The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Opinion

June 29, 2012

LEVINE: New bowl system creates equality for teams

CLINTON — Periodically in this space I write about other things than chasing around my 2-year-old and since it’s too hot to think about a new development in my parenting life, I’m going with a topic that comes naturally to me — football.

Sure, it’s not even July and the temperatures are so high that my daughter even complains about the slide at the park being too hot, but it’s never too early to start thinking about cool, fall mornings, tailgating outside with family and friends, and enjoying an entire weekend’s worth of non-stop football. And when a major change happens in the middle of summer that will completely alter college football, I can justify writing about football just a little bit more.

University presidents on Tuesday agreed on a plan to conduct a Final Four-esque playoff in Division I college football starting in 2014. The move comes after years of passionate pleas from fans to institute something different from the BCS bowl system choosing a national champion.

However, unlike many fans of college football, I stood firm in a stance on not reducing the greatness of college football’s regular season with a playoff system featuring multiple teams. My argument then, and still now, is to take a look at college basketball. Their regular season is almost meaningless because virtually no one cares about the regular season and fans only tune into March Madness to see 68 teams attempt to earn a national championship.

College football’s uniqueness comes from a great regular season where every game matters. In college basketball, only March matters.

But after years of defending the BCS and bowl system, I came to a crossroads in 2008, when Oklahoma leapfrogged Texas to reach the national championship. Now I’m sure all my faithful readers remember my classic column from November 2008, but I wrote then about my displeasure with that decision.

Ever since then, I changed my mind (trust me, that doesn’t always happen) and backed a four-team playoff, which will now soon be instituted.

The new system will likely not affect either of the state teams since Iowa State has never come close to finishing in the top 4, and Iowa would have been considered once in 2002. But this new way of crowning a national champion is the fairest and best way to keep the regular season from being marginalized by an overabundance of teams receiving invites to a postseason for a trophy.

This format also will keep the bowl structure in place, which is a good thing for fans and players. There are definitely too many bowls, but for the most part, the postseason games award teams and mostly fans with an opportunity for a vacation, all the while watching one more football game. Fans enjoy the bragging rights provided by big-name bowls and teams get some national exposure that isn’t always prevalent during the regular season.

I’m still not sold on a selection committee choosing the teams for the four-team playoff. While the NCAA basketball tournament generally does a good job of picking the right teams, there have been plenty of squads deserving of a spot in the tournament, only to not hear their name mentioned on selection Sunday. By using a formula like the BCS, onlookers are kept informed of what everyone needs to do to get into the championship round, and surprises will be limited.

And there’s no doubt there will still be controversy. Once again, just take a look at the basketball tournament to see why that statement is true. The 69th team in the field always feels slighted, even though they obviously didn’t do enough to get into the Big Dance. Any team on the bubble didn’t do enough and shouldn’t have much room to complain, even though it happens every year without fail.

But with the college football system, there’s a lot less difference between No. 4 and 5, than 68 and 69. There are plenty of years where three teams should be in the discussion, while other times five of six teams could vie for the final spot. And then there will be times when two teams have clearly deserved to be the only representatives in the national title game, only to have to go through one more opponent. In the end, though, the university presidents did something they had to do. A playoff needed to be created. Now, I hope they don’t mess it up by adding even more teams.

Scott Levine is the Associate Editor of the Clinton Herald. He can be reached at scottlevine@clintonherald.com.

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