One thing is for sure about the College Football Playoff: It's a darn sight better than the Bowl Championship Series, the oddball system in which a computer program determined the two college football teams that would play for the national championship. (A measure of just how despised the Bowl Championship Series was among fans can be found on the BCS website — yes, the BCS still has a website — which makes the case that the series "was one of the most successful events in the history of college football, yet it is often misunderstood.")
In any event, the selection committee (a collection of actual people) on Sunday picked the four teams that will play for this year's national championship, and there's little doubt that the committee correctly selected at least the top three teams: Undefeated Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame all qualified. There was controversy over the fourth team, but the sense here is that the committee made the correct choice, by selecting Oklahoma as the fourth team. (Ohio State fans, your team probably shouldn't have lost to Purdue by 29 points. Georgia fans, your team probably shouldn't have lost to Louisiana State by 20 points.)
The only thing that would be better than a four-team playoff? An eight-team playoff. It wouldn't be that hard to schedule an additional week of playoff games, especially considering the endless succession of lesser bowl games that will clog the schedule all the way through December.
And expanding the tournament to eight games finally would give teams that play outside one of the so-called "Group of Five" conferences (The Southeastern Conference, the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big Ten, the Big 12 and the Pacific-12 Conference) a legitimate shot at making the field. The University of Central Florida, for example, has won 25 straight games but has the misfortune of playing in the American Athletic Conference. An eight-team tournament this year would have included Central Florida, which finished the season at No. 8 in the College Football Playoff rankings.
As for the Pac-12 Conference, it again finishes well out of the money in terms of the four-team playoff. (And it would have been spurned again in an eight-team field; the University of Washington was the highest-ranked Pac-12 football team, at No. 9.) Only two other Pac-12 teams cracked the Top 20 in the final rankings: Washington State University was 13th and the University of Utah was 17th.
Pac-12 officials and coaches will tell you this is because the conference is so competitive: Teams in the conference spend the regular season beating each other up, and it's not unusual for even the best Pac-12 teams to finish with three or four losses, they say. And teams with that many losses just don't get invited to the post-season tournament.
And there's a measure of truth to that. But let us suggest another reason: The Pac-12 doesn't get much respect on the national level because, in terms of football, it's the weakest of the Group of Five conferences. The conference is coming off a 1-8 record in last season's bowl games, the worst postseason record ever posted by one of the five conferences.
A continuing series by The Oregonian's John Canzano suggests one possible reason why: The free-spending conference distributes less money to its member schools than either the SEC or the Big Ten. Pac-12 officials say one reason for that is the fact that the conference owns its own TV network, but it's not clear yet if the network is a success in terms of generating revenue or ratings to justify its costs.
Here's why all this could be important: Football pays the bulk of the bills for most college athletic programs. If the Pac-12 isn't contributing as much money as other conferences to its member schools, that could give an edge to other conferences — an edge that could become apparent not just on the football field but in the finances of its athletic departments. (mm)