Friday, December 12, 2014

College football: Good system, with some faults

    I have waited all week to write this piece because I have mixed feelings. But I can tell you that I feel awful for TCU and Baylor football fans, coaches and players.

TCU coach Gary Patterson and Baylor's Art Briles were not all
smiles after their teams didn't make The Final Four (AP photo).
    If that had been LSU -- with the same credentials -- left out of the College Football Playoff's Final Four, I think I would've been furious.
    Ohio State? C'mon.
    If you're a college football fan, I am not going to tell you anything you don't know by now. But I will repeat a thought I offered a month ago: There is no perfect selection system.
    If you're not a college football fan, congratulations and Merry Christmas. There are more important things in this world.
    I offered my two cents' worth of opinions on the College Football Playoff almost a month ago ( And here is two more cents' worth.
    In my previous blog on the subject, I wrote that I like the idea of a playoff, and I've said that for a few years. I also said that an eight-team playoff is much more preferable than a Final Four. I will stick to that, especially after last Sunday's announcement of this Final Four.
    I find it hard to believe The Committee -- the almighty Committee -- gave Alabama a bye into the national championship game.
    I am not a betting man; any time I have ever placed a bet, I have lost. But if I had to bet, I would take Alabama over Ohio State 101 out of 100 times.
    Know this, though: I am only slightly better at predictions than I am betting. No way did I think Oklahoma -- a 17 1/2-point underdg -- not only would beat Alabama in last season's Sugar Bowl, but dominate the game.
    And if you ask me to pick a winner in this season's other Final Four semifinal -- Florida State vs. Oregon in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 ... I have no idea what's going to happen there. But I will say that until Florida State proves it can't come back and win -- as it has so often in its 29-game winning streak -- it is the reigning champion.
    So no question about Alabama, Florida State and Oregon making the Final Four (although I would have kept FSU, even as unimpressive as it was at times, at No. 1). It came down to three teams -- Ohio State, TCU and Baylor -- for the No. 4 spot, proving that six does not going into four.
    (If the committee had had to pick eight teams, it's true that the debate would have been difficult to pick Nos. 7-8. I repeat: There is always going to be some controversy.)
    Fact is, all those teams stumbled some during the season -- and all were resilient to keep on winning. Just an example: Alabama was fortunate to get past Arkansas, LSU and Auburn, but talented enough to do it.
    OK, Ohio State. I not a Buckeyes fan, not an Urban Meyer fan. I don't hesitate to point out -- as I did on Twitter -- that while history should not matter, Ohio State has lost six of its last seven postseason games.
    Yeah, these Buckeyes kept their poise and rallied through adversity. They beat a very good team (Michigan State) and one supposed to be good (Wisconsin). But the Badgers rolled over last week in the Big Ten championship game, and the program is so sound that the head coach quickly moved on to Oregon State this week.
    No doubt -- no doubt -- that 59-0 score swayed The Committee's selection from TCU-or-Baylor to Ohio State. No doubt that two strong, successful football coaches with Big Ten ties on The Committee -- Tom Osborne and Barry Alvarez -- swayed the opinions.
    No doubt it kept The Committee from having to pick one of the Big 12's co-champions. TCU and Baylor fans forever will claim their team was better.
    I've lived in Texas, in the Fort Worth area, for 13 years, so I have many friends who are fans of TCU or Baylor. I don't root for either school (except Baylor women's basketball because of Louisiana ties). I do think both are terrific universities
    But as I am making this argument against Ohio State, I don't think I'm Texas-biased. I watched the teams play -- my "eyeball" test -- and I think TCU was as good as any team in the country. I am on record, on Facebook and Twitter, as saying that a couple of times in the past month.
    My opinion is that Gary Patterson -- whose treatment of some of my Fort Worth Star-Telegram co-workers at times has been detestable -- and his staff have done the best coaching job in the country this year. The Frogs are big, fast, well-coached and ... well, they look like an SEC team.
    I will say that Patterson -- who often mentions lack of respect for his TCU program and whose chip on his shoulder is as big as the fourth green at Colonial Country Club -- publicly was very classy in his reaction to The Committee's selections.
    On one of my daily walks, I had to stop at the TCU Bookstore, where I noticed a man asking about purchasing a TCU Big 12 championship T-shirt. In my usual shy manner, I asked him how he felt about the Final Four selections.
    "We got screwed," he said, not as diplomatically as Patterson. "It's all about money. It's always been about money. Until we get a bigger reputation, we'll get left out."
    And I agree about "reputation." Ohio State has it -- and the ratings (money) power. I am convinced that if The Committee had been given TCU's list of victories this season and been told that it was Oklahoma or Texas, that team would be in the Final Four.
    Committee chairman Jeff Long, the Arkansas athletic director, strongly denied that suggestion and said it was the "body of work" (strength of schedule, maybe) that put Ohio State past TCU and Baylor. Fine, but my biggest complaint -- one I've seen repeatedly this week -- is why did The Committee tease (and deceive) all of us by releasing five weeks of rankings with TCU ahead of Ohio State each time ... and then change it mind/direction the last week?
    That's bunk. Advice to The Committee: Next year don't release weekly rankings. Save it all for the end, and let everyone speculate.
    When the NCAA does make me the commissioner of college football -- any day now -- the first change will be to go to an eight-team playoff ... provided teams return to 11-game regular-season schedules and/or drop all conference championship games.
    In other words, no team should play more than 14 games in a season. Enough already. I do think football players should go to class and work toward graduation. Last I heard college was about earning a degree. (OK, so it's idealistic. I can hear you laughing.)
    But my idea is folly because we all know college football mostly is about finances. And if stadiums at most or many of the major-college programs are full anytime they tee it up, the people raking in the money aren't going to be cutting games.
    Here is what I would suggest for any program wanting to win the national championship or make the Final Four (or Final Eight), drop those Division I-AA (or Football Championship Subdivision, as it's been known since 2006) opponents. Drop those mid-majors (but Division I), too, if necessary.
    Sorry, I know those are "money" games for the smaller schools, games they have to have to make the budget work, to pay for the programs. But those usually easy victories just don't help the big boys.
     Baylor, those games with Northwestern State and Buffalo probably kept you out of the Final Four. You'd have been better off with Northwestern and, say, Maryland.
     TCU, how about Stanford instead of Samford? We'll give you a plus for Minnesota and, well, SMU (also a Baylor opponent) is a traditional game and, well, the Mustangs should be more competitive.
     Why is LSU playing Sam Houston State and Louisiana-Monroe and New Mexico State? Why are Florida Atlantic and Western Carolina on Alabama's schedule (plus Southern Miss isn't as good as it has been in the past)? South Dakota and Wyoming weren't exactly tough opponents for Oregon.
     So maybe The Committee looked at Ohio State's schedule and, yes, Kent State was a breather, but it judged Navy, Virginia Tech (which beat the Buckeyes in Columbus) and Cincinnati as a bit tougher than what TCU and Baylor faced. And Florida State -- other than The Citadel -- had strong "name" non-conference opponents in Oklahoma State, Syracuse and Notre Dame.
     If I'm on The Committee, I certainly think strength of schedule is a major factor in picking the playoff teams. And because I think the SEC is the best, strongest and deepest conference in the country and has been for a decade -- I'll argue that with anybody -- I would advise any possible contenders from other conferences to put at least one SEC opponent on the schedule each year (but Kentucky and Vanderbilt don't count, unless it's Kentucky in basketball).
     Bottom line, I suppose, is that The Committee did the best it could and this is the system we have. We can all complain and debate. We will next year, too.
     I know this: I have taken more of your time than necessary, given you much more than two cents' worth. So I'm done because you need to go Christmas shopping. For football fans, happy bowl season.



