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College Football Playoff Is A Mess, Just Like The Season

Brigham Young proclaimed it would play “any team, any time, any place,’’ but then wouldn’t play undefeated Washington Saturday in Seattle until it could see the first College Football Playoff poll, which comes out tonight.

Tennessee is left without a game Saturday because Vanderbilt is going to play Missouri instead. Missouri can’t play Arkansas because Arkansas is tied up in contact tracing and quarantining. Huh?

And no one notices that undefeated USC (3-0) plays undefeated Colorado (2-0) Saturday, even though one of them might win the Pac-12 without a loss. Yet everyone believes in Ohio State, which barely beat Indiana. Everyone loves Indiana because it beat really bad Penn State, really bad Rutgers, really bad Michigan State and really bad Jim Harbaugh.

The college football season is a mess because of COVID complications. No matter which four teams eventually get into the College Football Playoff, it’s going to be all wrong. The only way to make sure the best teams get a shot at winning the national championship is to expand the CFP. I mean, how can they pick teams when more than a quarter of the nation’s games are canceled or postponed each week because of COVID?

That’s my opinion anyway. And the beauty of being able to write a column is that I can pound my fist on the table and scream out opinions. It also allows me to use my columnist’s access to call CFP executive director Bill Hancock and straighten him out. 

Instead, talking with him reminded me that every issue isn’t so black-and-white, up-and-down, left-and-right or even any-team, any-time any-place.

“Everything is more challenging than usual,’’ Hancock said, talking not only about football but about everything.

But the CFP committee, which Hancock refers to as “my bosses’’ and consists of the conference commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, thinks they can sit in a room together every week and figure out which teams are best, even though some teams won’t play a full schedule.

Why not just turn the playoff into a tournament?

“They talked about it in September,’’ Hancock said. “I don’t think they felt right about changing it after the season had already started. Furthermore, at the time we were concerned about whether we’d be able to get in three games, much less seven.

“And that’s still true. I don’t think any of us wanted to add more games. Can we get in three games? I think so? Maybe? But can we get in seven?’’

Yes, if there were an eight-team tournament instead of four, there would be a total of seven games instead of three. But I was thinking more like 16 teams…or 15 games.

Major League Baseball created a whole playoff tournament this year, and it created a wild October Madness feel usually reserved for March. With the NFL season about three-fourths done, the league still isn’t fully set on how many teams will be in the playoffs.

And honestly, if the CFP takes four teams instead of, say, 16, the 12 teams that are left out will play bowl games anyway. An expanded CFP won’t lead to any additional games played.

Come on, Bill. You have to be flexible in these times.

“Everybody’s being flexible,’’ Hancock said. But an expanded playoff “was just not going to work. It just was not something that anyone felt good about. Who knew whether the situation with the virus would be better in January than it was in September?’’

This is a good point. A few canceled bowl games won’t really affect things much. But canceled games in a CFP tournament could mess everything up. A four-team CFP — get in, get out — has a far better chance of coming off than a multi-week, multi-game tournament.

Hancock acknowledged that big interconference games usually help the committee. This year, there just aren’t that many of them because of what COVID has done to the schedule.

“We still have the same criteria” for picking teams this year, Hancock said. “Some tools might not play as prominent of a role this year. No doubt, it will be challenging. But again, we have a committee of experts watching.’’

A committee of experts? In the old days, a committee of poll voters decided the national champion. People didn’t like the bias involved, so we went to the BCS computer system, which, to me, was much worse.

Computers and analytics and numbers don’t know what people know.

Fortunately, everyone else didn’t like BCS, either. So we finally got a playoff.

And now we’re back to a committee of experts sorting out the impossible.

“Human beings can consider the nuances that no computer can,’’ Hancock said. “They can consider what quarterback was injured in the third quarter. And what was the weather? Did it snow?

“Did the team’s plane arrive seven hours late the day before? And mostly a 21-20 game might be not as close to the score as it may seem. Likewise, a 35-14 game might be pretty close.’’

I still prefer a tournament of maybe eight teams. Otherwise, teams will be left out unfairly. There is just too much guesswork this year. But in 2020, it just might not be possible to get things exactly, neatly, perfectly right.

Written by Greg Couch

Greg earned the 2007 Peter Lisagor Award as the best sports columnist in the Chicagoland area for his work with the Chicago Sun-Times, where he started as a college football writer in 1997 before becoming a general columnist in 2003. He also won a Lisagor in 2016 for his commentary in RollingStone.com and The Guardian.

Couch penned articles and columns for CNN.com/Bleacher Report, AOL Fanhouse, and The Sporting News and contributed as a writer and on-air analyst for FoxSports.com and Fox Sports 1 TV. In his journalistic roles, Couch has covered the grandest stages of tennis from Wimbledon to the Olympics, among numerous national and international sporting spectacles. He also won first place awards from the U.S. Tennis Writers Association for his event coverage and column writing on the sport in 2010.

3 Comments

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  1. Really disappointed in BYU. If you can’t beat Washington, what makes you think you would stand a chance against Bama, ND, Clemson, Florida, Ohio State, etc.?

    Plus, there will be no fans in the stadium! It’s basically a neutral site, even though the game would be played in Washington.

    For shame BYU…for shame.

  2. Stop lying about BYU-Washington. Washington was not offering a serious opportunity to play for BYU. The Pac 12 rules to play out of conference are ridiculous and unless Washington could guarantee that they would ignore their (Incompetent) Conference Masters and not cancel vs BYU as late as Thursday to play a rescheduled conference game, why would BYU waste it’s time? Make a serious offer to play BYU and they will be there.

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