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NCAA Fact or Fanatic: College Football Playoff Chaos

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Fact Or Fanatic350pixels_use this oneOn in its third year, the College Football Playoff system is already screwed.

That may seem an oddly doomsday statement to make during Championship Week, but there’s a scenario playing out in Indianapolis that could lead to chaos. Let’s lay it out for you, and you decide if the system works or not.

Blame This on the Big Ten

Penn State upset Ohio State earlier this season – by a blocked field goal. That blocked field goal has thrown the CFP Committee’s fat into the fire. #2 Ohio State, straight off its double-overtime victory over arch-rival #3 Michigan, is spending the weekend at home while Penn State plays Wisconsin in the B1G Championship game. If Penn State wins, the committee has a difficult decision to make. Do they put the #2 team in the country into the playoffs over the conference champion that beat them in the regular season?

And if they do, what does that mean?

In 2012, the BCS Championship Game was a rematch between the #1 LSU Tigers and the #2 Alabama Crimson Tide. Not only were both teams from the SEC, both were from the same division in the conference. LSU played and won the SEC Championship, and the BCS formula put the Tide into the National Championship.

By .0086 points over Oklahoma State.

lsu_athlets_at_bcs_national_championshipSo how was it possible to put a team from the same conference and the same division who didn’t even go to the conference championship game into the BCS Championship? At the time, the computer formula was blamed for the pairing, and that directly led to the formation of the College Football Playoff system. Aside from the perceived SEC bias, there was also a serious issue with Alabama not having played that 13th game – the SEC Championship game – and entering the BCS title game fresher and with a longer period for players to recuperate from injury. The howls of outrage from B1G country in particular were piercing and outraged.

Fast forward to 2016. Now the CFP committee is facing the same dilemma, only they don’t get to blame a computer formula for what happens. They have the same choice as in 2012: do you put Ohio State into the playoff over a Penn State team that, assuming it wins the B1G title, beat the Buckeyes in the regular season?

The entire committee is going to be cheering for Wisconsin to win the title. Ohio State drubbed Wisconsin earlier this season, and that, perhaps, they can justify.

But this scenario can actually be expanded, and that’s where disaster can really take over.

What If…?

Okay, let’s take a look at this weekend’s games. Let’s say that in the B1G, Penn State wins, Virginia Tech upsets Clemson in the ACC, Oklahoma State beats Oklahoma, Colorado upsets Washington – and, horror of horrors, Florida knocks off Alabama in the SEC Championship game.

Yes, we’re laughing too. But if you stop and think about it, the scenario isn’t that far-fetched.

president_obama_and_the_bcs_national_champion_alabama_crimson_tide This has been a crazy football season. No one saw Louisville losing to Kentucky – we certainly didn’t – or Colorado and Virginia Tech making it to conference championship games. So even if two of those upsets occur, chaos can ensue if it’s in the right conference.

For example, take Clemson and Washington out of the mix. Then what? Alabama could sit most of its starters and lose to Florida, and still go to the playoffs. And in the B1G, neither team has a legitimate chance to go to the playoffs, especially since Michigan will more than likely still be ranked higher. So what are they playing for? Not a shot at the national championship. A New Year’s Six game is on the line, certainly, but that’s not what you expect if you’re playing for the conference title.

And in the meantime, Ohio State is sitting pretty in Columbus, watching the game on the television and getting its guys rested up for an almost-guaranteed playoff berth.

Fact or Fanatic Conclusion

All right, college football.

college_football_playoffs_national_championship_trophy_on_display_at_the_ohio_statehouse_columbus_ohio_-_view_from_mezzanineThis hasn’t been your best year. You let an absolute travesty happen when Central Michigan beat Oklahoma State on a play that should never have happened – an illegal play, uncalled by your officials, and the win allowed to stand. That decision alone will probably keep the Cowboys out of the playoffs whether they beat Oklahoma or not.

You’re going to nullify the significance of the B1G title because Ohio State is – well – Ohio State.

Your officiating has been abysmal throughout the year, where targeting in one game isn’t called targeting in another.

And now, all it’s going to take is a couple of key upsets during championship week, and the CFP will fail faster than the BCS: in three years as opposed to 15. So, let’s face a hard, cold fact:

A four-team playoff is insufficient. You need eight – automatic bids for the ACC, B1G, Big XII, PAC-12, and SEC, and three at-large bids. If that had been the setup for this football season, we’d be looking at a legitimate playoff that awards teams for winning their conference titles, while still leaving room for high-ranked teams that may only have had that one close loss in their conference – Ohio State, for example. The plus-one idea, which is basically what the CFP is, doesn’t work for the current landscape of college ball.

Because let’s be honest. It wouldn’t be fair to keep an 11-1 Ohio State out of the playoffs because of a blocked field goal, and it also wouldn’t be fair to keep Penn State, which blocked that field goal, out if it wins the B1G title this weekend in Indianapolis. Just like it’s not fair for Oklahoma State to have that loss to Central Michigan stand when in actuality it wasn’t a loss at all.

Someone is always going to be left out. There’s always going to be a team that’s close but no cigar. But that’s football. That’s what happens on the field, and in the reality of rankings. That part is fair.

What’s not fair is to penalize a conference champion in favor of a higher-ranked opponent it beat during regular season, and to undercut the purpose of having the conference title in the first place. And what’s really not fair is for three teams in the playoff to have that 13th game, that extra week of wear and tear, that added chance for injury, while the fourth team sits at home and watches the game from the jacuzzi in its training center.

We’re sure the NCAA and the CFP committee won’t listen. After all, fans have been calling for a true playoff, an expanded playoff, since the BCS was still the cardinal rule. And this isn’t the first time there’s been controversy regarding the teams selected. In the inaugural season, 12-1 Big XII co-champion TCU was passed over for a playoff berth, primarily because:

It didn’t play a conference championship game. It didn’t play 13 games.

So lets cut the bull, shall we? The playoff system we have is inadequate and inequitable. Just pull the trigger and expand the CFP so that situations like the 2014 TCU snub and the 2016 Ohio State-Penn State conundrum can be avoided. You don’t have to be a fanatic to see that the current system isn’t working, and that, friends, is a fact.

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About Celina Summers

Celina Summers is a speculative fiction author who mashes all kinds of genres into one giant fantasy amalgamation. Her first fantasy series, The Asphodel Cycle, was honored with multiple awards--including top ten finishes for all four books in the P&E Readers' Poll, multiple review site awards, as well as a prestigious Golden Rose nomination. Celina also writes contemporary literary fantasy under the pseudonym CA Chevault. Celina has worked as an editor for over a decade, including managing editor at two publishing houses. Celina blogs about publishing, sports, and politics regularly. A well-known caller on the Paul Finebaum Show and passionate football fan, when Celina takes times off it's usually on Saturdays in the fall. You can read her personal blog at www.kaantira.blogspot.com and her website is at www.cachevault.org