By James Saffo
NCAA concluded the inaugural edition of the College Football Playoff on Sunday night, to rousing success in more ways than one. Fourth-seeded Ohio State’s convincing victory over No. 2 Oregon validated the implementation of the new system in the place of its predecessor.
Under the former system, both teams’ postseasons would have been reduced to bowls named after foods rather than competing for collegiate football’s grandest prize. The Bowl Championship Series system took the championship out of the hands of the players and defeated the entire purpose of playing football games: letting the teams settle the championship on the field.
The championship triumph of a team that sat outside of the top 10 of the committee’s first ranking attests to the notion embraced by the NFL and college basketball that the true champion will reveal itself in competition as opposed to on a computer screen.
Of course, you can’t please everyone. However, for all of the well-documented flaws of the NCAA, an institution notorious for its unwillingness to admit mistakes, its ability to rectify the flaws of the old system is commendable, aforementioned profit notwithstanding.
The first playoff was met with widespread public approval, if ratings are any indicator. In fact, the only criticism from many, both when the system was originally implemented and recently, was that the NCAA should double the fun and add four more teams to the tournament.
Considering the added context of this season, the idea looks even more appealing on several fronts. The playoff committee looks very smart right now in hindsight; they chose the final four perfectly, but they are still very human, and humans make mistakes.
The committee was under the impression that Ohio State deserved to be given a chance to show whether or not they were title-ready. However, had they simply been under a different impression, the Buckeyes very well could have been left at No. 5 at season’s end.
The best team in the nation may not have had the chance to prove themselves. The fear of this could very well push the playoff format to eight teams in the coming years.
However, this could cause the emergence of problems for the NCAA. Some critics of the hypothetical expansion would simply argue that “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” but the issue is deeper than that.
The Ohio State Buckeyes won the championship by winning 14 of the 15 games it played. Those 15 games are one less than the workload of 20 NFL squads who failed to qualify for a playoff berth.
There are two differences between these 20 teams and Ohio State. The first is that the Buckeyes had a season that was infinitely more successful than these NFL franchises, in regards to the realization of championship aspirations.
The second distinction is that in lieu of this failure to reach the postseason, the players on these teams are all on payroll, while the players of the reigning college football champions are forbidden from being financially compensated.
The lack of compensation after the completion of a product one-game short of what others are paid handsomely for, in addition to other perceived collegiate inadequacies, is perhaps what produces responses like these from eventual championship quarterbacks.
This is not to argue for or against the payment of college athletes for their services; that is another discussion for another day.
It is simply interesting to note that one argument that the NCAA employs is that college football players do not undergo the same workload as NFL players; but with the success of the first playoff, public clamoring for more football and the temptations of expansion that statement may not be true for very much longer.
The success of the new system and the satisfaction from the players now that they have the opportunity to actually take the title into their own hands has actually quieted the complaints concerning the payment of college athletes.
However, the expansion of the playoff, which would subsequently expand the workload of its participants, may eventually re-ignite the arguments and the criticisms of the NCAA that come with them.
The championship was an invigorating success, and the NCAA should be proud of the result of its careful deliberation into a better system for college football. However, the same considerations should be used to determine whether expansion of the playoff would be ethical and, most likely of more importance to the NCAA, worth the trouble.
Success is often blinding, an impediment that an oft-maligned institution like the NCAA cannot afford. Expansion often breeds more expansion, but the NCAA may be wise to quit while it is ahead.