Lessons learned from the first CFB Playoff

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Author @TheCoachBart

Well, we’ve come and gone through one year of the CFB Playoff, and we survived to tell about it. Some of the myths were debunked … like folks not tuning into the regular season with as much fervor … but we learned a lot this year. Most of it was positive. Some of it was negative. Ease into your favorite arm chair — the one so broken in that the butt-cheek dents molded to your backside are in the cushion — with an ice cold gin and juice. Realize, from the comfort of that chair, that finally, we’ve arrived at a system we should be able to settle on.

Here are a few lessons we learned, in no particular order other than the first one being the most important. We’ll break these up into on-field and off-field, for those looking to cut grass in a different lawn.



1. It’s high time we judge teams by who they are, not what conference they’re in: College football has always maintained the annoying character trait in which people use the results of past seasons as if that matters in the current year. You would do that in no other sport. It’s like giving the Boston Red Sox a playoff spot because they won the World Series last year. But coming in, the SEC was still getting the benefit of the doubt for its seven straight BCS titles, and it played out that way all season.

Then, something funny happened — they call it “playing the games.” This isn’t to bang on the SEC, but as we saw last year and as we saw this year, a team can be the best in the nation and not come from the assumed “best conference.” Moreover, the assumed “best conference” might not actually be the best after all. In a way, the CFB Playoff totally devalued the BCS, leaving us to wonder how often the BCS title game participants were actually the right two teams rather than the two most hyped. Four teams has forced us to look deeper, and deeper means those teams sometimes break the cushy narrative propped up as gospel.

You don’t judge a guy based on what his cousin who’s in and out of jail does. Nor do you assume everyone in the family is a scholar because of that one aunt that went to Harvard. Yet in college football, it’s been all about who you hang around for as long as we can remember.

Hopefully, that line of thinking was destroyed with this playoff season. Ohio State was roundly criticized and the Big Ten written off after a bloody week two, but it turns out they were the best team in the country. So … who cares about conference? Let’s measure teams based on who they are at long last.

It’s totally disingenuous not to.

2. Four teams is enough: “When will the playoff be expanded to eight?” is the rallying cry of the man that wants to ruin college football. That would be the worst decision since Miller 64, Bud Select, or any of those other beers that show 20-something hipsters drinking them after going for a jog or working out, because that ever happens.

The process wasn’t really pretty that got us there, but in the end, the four right teams got in. We don’t need to know if Mississippi State or Michigan State could make a playoff run. That would totally devalue the regular season, and as we found out, the back end of the top 10 wasn’t ranked particularly well in the end.

The only folks cheesed off at the process were fans of TCU and Baylor, and let’s be honest … until the end of time, the “last two teams out” or so are going to have pissed off fan bases. You see it in the NCAA tournament, when some 18-12 team gets jones’d out of being in the bracket and their fan base is all outraged.

Not allowing teams to get in just based on winning the conference and having five conferences (which I am convinced will go to four sooner than later) places an onus on tough out of conference games to prove you belong. That can’t be bad for college football.

Was TCU possibly the type of team to make a run to the end? Maybe, but that’s what makes the regular season in college football special and still retains some integrity even in this system.

Additionally, we had all manner of styles respected. The committee kept the integrity of the unbeaten season by placing Florida State in but demonstrated that it won’t get you the number one slot automatically, which is fine, I guess. The BCS would have given us FSU and Alabama and we’d never really know the two best teams are neither of them.

So … like I said earlier … this playoff system totally devalues what the BCS did. Odds are the BCS wasn’t wrong every time, but odds are it wasn’t right every time either. Or even most times. Granted, the more teams you add, the more variables and outcomes. Still, this feels cleaner.

3. Injuries shouldn’t be over-reacted to: Ohio State proved in one fell swoop that if a team loses a key player at any point in the season late, it shouldn’t disqualify them from being in the playoff because of the “assumed” impact it would have. Teams need to be rewarded and in the playoffs for what they’ve done, not what it is assumed they will do with roster machinations needing to happen to account for a lost star player.

Every year, injuries rear their ugly head, and every year, we decide how much of an impact they truly have. Without actually knowing, of course. Ohio State twice lost a player at the most important position on the field and still won a championship. Let this be a lesson later on down the road when we try to knock teams down a peg for injury losses.

This isn’t the NFL, where you lose the quarterback and if he’s elite, there goes your season. College sports are more unpredictable and fickle, and guys shouldn’t lose their opportunities because of what other people “think” the impact of a loss would be.



1. It’s football, so people will watch: The CFB Playoff title game drew a massive 18.5 overnight rating, ESPN’s best ever… which was surprising, because it felt like the game had zero buzz for most of the day as the NFL dominated sports talk airwaves with its Divisional Playoff round. But in the end, the eyeballs turned out. Viewer numbers across the season didn’t show that they were down either, indicating that the system still compels fans to get involved during the regular season, which is the most important part.

