Four is nice. Eight would be better.
While college basketball fans have the option of watching 68 teams fight and claw and whittle themselves down to a Final Four during the entire month of March, football fans were forced to wait in anticipation while a committee of twelve did the same over Sunday morning coffee this weekend, when they picked the schools worthy of playing for a shot at the National Championship. Most think they got it right: Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, and Ohio State are all powerhouse programs that deserve to be there due to impressive resumes that include spotless records and big-game wins.
Of course, selecting four teams from a national landscape that has five major conferences was destined to leave someone out. This year’s bridesmaids, Baylor and Texas Christian, are both Big 12 schools out of Texas that cannibalized each other and ended the season as conference co-champions on the outside looking in. Meanwhile, Ohio State blew past them both on Saturday, jumping into the playoff picture at the last possible moment with a dominant 59-0 win over No. 15 Wisconsin and their record breaking running back, Melvin Gordon.
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“It was really about Ohio State’s performance that propelled them ahead of Baylor and TCU,” Jeff Long, chair of the committee, said. “We were focused on the four best teams and when we had the full bodies of work from all these teams, Ohio State earned that fourth spot.”
The public outcry, mostly from the state of Texas, is that it’s not fair. Why stop at four teams? Why eliminate the idea of David toppling Goliath in a dramatic tournament? There isn’t much madness here, only four closely matched teams, none of which will surprise anyone if they win. But it had to start somewhere. It can and will grow to include more teams and eat up more valuable TV real estate on winter weekends. A Final Four is just the first step toward an Elite Eight and maybe a Sweet Sixteen bracket for college football supremacy. Imagine a weekend packed with multiple single-elimination games, opening rounds held at neutral sites across the country, and the ability to binge-watch every play of it with an office bracket sheet stuffed in your pocket. Ultimately, that would be an insane event with the potential to rival the NCAA’s signature basketball tournament.
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Expanding the playoff field to eight teams this year would have appeased TCU and Baylor, and also tossed in 10-2 schools Mississippi State and Michigan State into the field with a chance to win it all. But even if it eventually expands to 64 schools, there will always be a fan base complaining about being No. 65. That’s why, for every Cinderella story written in March, there’s an accompanying sidebar about the big programs that got shafted despite being long shots at best. It’s a high stakes game of Musical Chairs where not finding a seat in the tournament can cost a university the chance to collect millions of dollars.
No one is sure how or when we’ll fit in the extra playoff games, or how detrimental the extra hits will be on the developing athletes, but the NCAA will expand when it needs to if only to win another news cycle and rake in millions more (so probably sooner than later). For now, be happy that we finally have a playoff in place to determine a undisputed champion. Every true tournament will always, without fail, produce two things: a champion and a snub. The College Football Playoffs are already off to a perfect start.
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