A College Football Playoff That Works
A College Football Playoff That Works
The stadium scene.
Oct. 24 2000 3:00 AM

A College Football Playoff That Works

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Granted, nonconference play will matter less than it does now. But that adds to, rather than detracts from, the allure of a playoff. Teams will have an incentive to stop scheduling creampuffs for nonconference games. Under the current system, teams load up with Boise States and I-AA teams that don't threaten the quest for the Grail: an undefeated season. But if nonconference losses won't derail your championship hopes, you'll want to schedule the toughest teams possible to prepare your team for the rigors of conference play. Games like Florida vs. Ball State could be replaced with games like Florida vs. Kansas State.


3. It would be too hard to pick the teams. The classic argument against a college-football playoff is that there would be no fair way to select the at-large teams without expanding the playoff to an unwieldy 16 teams. That's true if you're trying to pick the at-large teams from a long list of conference runner-ups. But if only conference champions are eligible, the teams will be obvious choices, whether they're selected by the media, the coaches, the computers, or a smoke-filled room of NCAA officials. Last year the picks would have been No. 10 Marshall and No. 13 Southern Miss. Every year there's a BYU or a Tulane or a TCU that deserves the chance to play for a ring.

4. A playoff would diminish traditional bowl games. This one's dubious on its face. The BCS has already made a mockery of all the bowl games except one. Under the current system, only the national-championship game counts. A playoff would make fans care about all four major bowl games.

5. The season would last too long. Another one that doesn't pass the prima facie test. Allowing four teams to advance beyond the bowl games would mean one extra week of play for two teams and two extra weeks for the top two teams in the country. The college-basketball tournament means an extra week for 64 teams, two extra weeks for 16 teams, and three extra weeks for four teams. No one complains about that.

That leaves one criticism for this system: Minor-conference and independent teams aren't good enough. Well, we know Notre Dame frequently is good enough. And heck, Toledo beat Penn State this year. Last year, Cincinnati upended Big Ten champ Wisconsin. The national championship should be decided on the field by football players, not by the whims of the sports punditocracy. Thanks to college basketball's system, Larry Bird's undefeated 1979 Indiana State team got more than a pat on the back. Bird's Sycamores got a chance to fight all the way to the Final Four's championship game, only to lose to Magic Johnson and Michigan State. Bird got his shot at the title, and fans got to watch one of the sport's historic games. College football players—and fans—deserve the same opportunity.

Chris Suellentrop, a former Slate staffer, is a host of the podcast Shall We Play a Game?