Today, millions of people will tune in to the College Football Playoff semifinals. I’ll be one of them.
That doesn’t mean I’m overly enthusiastic about it.
It’s not because I really don’t like two of the four teams, although I guess that plays a role. And it’s not because “Ancient Aliens” is on all day on History, although I do watch it a lot.
(An aside, and regular viewers of that show will get this: I thought up a new drinking game. You watch “Ancient Aliens,” and every time the narrator says, “Ancient astronaut theorists say yes,” you take a drink. Good luck making it through the day.)
Anyway, I’ve never been comfortable with the playoff format, and I hate what the CFP has done to the bowls. They can talk all they want about how they incorporate the bowls into the playoffs, but it’s not the same.
And those who say four teams is enough obviously have ulterior motives for doing so. Nobody who is thinking about the greater good of college football (not that anybody in any league office anywhere or ESPN actually is pondering that) would say four works.
I would be perfectly OK with four teams in the playoff, if those four teams were chosen after the bowls. And I mean the bowls the way they used to be.
I know a lot of you remember when the Big Ten and Pac-10 (and, yes, Pac-8) sent their champions to the Rose Bowl, when the Southeastern Conference sent its champion to the Sugar Bowl, when the Southwest Conference champ went to the Cotton Bowl and when the Big 8 champ went to the Orange Bowl.
The Orange Bowl came down to Oklahoma and Nebraska so often, fans at that game would bring oranges to hurl onto the field. As one player said, “Lucky we weren’t going to the Gator Bowl.”
I want those days back. Seeing TCU in the Rose Bowl a few years ago was cool for Frog fans (full disclosure: I went to TCU for two years) but just plain weird for everybody else. Ohio State-USC was the classic Rose Bowl when I was a kid, but any traditional combination would at least bring back sanity to New Year’s Day.
So imagine this: All of the bowls play out the way they did 25 years ago, only the next morning the CFP committee announces the four teams that will play for the national championship.
Who would be happy about this? Lots of people:
First, the Rose Bowl, and with it the Big Ten and Pac-12, would be delighted. Many of the playoff proposals old and new have been stopped in their tracks because of the Rose Bowl, which lost its traditional matchup but is hell-bent on keeping its spot in the afternoon of Jan. 1.
Second, those that actually like four teams in the playoffs, for obvious reasons.
Third, fans of teams that are ranked fifth through eighth or even 10th, depending on the year. Think about it: You’re Notre Dame. You finish fifth in the final rankings. Now, you wait for the committee to assign you to a “New Year’s Six” bowl and hope players aren’t too disappointed about just missing the playoffs and make an effort. Under my plan, you would accept a bid to a major bowl game to play either a conference champion or another highly ranked team with the winner in line for a CFP spot if any of the top four loses.
Fourth, the people who run the nonplayoff major bowl games. While there would not be eight official playoff teams, there would be somewhere between five and 10 teams with a legitimate shot at making the playoffs. That means a lot more bowls would matter, which translates into more viewers. The playoffs have made games that were once a huge deal into an afterthought. I hate that.
Let’s look at what would have happened this year. Michigan and Utah would be in Pasadena tomorrow. Alabama would be in New Orleans, maybe playing Notre Dame, maybe playing Oklahoma State, maybe playing Cincinnati.
Because the Big 12 began as a merger between the Big 8 and some of the Southwest Conference, it should choose between the bowls tied to those leagues. I would pick the Orange Bowl, because Miami for New Year’s beats the heck out of Dallas on New Year’s, or any other day of the year, for that matter. So Baylor heads to the Orange Bowl. The ACC logically would go to the Peach Bowl, but with the SEC championship game played there, perhaps the Gator Bowl would be a better fit. So send Pittsburgh to Jacksonville.
The top-ranked teams which were not power-conference champions this year were Georgia, Cincinnati, Notre Dame, Ole Miss, Oklahoma State and Michigan State. Let the bowl people actually do some work and invite who they want.
The Peach and Fiesta bowls are the biggest bowls that don’t have a purpose in this plan. My preference would be for them to be permanent hosts of the CFP semifinals, with the championship game bid on as it is now.
To me, having more than four teams go into New Year’s with a chance to make the playoffs is a huge plus for the sport. There could be six or seven must-see bowl games, with must-see playoff games a week to 10 days later.
So who wouldn’t like it? Probably Greg Sankey. Not sure why, but it’s a good guess. If he does like it, then write this down: the commissioners of the Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC won’t like it. What he likes, they don’t. What they like, he doesn’t, at least when it comes to playoff ideas.
But they haven’t heard this one yet.