When the BCS died a year ago, I wrote an introduction to the College Football Playoff that, in essence, contended that we were going to miss the BCS:
With the College Football Playoff ©, we will have one thing we asked for and one thing we did not. A semifinal playoff round will precede, and determine the participants in, the national championship game. That is good, and it was a structural shortcoming of the BCS. For some reason, though, the College Football Playoff © scrapped the BCS’s rankings system in favor of a Byzantine (Soviet? Orwellian?) black box: the
Participating in the BCS is like paying your income taxes: there’s a lot of math and fine print involved, you probably can’t quite find all of the information you need to calculate the precisely correct result, and there’s that guy down the block who hollers that the thing’s unconstitutional, but you generally have a pretty good idea of your expected outcome.
On the other hand, the new playoff’s Selection Committee recalls the Supreme Court: members deliberate behind closed doors, apply any criteria of their choosing in reaching decisions, and announce those decisions under their own terms.
On Sunday, the Selection Committee spoke for the last time in its inaugural season to announce the four playoff participants: Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, and Ohio State. Two days later, everyone outside of Texas generally seems to agree that this is the right result.
The only reason the results were or remain controversial has to do with what the Selection Committee did prior to Sunday. Their flipping and flopping of TCU, with seemingly connected treatments of Baylor and Minnesota, was the genesis of the confusion, surprise, and, in Fort Worth and Waco, disappointment, that arrived with the final playoff announcement. On one hand, those confused, surprised, and disappointed feelings were unwarranted: the Committee reached the correct result. On the other hand, however, they were unnecessary and likely would not have arisen absent the lack of transparency that now characterizes the college football ranking process.
If the BCS could speak from the grave, what would it say about the CFP Selection Committee’s final result? The answer, from some junkies with pigskin-covered Ouija boards, is that the BCS effectively is in complete agreement with the CFP:
That the BCS would have flipped Florida State and Oregon is of no consequence, as those teams would play each other in the semifinal round of a four-team playoff seeded under either arrangement. The remainder of the top sixteen teams also is identical under both methodologies, and the ordering is so nearly identical under both that the same teams would appear in a playoff field expanded to six, eight, ten, twelve, fourteen, or sixteen teams.
If the Selection Committee is likely to reach the same result as the BCS formula, what benefit, if any, does the Selection Committee add? Moreover, what is the downside to using a formula like the BCS to determine the playoff participants?