Slowly but surely, the things we dreamed about in years past are starting to come to fruition. The Frogs got their long-deserved spot in the Big 12, people carry around computers in their pockets and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss finally found a watchable post-Seinfeld role. Flying cars still seem like they're a ways off, but a college football playoff seems as if it is coming sooner than later.
One problem, though: the powers that be can't decide on a format. Unfortunately, most of the folks who actually have a say in this discussion are focused on dollar signs instead of what would be best for college football as a whole.
The Big Ten and Pac 12, due to their long-time affiliation with the Rose Bowl, would prefer a plus-one format that would preserve the traditional bowl schedule. In that scenario, two teams would be chosen to play in a national title game after the bowl games. While I'm sure there would be provisions to allow Notre Dame or teams from other conferences to play for the title if they deserved a shot, this seems to me like it is just cutting the number of conferences on the inside of the championship eligibility criterion from six in the current BCS to four. That would ostensibly make the Big Ten champ vs. the Pac 12 champ in the Rose Bowl one national semifinal, and the Big 12 champ vs. the SEC champ in the recently proposed "Champions Bowl" the other. I know TCU would be on the inside of this system, but I still think it reeks of the kind of exclusivity that limits the full potential of college football nationwide.
If the Big 12 and SEC had their way, though, there would be a true four-team playoff with conference affiliation- and conference championship status- having no bearing on who is chosen to participate. While this "open" format could be spun as being fair to everyone, the intent is not nearly as altruistic. The folks in SEC country, of course, believe that their 10th or 11th place team could beat any other conference's champion with their freshmen and a few swoopy-haired and bourbon-breathed frat boys out of the bleachers. They'd like nothing more than an all-SEC field, but would likely settle for 2-3 SEC teams getting in any given year. I understand that they want to look out for their own bottom line, but I'd also hope that people who had risen to positions of such power could also have the ability to think a little more globally. It's hard to argue against the four best teams being included in the playoff field, but doesn't that make the conference championships (not to mention the regular season) fairly pointless? And aren't those championship games the reason for expanding conference to twelve or more teams in the first place?
As a college football fan that just wants to watch as many highly-compelling games as possible during the season, I'd like to see a four (and maybe eventually eight) team playoff featuring only conference champions. I fully understand that the second-place team in the SEC is probably a better title contender than, say, the champion of the Pac 12 in a down year. I also understand that a championship-caliber TCU team could potentially finish 2nd in the Big 12 and be left out. If that were to happen, I'm sure I'd be mad. But I think there is something to the thought of protecting the integrity of the regular season and the sanctity of a conference championship. Limiting the playoff field to only conference championships not only makes every game count the way they have under the old bowl structure and the BCS, it's also much healthier for college football as a whole. Providing access to a potential championship to more teams will equal increased fan support at a higher number of schools which will in turn provide more scholarships for young student-athletes. Isn't that the real purpose of this whole thing?
So let's say you're suddenly given the role of college football playoff czar. How would you set it up? How many teams would be involved? How would you preserve the bowl games, if at all? Which of the playoff formats favored by the real-life power brokers is most appealing to you?