Jan 8, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (13) celebrates with the trophy after the 2018 CFP national championship college football game against the Georgia Bulldogs at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

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The CFB Playoff system is a corrupt, ugly stain on American sports

The system is broke and fans deserve a fix

Seth Dunlap
November 28, 2018 - 7:41 pm
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There’s little in life that’s ever fair.  Fall in love with the homecoming queen and she’s off to State University halfway across the country.  Work hard, keep your nose to the proverbial grinding stone and watch the greedy self-promoters get the pay raises and job promotions.  Care for the kids, family, and friends while living a modest un-spectacular life in Paradise, CA and then your home and life go up in literal flames while you can only watch.

Life isn’t fair, nor is it supposed to be.  That’s some fairy tale parents tell their kids to give them hope for a better future.  It also gives a little perspective to the things in real-life, like all of those lives and homes lost in the California Camp Fire, that mean a lot more than the things we incessantly obsess about in sports.

There’s a time, however, when enough becomes enough, even in the sporting world.  The corrupt, absurd mess that has become the college football “playoff” system certainly qualifies there.  

Before getting into the finer details of the incompetence and ridiculousness that we currently see from the College Football Playoff selection committee, it’s important to remember the foundation and backbone of nearly any athletic competition or sports league – competitors competing on an equal playing field where their success or failure will be determined by their performance on the field/court/pitch.  

The Russian hockey team had to get on the ice in 1980 against the United States.   Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts took the field against Joe Namath and the New York Jets in 1969.   Mike Tyson actually had to step in a ring in 1990 to fight Buster Douglas.  The backbone, the necessary essence, of sports is putting perception aside and making performance the ultimate decider.  

Imagine if that foundation was flipped on its head, where perception meant more than performance.  The Russians win gold, the NFL behemoth Colts are crowned Super Bowl champions, and Tyson is handed another championship belt without having to fight.

What’s happening in college football is that foundation indeed being flipped on its head to a point where it’s becoming increasingly legitimate to ask if the CFB Playoff system is the most corrupt and incompetent thing in sports.  Not college sports.  Not American sports.   Worldwide.   FIFA officials must be watching in awe.

It’s a bit incredible to think that a system that was designed by the elite few to benefit the elite few is worshipped by so many.   Make no mistake, if teams don’t have “Alabama”, “Notre Dame” “Ohio State”, “LSU”, “Clemson” or about ten other names, give or take a few, emblazoned across the front of their jerseys they stand no shot to actually compete with the other schools on a level playing field.   The playoff selection committee has become such a corrupt, incompetent group of status-quo elitists that Robert Mueller’s next assignment should be investigating this mess.

Consider the following three resumes:

TEAM A

  • Record: 9-3
  • Margins of loss:  11, 19, 21
  • Record vs. Top 25:  2-1
  • Games against Power 5 teams:  9
  • Games against lower-division FCS teams: 2

TEAM B

  • Record: 10-2
  • Margins of loss:  3, 13
  • Record vs. Top 25:  2-1
  • Games against Power 5 teams:  9
  • Games against lower-division FCS teams: 2

TEAM C

  • Record: 9-3
  • Margins of loss:  11, 4, 35
  • Record vs. Top 25:  1-2
  • Games against Power 5 teams:  9
  • Games against lower-division FCS teams: 2

What is the proper order to rank those three teams?   While the correct answer should be, “Who cares, let them play on the field,” that is unfortunately not an option currently.

The selection committee this week decided that the order would be Team A (#9), Team C (#12), and then Team B (#13) in their latest rankings.  If that seems a bit outrageous, you aren’t alone.   While I won’t spoil the suspense by revealing what schools those resumes belong too, it’s just a quick internet search away for those curious. 

That’s kind of the point here though.  College football has devolved into a sport where those in power have rigged the system so absurdly that actual resumes and on-the-field performance don’t really matter anymore.   The school names headlining those resumes matters most, which is why it might not be surprising to see who Team B is, and even less surprising when you see them ranked below those other teams.

This, however, isn’t about Team B.  This is about the corrupt mess the entire system has become.

