“This is another fine mess you’ve gotten us into, Stanley.”
Have you ever felt like a dog chasing its own tail? I mean, not just about life in general, but where you’re trying to solve a problem where an answer does not exist, where logic is irrelevant if not immeasurable, where you’re resolved to listening to ideas about right and wrong that all ultimately sound like noise because they attempt to solve that unanswerable problem? Where’s that tail again? Munch munch munch.
Welcome to the college football playoffs of 2023.
That is how every American sports fan felt late Saturday evening, all of us left trying to cram five square pegs into four round holes.
Congratulations, college football, you once again got your wish. We’re obsessing about you relentlessly, with our toolbelts in order… and your sport completely out of it.
Friday night, the University of Washington provided us with closure, dispatching an Oregon team most thought might win a national championship. Washington completed an undefeated Pac-12 schedule and assured themselves a seat at the four-team college football playoffs table.
Then came Saturday and along with it… chaos.
The outcomes of Saturday’s championship games were not what “the committee” wanted as, come Sunday, when they must fit too many winners onto too few podiums, someone will be receiving death threats, and they’ll likely come from the South where sports fans have nothing better to do than misspell angry letters in crayon.
The dilemma? You have five teams, in five power conferences, whose resumes all make a legitimate case for reaching a college football playoff but have only four slots to place them. Never has the logic of 5 equals 4 bit the NCAA more in the ass than this Sunday.
Of course, calling an emergency meeting among whoever these decision makers are, suggesting more (deserving) teams make the playoffs and scrapping the whole “wait until next year” argument would make far too much sense, so here we stand. Washington, Michigan, Florida State, Alabama, Texas, Ohio State, Georgia and yes, maybe even Oregon (or Liberty anyone?) deserve a seat at the table. Only four of them will get that seat… but which four?
Washington and Michigan are inarguable, undefeated and winners of their conference.
One could make the same case for Florida State, undefeated, winners of their conference, and victors over LSU, Clemson, Duke, and Louisville, (not to mention Florida) yet the fact lingers that they’ve lost their first- and second-string quarterbacks, meaning they’ll be potentially less glamorous in the playoffs. Should that be punishment for an undefeated season? Absolutely not. Could voters be swayed to exclude an FSU team with no quarterback, thinking they will provide less entertainment value? Absolutely.
And what of Texas versus Alabama, the other two power-five conference champions? Alabama won the SEC by beating two-time defending national champion Georgia. Alabama played in the SEC and beat Ole Miss, Tennessee, LSU and are coached by the man commonly considered to be the greatest college coach of all time. They’re a draw, and a mainstay.
Yet they lost at home to Texas, who won the Big-12 conference and whose only loss came to Oklahoma.
Excuse me while I chase my tail.
Common sense would have us believe that Michigan, Washington, Florida State and Texas are in but that would mean excluding an SEC team from the playoffs which, in the history of mankind and pigskin, has never been done.
That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t. It just means it’s never happened that way. If excluding an SEC team from the four-team playoffs means an eight-team playoff is imminent (it is), then so be it. But why not just have that now? Other than common sense and logistics that can be overcome with a phone call and a checkbook, what’s stopping that from taking place?
What makes things about this selection Sunday so much more fascinating is that we have five of college football’s largest fan bases, with boosters reaching into their wallets as we speak. Florida State, Alabama and Texas are as fat cats as they come. If you don’t think affects which peg gets put into what hole, you’ve been chasing your own tail longer than most of us.
The Michigan/Washington/FSU/Texas/Alabama argument doesn’t even include the fact that Georgia and Ohio State, good football teams that were ranked 1 and 2 as of two weeks ago, are not even part of this conversation!
It’s inevitable that next year’s twelve-team playoff (thank goodness) will (hopefully) resolve these problems. We’ll stop feigning over the insignificance of out-of-conference games (they don’t matter if Texas beat Alabama and doesn’t get in) or conference championship games (that don’t matter much in college basketball either).
All of this is a stark reminder of how captivating, competitive, and delicate the small sample size of the college football season is, and has always been, when it comes to determining a national champion.
It’s 2023. The dog’s tail is bloodied. Let’s throw that dog, and the rest of us college football fans a bone and start this eight-team playoff now. It’s right, it’s just, and more importantly if you’re listening, committee, it’s profitable.