  1. From Joe Ferguson: Good article. Eight to ten teams would make a better playoff.

  2. From Casey Baker: I agree with you about an eight-team playoff, disagree about limiting schools to 14 games ( it would only be two schools who play 15), I agree about not playing Division I-AA schools, but not about mid-major schools. As I have told you before, I believe power-5 schools should be required to play one nonconference school on the road each year, and I don't mean at a neutral site.

  3. From Danny Horne: I agree that TCU got screwed. You probably know that would be my stance, but I'm not sure I agree with your take on strength of schedule.
    I absolutely concur on removal of the overrated conference championship game. Those are a joke, and the idea that those somehow arbitrarily strengthen the strength of schedule is silly.
    The product on the field for college football is very good. That's why I watch. But the stuff that happens off the field is becoming so pathetic and absurd that it is becoming increasingly difficult to continue to care.
    Meanwhile, every other division of college football is playing at least the quarterfinals round of their playoffs.

  4. From Marty Mule' (excerpt from his column): At least the BCS title contenders were a combination of polls and computers. Now we have a committee of 12 people, all former coaches, athletic directors, and one strictly a fan, all honest but all coming to the table with strong ties to certain conferences and teams.
    The most argumentative debate was the placing of Ohio State in the mix in the very last week of the committee's rankings, while dropping TCU from third to sixth (and out of the hunt) after a 52-point victory in its final game. Though there has been a notable lack of consistency of the rankings throughout the process, it has to be asked just how could that be in the last and determining rankings? It defies logic, especially it's been pointed out season long that the Buckeyes' Big Ten Conference is fairly weak this season and the Big 12, home of Baylor and the Horned Frogs, is perceived as the second-best league behind only the SEC.
    It's also hard to believe that the Ohio State “brand,'' with its great tradition and legions of fans, didn't play a role over the two small private schools with limited fan bases, instead of their prowess on the field.
    The Buckeyes' emphatic 59-0 waxing of Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game convinced the committee, but not necessarily a large percentage of the sporting world, that Ohio State has more of a name than a game. Even the notoriously detached evaluators of sports competition, the Las Vegas bookies, aren't buying Ohio State.

  5. From Tommy Henry: I'm not high on committees. What was wrong with the objective rating system that was used in the BCS?

  6. From Ross Montelbano: I always enjoy your comments, even if I disagree about half the time. You base your comments with some historical, instead of hysterical, perspective. I like your eight-team playoff, IF they will drop the 12th regular-season game. However, there's not a two-loss team out there that deserves a chance to upset three teams to get to No. 1. The only reason that we are discussing eight is because we feel sorry for Baylor and TCU.
    I don't have a problem with playing the Sam Houstons of the world. LSU already plays eight SEC opponents, plus a strong out-of-conference team. Baylor and TCU played three Sam Houstons this year, only they were called Kansas, Iowa State and Texas Tech.
    ... As far as the weekly release of the thoughts of the committtee, let's face it, it's stirs interests. TCU didn't do anything wrong. Baylor didn't have K-State on its resume. Once they did, they went around them. You are correct, if Baylor and TCU had gone out there and beaten a Power-5 team, Ohio State would not have passed them up.