The infant’s handful of people who actually liked college football’s BCS probably snickered at the dilemma faced by the playoff committee, which had to find a way to select four entrants out of six deserving teams. Many of the rest of us are wondering if there is some other way that’s fairer, more simple, like perhaps a return to the way things used to be.
Well, back in the era that A Coach at Heart takes place, things were simpler but not necessarily better.
It was easier because conference champions were slotted into bowl games: Pac-8/10 and Big Ten in the Rose Bowl, Southwest to the Cotton Bowl, Big 8 to the Orange Bowl, SEC to the Sugar Bowl. There were some exceptions, but that’s generally how it worked.
Note, however, that only in the Rose Bowl were conference champs designated to play each other. So you often didn’t have a true national title match-up, and determining a champion came down to poll voters. The No. 1 and No. 2 team in the country clashed only five times in bowl games between 1960 and 1979, so championships were rarely settled “on the field.” That shortcoming was what led to the creation of the BCS and now the four-team playoff.
If you want a scramble, how about 1977, when Texas finished the regular season 11-0? Who would a hypothetical playoff committee have placed against the Longhorns? Eight other schools — including San Diego State as depicted in A Coach at Heart — finished the regular season with one loss and appeared in the Associated Press Top 20.
Oklahoma was No. 2 but already lost to Texas. Alabama’s only loss was at a good Nebraska team, so figure the Crimson Tide would be in. Michigan was ranked No. 4 but would a playoff committee have counted a weird loss at Minnesota against them? Notre Dame, the eventual national champion, had a “bad loss” at Ole Miss. Arkansas’ only setback was to Texas. Kentucky rode a great defense to a big season but was on probation and fell at weak Baylor. Bringing up the rear in the one-loss category was Penn State, which lost to those Wildcats.
But would it really be better to go back to how it was? If we did it this year, the bowls would like like:
Rose – Oregon vs. Ohio State
Cotton – TCU vs. Mississippi State
Orange – Baylor vs. Michigan State
Sugar – Alabama vs. Florida State
And then the voters would vote. Not necessarily better, huh?
The playoff committee ended up with semifinals of Alabama vs Ohio State and Oregon vs Florida State. While Frog and Bear fans deserve sympathy, this is a good set up for a national championship. No system is perfect. Next year, the playoff committee could be left with three deserving teams and will have to fish for a fourth. Worse, a team could go wire-to-wire as No. 1 and making them go through a playoff would seem like an insult. Or seven teams will look qualified. Some will want to expand the bracket, but that will change standards and, thus, the pool of teams to consider. It’s not perfect now, but it was imperfect before, too.