With the expansion of the playoffs, more bowl games, hopefully, will become more involved. After the support the holiday bowls have extended to colleges over the years, the institutions of higher learning should never be guilty of giving the bowls back of the hand treatment. For the longest time, there was considerable controversy about determining the national champion until the BCS arrangement got things moving in the right direction.
We now have a playoff system in place that has worked well. The current format began in 2014, and while most everyone seems to appreciate the four-team playoff, controversy has remained, especially when your team finishes No, 5 and you can make a legitimate case that it deserved to be in the finals.
No question about the committee being swayed by circumstances. For example, one of the issues has been Notre Dame, which does not have a conference affiliation for football. “It is simple,” says a former Big Ten football head coach. “Tell Notre Dame to join a conference or let the chips fall where they may. They don’t deserve any special consideration over any other team.”
To underscore the fact that the exalted college football playoffs are not infallible, we saw them, mainly oriented by sentiment, including Cincinnati last year. This is not to say the Bearcats were not deserving, but you could see how persuasive the sentiment was in including Cincinnati in the Final Four.
When he was head coach at Colorado State, Mike Bobo came home for Christmas one year. We had a cup of coffee which led to a discussion about the four-team playoff. He felt that it should be expanded. “It would be hard for Colorado State to get into the current playoff format,” he said. “With an expanded format, we might find a way to get into the finals in a given year. I am speaking up for the little guy.”
With Tennessee displaying a showcase offense early in the fall, you saw what happened late in the season. The playoff committee picked them No. 1 in the country. The committee, which includes several former coaches, was persuaded by the Volunteer’s classy offense.
You know the rest of the story. Tennessee then lost two games and dropped to tenth place by the committee, which showed that it, too, can become enamored by flashy offense.
The expanded playoff system may not be better than the four-game format in place, but it obviously will be fairer. Mike Bobo, when he was a head coach, saw it right. An expanded format will bring more opportunity to the Colorado States and the Cincinnatis.
Years ago, the Rose Bowl was a closed society. It would host the champions of the Pac Ten and the Big Ten. There are many in Pasadena who would enjoy a return to that plan.
In the SEC, there were many years when things didn’t shake out until it was determined where Bear Bryant and Alabama would play. With the preponderance of bowls being played in the South, many bowls preferred a southern team which would in most cases enhance attendance.
During the late sixties there was a rule which stated that teams could not talk to bowl representatives until a certain date, a rule that was honored about as often as drivers obey the 55-mile hour speed limit.
There was a lot of winking going on and a lot of intermediaries getting involved. Before the Auburn game in 1968, Dan Magill and I took the Orange Bowl representatives to dinner on Friday night before the SEC showdown on “The Plains.” They pointedly said, “We’ve got to have a winner. Those are our instructions from Miami.” In the meantime, by some means other than smoke signals, the Sugar Bowl let it be known that Georgia had an invitation win or lose.”
Bulldog coach Vince Dooley winked back, “Let’s make a deal.” You couldn’t blame the coach who had not experienced his 40th birthday at that time. He took the bird in hand. The players obviously preferred the sunshine of Miami.
The ‘Dogs didn’t have their day in New Orleans but would 13 years later when they won the national championship in a hard-fought game with Notre Dame.
The rules were too ridiculous at that time and the BCS, which became highly criticized later, got us moving to the playoff we have today.
There will be some problems with the expanded playoff. We have to wait and see.
One thing will be a constant, however. Controversy, with regard to identifying the national football champion, will remain.