Ad-Vance Carefully: Playoff (False) Hopes

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Ad-Vance Carefully is a weekly column by Ohio Football beat writer and Managing Editor Bryan M. Vance exploring the issues surrounding Ohio Football and the rest of the college football landscape.

For as long as college football has existed fans have had to deal with subpar measures of crowning a national champion. First, polls were tasked with naming one, but that backfired miserably with rival polls often disagreeing. In 1998 the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) debuted as a way to solve the problems of human voting, but it was almost immediately met with harsh backlash from fans and media alike. Finally, after years of screaming and some involvement from Congress the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) is getting a playoff system. The aptly named College Football Playoff launches next season with the goal of finally answering the age-old question adequately. But the playoff is merely a baby-step disguised as a giant leap forward.

The playoff pits the top four teams against one another, letting them duke it out on the field for the glory and title of National Champion. It’s a simple straightforward format all about exclusivity. It’s a stark contrast from the 34 bowl games held in 2013. No teams with six losses are ever going to make it into the playoff, and rightfully so. It’s designed to keep the unworthy teams out while highlighting the elite programs’ achievements.

The problem with the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is that it’s too inclusive. With March Madness featuring 68 teams what we’re often left with is cupcake matchups in the first few rounds. For every Florida Gulf Coast you get two Montanas. While every now and then a low-seed catches lightning in the bottle, more often than not fans are left watching larger schools bully the 16-seeds of the world. It’s bad television. The FBS seems to have taken notice. By keeping its playoff small, it avoids watering down the product. It creates, in essence, the most elite and exclusive of all the balls. A playoff that is so selective that even an 11-1 record and a top-5 finish won’t guarantee you a spot. It creates a must-watch TV event that only the Super Bowl can match.

But that is also where the problems with the College Football Playoff lie. With its complex formulas and reliance on polls, the BCS was designed as a way of keeping smaller schools like Boise State out, hence the term BCS-busting. The College Football Playoff seems to be heading down the same path. With so few spots available, and the fact that a mid-major school rarely finishes in the top-4, despite its record, it’s hard to imagine a 12-1 Northern Illinois or an undefeated Ohio ever getting its ticket punched.

Exclusivity is important, but a four-team playoff takes it to the extreme, leaving much to be desired. It robs the fans of a chance at seeing true upsets, and dynamic games. In this new system, a Northern Illinois never gets a shot at proving to the naysayers that it belongs, because it isn’t invited. And don’t expect that to change. Bill Hancock, the executive director of the College Football Playoff (he served in the same capacity for the BCS), has already made it clear that the playoff will not expand anytime soon.

By only allowing the top four teams in, the FBS is basically guaranteeing to have only schools from the five major conferences in its playoff. Just like before, the Cinderellas of the college world are left standing on the outside staring in. Some things just don’t change.