That word shouldn’t be used lightly.  Corrupt.   It’s the kind of ugly pejorative that’s been traditionally reserved for slimy lawyers, seedy politicians, or terrifying authoritarian governments.   Major college football has become a bit terrifying and completely corrupt in the past two decades.  Not that it was a clean operation before that.   The ugly underbelly of college sports has been there since the Rutgers and Princeton played the first-ever intercollegiate football game in 1869.  Watching college football has always been a bit like heading to your favorite fast-food joint – those burger and fried are great, you just don’t really want to see how they're made.

College football fans are finally seeing the ugly way in which their product is made.  The most important competitions never happen on the field anymore.   Instead it’s the shady quid-pro-quo deals and wink-wink, nod-nod agreements made by the corrupt College Football Playoff selection committee that hold the most importance. 

Think about that statement for a minute.  In one of the most watched and obsessed about sports in the country the most important factors have become the corrupt beauty pageant being played out behind the scenes in front of the selection committee.   The members of that committee are never actually concerned about getting the best or most qualified teams into the, still-silly, four team championship playoff.   Their biggest concern seems to be keeping the traditional powers, well, in power.   It’s obvious that the selection committee believes that a college football world in which Alabama, Ohio State, Notre Dame and a relative-few number of other select programs reap the benefits of this “playoff” system that is built on the backs of all the also-rans that will never get a fair shake.

Imagine Ohio State and Kentucky having an identical resume at season’s end.   Is there any world in which Kentucky is expected to win that supposed coin flip?   Those hypotheticals get even more laughable if you go outside the SEC.   If Alabama and Colorado have that identical resume, is Colorado even once going to be given deference?   Or maybe it’s Clemson-Rutgers.  Michigan-Duke.  

The most incredible part about all of this is every college football fan knows the current system is rigged in this ridiculous way.  Even supporters of Kentucky, Rutgers, and Duke.  Certainly the rabid fan bases at Ohio State, USC, and Oregon.  Not only will the non-traditional football powers never have that imaginary resume-tie broke in their favor by the selection committee, they’ll never get an objective look inside college football’s media echo-chamber either.   

Not to upset LSU fans, but there was legitimate talk of a two-loss non-conference champion Tigers’ team being given a playoff berth over other then-one-loss programs like West Virginia or Washington State.   Every time objective analysts would point to the seasons West Virginia, Washington State, Syracuse, or others were having they were shouted down by something resembling a college football media illuminati.

This whole system stinks to high heaven, and it has for decades even through the numerous changes to post-season format.  In fact, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the current four-team CFB Playoff system is the worst of all those iterations.   The 13-member selection committee is comprised former players, coaches, and current athletic directors.  That’s right, the acting athletic directors for Oklahoma, Ohio State, Florida, Oregon, and Georgia Tech sit on that committee.   Onlookers are supposed to believe, with a straight face, that Oklahoma AD Joe Castiglione is in there lobbying for Ohio State, Wazzu, or (gasp) UCF?

I don’t take pleasure in using the word corrupt to describe men and women I know little about personally, but throughout the half-decade of the current system that’s become the most proper way way to describe the people who sit on the CFB Playoff selection committee and have the ultimate say in this system.  Corrupt.

A few other choice words and phrases come to mind.  Incompetent.  Absurd.  A moral stain on the fabric of our American society.

OK, perhaps that last one was a bit over the top.

Still, college football has a chance to be great.  It’s not like the NCAA hasn’t found a system that works in other sports they control.  The NCAA basketball tournament is widely regarded as perhaps the best sports tournament on the planet.  The College baseball is quickly gaining in attention and revenue because of their incredibly well-designed postseason format including the College World Series.

The blueprint is there.  Make the actual games matter more than the lobbying power, or pocket-book influence, of the 13 elitists that sit on the selection committee every year.  Go to a 16 team tournament.  If you win your Power 5 or Group of 5 conference you get a chance to compete on field for a championship.   Six more at-large bids will ensure that those who prefer back-room deals and the ridiculous propping-up of those chosen “traditional powers” can continue.   At least that system would feel more like sports and less like an episode of Mob Wives.  

Fans deserve better than this nonsense we have now.  Or would you have preferred the United States never taken the ice against the Russians in 1980, or Joe Namath deciding to stay at home at watch the Baltimore Colts ticker tape parade?  That’s what we’ve got right now.

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