In fact, so popular was the game that it exceeded every BCS championship game other than Southern Cal – Texas in 2006, which drew a 21.7 rating.

2. But … they could think of the fans more going forward: The actual CFB Playoff games were great draws and rich with interest because of the teams playing, the stories surrounding those teams, the manufactured hate for Florida State that seemed to be brewing, and the ever-present Big Ten-versus-SEC thing. However, the powers that be really screwed the fans with the rest of the bowl games and seem to be really down with continuing to do that going forward.

People smarter than me have done the research, but it’s no secret that folks who list college football as the main sport they enjoy above all others (or any college sport) do so because they have a tie to the university in some way. College grads list college sports as their favorite sports to watch by a much wider percentage than those who are not post-secondary students or graduates of a certain post-secondary institution. This isn’t to suggest anything at all other than college grads have a strong tie to college sports because that’s obvious.

For those with no tie to the school, or any school, it’s much easier to like professional teams the most, because the tie to the team is there and doesn’t need to be manufactured. Most people who go to college and get a degree pursue jobs that don’t have Wednesdays at noon off.


(We’re talking about YOU, Peach Bowl, at 12:30 Eastern on Wednesday, Dec. 31. A New Year’s Six game at that time is ludicrous.)

Those time slots appeal basically to college students working off a hangover on their parents’ couch, the unemployed, or journalists. Other than that, working-class America … which makes up most of the fan base … is working on a weekday afternoon.

I get the logic. Putting multiple games in the same window means viewership loss from both. I’m not beginning to argue against that. But surely they can find ways to get football games on when people with normal work schedules have a chance to view them.

Furthermore, putting next year’s playoff semifinal games on New Year’s Eve is the worst idea since Nickelback continued to try and make music and tour. Why? College football made New Year’s Day epic this year. They’re sapping the life from owning that day, and ratings will suffer. I promise. People go to parties on New Year’s Eve, and even the ones who are home are getting a glare from their girlfriend/wife if they plan on watching football until 11:30 p.m. East Coast time.

I get that thinking about the fans is as popular as gout, but you lose your soul when you start doing stuff without even thinking about how the fans will have to deal with it. College football isn’t popular just because it is. It’s popular because of the people that make it that way, the passionate fans. Squeezing them out is insane.

3. It’d be better off without the weekly show: Zip up. Your bias is hanging out. The weekly show thing was a tragedy because it gave us the reality that the people voting now are no more qualified or better at it than the people voting before. It was all conjecture with one pretty obvious eye on the public/media perception, no matter what the powers that be voting on the committee might say.

It was all for television eyeballs, which should give you pause. Until college football earnestly gets away from the desire to put controversy and talking points over the actual results, it’ll be difficult to trust any system that comes up. Humans have biases, and that’s just the way it goes. Every second of every day, they have biases hanging out.

If you’re an “ends justifies the means” type, then fine, yes, they got it right. But it wasn’t really that hard. The main players that would have fostered real gnashing of teeth removed themselves from the equation and a lot of them crapped the bed in the bowl games. So it ends up looking even more justified.

Probably for the sake of the committee and because of the old, “it’s better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt” logic, have one ranking at the beginning, one at the end. No one complains all that much about the NCAA Tournament seedings because the committee doesn’t give the weekly chance to. This system is all about money and eyeballs, and thus still will struggle in the end.

4. Dump that crappy “sign contest” segment:
That was arguably the worst thing ever on television. If “Gigli” was a halftime segment, it’d be that horrific drivel. Not funny, forced, cross promotey (fake word)

One major lesson we’re still waiting to learn

1. Will out of conference games get better, or are we stuck with this? The one criticism you can still have of this system is the lack of incentive it gives to teams to schedule good non-conference games. There were too many weekends where you barely even wanted to watch simply because you’re spending the day hoping there’s some obnoxious upset just to keep your interest.

No one is scheduling anyone out of conference anymore, and to this point, it’s uncertain if that will be encouraged or not. Look at the teams that made the playoffs. Aside from Oregon, no team that made the playoffs had one non-conference win over a team ranked in the top 25 going into the bowl games.

We weren’t treated to the great tilts we normally are, partially because teams that are normally pretty good like Notre Dame, Michigan, West Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Florida were mediocre again. But good out of conference games seemed few and far between, and if that’s a trend that continues, woe to college football for not addressing the one issue that is still abhorrent: scheduling.

Whew. This was a long article. If you got through it, you’re a gentleman and a scholar… because scholars value learning many lessons, on and off life’s playing fields. There were a lot of them to digest after a very revealing and transitional college football season.