No sport is drenched in tradition like college football, and in 2014, it’s going to do away with one of those. We’re about to have a definitive, recognizable, undisputed national champion. (With only a little controversy.)
The college game has finally succumbed to the prolonged, anguished cries for a playoff, and it’s here, albeit in abbreviated four-team form. It won’t be like the full-blown chaos of basketball’s 68-team March Madness, but it’s a step toward rewarding competition, not merely celebrating contentiousness.
In that regard, it’s a sharp departure from the history of the game, in which the awarding of the national championship has been all over the map.
Alabama, for instance, advertises 15 national championships. Notre Dame lays claim to 11 consensus titles, while tut-tutting that it has 22 recognized by at least one “legitimate” poll.
Through the years, there have been multiple news, ratings or computer outlets that name a national champion, and colleges that have been only too eager to ignore the methodology and hoist a banner.
The NCAA record book tells us there has been a DeVold, a Dickinson and a Dunkel champion. One year, in 1981, there were six teams that won a title, even if the proof came in the mail like a Macy’s flyer.
Back in the day, there was no BCS and little in the way of order. Remember how Minnesota won the 1960 championship (from four outlets, including AP), despite losing the Rose Bowl to Washington, 17-7? They named champions before the postseason back then, leaving the Huskies nothing but the Helms Foundation title.
Befitting a scattered process, that UW team wasn’t recognized as champs by its own school until a banquet 47 years later in 2007.
In the 1990s, we had a bowl coalition and a bowl alliance, and for 16 years, the hotly debated BCS.
And now a playoff. A quixotic quartet, as it were.
But don’t figure on the arguments going away. It’s college football, after all.
Key points of the playoff
• A 13-person selection committee will begin releasing its top 25 late in October and ultimately, will choose four teams to meet in two semifinal games — No. 1 versus 4 and 2 against 3 — with the winners to meet for the title at a stand-alone site outside the bowls.
• Six bowls will rotate in pairs as hosts of the semifinals — the Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta, Cotton and Chick fil-A — giving each a host’s role four times in the 12-year life of the four-team playoff contract. The Rose and Sugar host the first semis on Jan. 1, 2015, with the title game Jan. 12, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.
• Now it gets a little more complicated. The committee also fills the slots of the four bowls not hosting semis in a particular year. The Rose, Sugar and Orange are so-called “contract” bowls that retain conference affiliations in those years. The Rose Bowl keeps the Big Ten/Pac-12 tie-in, the Sugar is linked with the SEC and Big 12, and the Orange is joined to the ACC for one team, and for the other, the highest-ranked remaining team from the Big Ten, SEC or Notre Dame.
• What used to be known as the “non-AQ” conferences — ones that didn’t have automatic entry into the BCS — are now the “Group of Five,” and collectively, they’re guaranteed a spot in the Cotton, Fiesta or Chick fil-A. The leagues are the American, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West and Sun Belt.
• Every year of the pact will feature a tripleheader on both New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
• There’s no hard-and-fast criteria to guide the voters, but factors like strength of schedule and head-to-head results will be key.
• The committee includes five athletic directors, and a couple of former coaches, including ex-Washington head man Tyrone Willingham. It also features former Secretary of State and current Stanford provost Condoleeza Rice.
The semifinals will be seeded so that the top two teams do not play in road environments. Two teams from the same conference could compete in each game.
Jan. 1 @ Pasadena, Calif., 2 p.m. ESPN
No. 1 team vs. No. 4 team
Jan. 1 @ New Orleans, 5 p.m. ESPN
No. 2 team vs. No. 3 team
Jan. 12 @ Arlington, Texas, 5:30 p.m., ESPN
Projected final four teams
Undefeated Tide overcomes growing pains of first-year QB Jake Coker and a prickly date at LSU Nov. 8. There’s nothing so daunting as a chastened Nick Saban.
QB Trevor Knight better be as good as he was in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama. And Sooners have to hope absence of a title game in the Big 12 doesn’t bite them.
Bruins might have to beat Oregon twice, and they have just the QB to do it in Brett Hundley. They go 12-1, but pass muster with the testy, nine-game Pac-12 schedule.
South Carolina (4)
Cue the controversy. Behind first-year QB Dylan Thompson, stacked Gamecocks play ‘Bama close in the SEC title game and committee likes them over one-loss Florida State and Michigan State.