General | MAN ABOUT SPORTS

College Football Playoff needs to expand to be fair

by Dave Wiggins

Now, more than ever, it’s time for the U.S. College Football Playoff field to expand to six, possibly even eight teams.

Up from its present four.

The mess that was this year’s CFP selection process demands it.

For the uninitiated, here’s how the loopy thing works.

A 12-person selection committee — think of it as an NCAA-sanctioned gridiron supreme court — ranks the top 25 collegiate teams weekly beginning early in November.

The top four ball clubs in the final rankings, released the first weekend in December, then make up the CPF tournament field.

The stated criteria involved in the selection process are: 1) record 2) conference championship 3) strength of schedule 4) head-to-head competition.

Also coming into play are a bunch of hazy, never-fully-explained side elements like “resume”, “eye test”, “strong finish” and “injuries to key players contributing to losses”, blah, blah, blah.

The biggest fault of the system is this: No one seems to know which of these criteria or attached elements holds sway over the others at any given time.

Relative importance seems to change more often than Taylor Swift changes boyfriends.

This season’s Final Four field consists of Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Washington.

Here’s the rub: It does not include Penn State.

The 10-2 Nittany Lions handed Ohio State their only loss to win the Big Ten East title.

PSU then defeated West champ Wisconsin, No. 5 at the time, for that loop’s overall crown.

Meanwhile, Ohio St. enjoyed title game weekend off and then was still granted a CFP tourney berth over the Nittany Lions, who had to be content with a Rose Bowl invite.

If you’re counting, that’s half of the main criteria that Penn St. had working for it — head-to-head competition and conference championship — thrown out the window.

And numerous peripheral elements like “strong finish” were discounted as well (PSU had won its last nine).

Now, MAS has no horse in this race, even though he is a native Pennsylvanian. (But just technically — we Philadelphia area people see ourselves as more of a city-state unto itself.)

Truth be told, MAS has minimal fondness for Penn Staters, most of whom he considers annoying squares.

And well before the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke, MAS found legendary PSU coach Joe Paterno to be a big phony-baloney.

But even MAS feels Penn St. was the unfair victim of some selective application of a highly subjective ranking process.

And he feels, too, for Oklahoma, the Big 12 champ which was snubbed as well, even after winning its last nine ball games.

The reason the Sooners were left on the outside looking in?

They lost early in the season to Ohio State.

Huh?

Penn State beats Ohio State near season’s end and it means nothing. But a Buckeye win over Oklahoma in September is considered important?

Can you say illogically hypocritical?

See what MAS means about selective application of a highly subjective process?

And the Selection Committee is fortunate there wasn’t even more “fit hitting the shan.”

Colorado found itself in the same predicament as Penn State entering a conference title game late this campaign.

The Buffaloes won their Pac-12 division and were to meet Washington in the contest for all that league’s marbles.

But, even ahead of game time, it was widely predicted that should Colorado win the overall crown, it would still be passed by over the CFP in favor of Michigan, which had defeated the Buffs early in the season.

Never mind that Michigan didn’t even win the Big 10 East, let alone its overall league championship.

Yet another large selection criteria was set to be ignored.

As it turns out, the committed dodged that bullet when the Buffs fell to one-loss Washington in the Pac-12 title game.

With so much subjectivity involved in the picking of the Final Four, why not reduce the chances of future teams also being unfairly passed over by expanding the playoff field to six teams, with the top two seeds drawing first-round byes.

Or even better, make it eight teams and a complete three-round playoff.

As things now stand, there are just too many chances a team will suffer at the hands of 12 people who seem ill-equpped, given the existing fluid selection methodology, to dispense justice.

What’s amazing is that the CFP hadn’t been previously presented with the kind of loopy situation that just transpired.

From its inception in 2014, it has a been train wreck waiting to happen.

Fortunately for the selection committee, things had mostly serendipitously fallen into place for them yearly.

They were spared huge outcries of highway robbery because teams previously excluded only fell into the semi-snubbed category — like TCU and Baylor, one-loss co-Big 12 titlists in 2014 who were both left out of the CFP that season.

Not so this year, though. The committee’s run of luck finally ended.

The amount of speculation about the possible final rankings, which were to be released AFTER the playing of this season’s conference title games, was absolutely astounding.

The interest raised during the lead-up to the final vote, created by all the pundit bloviating and confusing committee member utterances, was through the roof nationwide.

It actually rivaled the Colin Kaepernick controversy in amount of national opining.

All the hot air released made for a truly head-shaking week prior to the Final Four announcement, which came after Championship Weekend, Dec. 2-3 (when most conferences held title games — that, as it turns out, are of little consequence in the big picture.)

During that lead-up, no one seemed sure which of the four main criteria or periphery elements would supersede the others.

It seemed like you could deem one element more critical than the others as you wished.

If MAS had a buck for every take on the matter that was floated out there, he would be a billionaire.

And the crazy thing was, almost all of the stances seemed plausible, given that the selection methodology has never been clearly and precisely explained or defined.

Intriguing as it was, though, MAS would rather not experience it again.

But he probably will.

We are contractually stuck with this present nebulous CFP process for nine more seasons.

MAS can only hope a legal loophole in the NCAA’s TV deal with ESPN is found, leading to a much-needed numerical increase in the tourney field.

Alas, such an event is highly unlikely.

For a daft operation like the CFP, expansion just makes too much sense.

Contact Man About Sports at: davwigg@gmail.com