Oklahoma and Florida meet Thursday night. One will be college football’s champion, with an imperfect 13-1 record. The other will finish 12-2 and be runner-up.
Oklahoma wins, and the Texas fans scream, “We beat the Sooners; we should be champions.” Florida wins, and other one-loss schools feel slighted because they lost to better teams than Mississippi, which beat the Gators in September.
I know — we’ll do a playoff, and we’ll go with eight teams. That will solve college football’s credibility issues, as ESPN columnist Pat Forde writes.
“In an eight-team tournament, there would be no legitimate danger that the best team in the country never got a chance to prove it on the field,” Forde wrote on May 20. “With the current system, that is a clear and present danger. Give me a champion crowned on the field, not a championship matchup manipulated by computer rankings and coaches’ votes.”
I’m not trying to single out Forde, because he’s not some loner shouting from a mountain top. I Googled “eight-team playoff,” and his column was the third link. The fourth link was University of Georgia President Michael Adams saying the same thing. The second link was a video of President Elect Barack Obama on “60 Minutes” promising to “throw my weight around” to get an eight-team playoff.
“If you’ve got a bunch of teams who play throughout the season,” Obama said in the Nov. 16 broadcast, “and many of them have one loss or two losses, there’s no clear decisive winner. … We should be creating a playoff system.”
Forde admits eight isn’t a perfect number, “but wouldn’t you rather listen to arguments about who are the eighth- and ninth-best teams in America, instead of about who’s No. 1?”
We’ll someday get that system, and Forde and Obama will find out eight’s not enough. And we’ll be asking, “Shouldn’t No. 9 have a chance to prove it’s No. 1?”
On Dec. 7, before bowl season started, The Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today polls had 12-0 Boise State at No. 9. The Broncos were also ranked ninth in the Bowl Championship Series standings. By the three most important measures, an eight-team playoff for the 2008 season would not have included an undefeated Boise State team. Isn’t a playoff supposed to give undefeated teams a chance at a title, or just certain undefeated teams?
Boise State lost its bowl game to Texas Christian, but so what? Will we deny some other undefeated team in 2009 because the Broncos lost in 2008? Teams should start each season with equal footing, which brings me to college football’s more fatal flaw — the preseason poll.
Maybe the next No. 9 was the best team all along, but preseason pollers never saw them coming. The should-be champ instead is No. 9 because that’s the highest it could get fighting its way up an artificial ranking system that knocked them out before they took the field.
No number’s perfect — just ask the first team denied a slot. Even the 65-team NCAA basketball tournament has non-qualifying teams that feel slighted. And that system doesn’t always crown the best team in the nation — just the team that won six straight at the right time.
Eight teams won’t settle every argument, and we’ll have arguments as long as teams are ranked in the preseason. Until that changes, we’ll fool ourselves into thinking an eight-team playoff is the answer. We’ll get it, and find out it’s far from perfect.
Just like this year’s national champion.
Kevin Wilson is a columnist for Freedom New Mexico. He can be contacted at 763-3431, ext. 313, or by e-mail: email@example.com