of which plan is used and it will still be once of the most significant games in the country. It seems like Delany is slowly realizing that and is backing off, at least a little bit). But in all likelihood, college football will have a 4-team playoff with the four best teams that's played at neutral sites and chosen by a selection committee.

There are still plenty of details to be ironed out, but on the surface, this is great for the sport. However, there's one X-factor that will shape whether this plan will be a success: the selection committee.

There are plenty of complaints about the current BCS model — it favors power conferences, it's only about the money, it only allows two teams to compete, etc. — but the single biggest problem was how the teams were selected. Think for a second how teams were selected in the BCS:

  • Computers that don't take into account margin of victory.
  • Coaches who are clearly biased
  • Harris Poll voters who are biased and sometimes have no idea what is going on in the game

How was this allowed? How did someone not step up and say "this makes absolutely no sense?" How do coaches not have a conflict of interest? Hopefully this time around someone asks those questions and makes sure a formula like this is never used again. And hopefully a ballot like this never decides who plays for the national title again.

So who should make up the selection committee?'

Some people have suggested former coaches or athletic directors, but they're too biased. You'll never be able to eliminate bias completely, but the closest way to do so is to allow the media to decide. Coaches hardly watch other teams and barely pay attention to teams outside of their own conference. The media keeps the closest eye on college football, and for that reason, it's the most qualified to select the teams for the playoff.

However, all of those details still have to be ironed out. Wednesday's announcement was certainly good news, but there is still a lot more to be decided and there are still a lot of ways the powers that be in college football can mess up a four team playoff.

Here's to hoping they get it right this time, after the most promising news in years.