Decision to leave Florida State out of College Football Playoff means winning ’em all doesn’t matter



This has been the arguing point all along, for those who defended college football’s method of picking a national champion: Every game from first to last mattered, vitally. You lose one, you’re in peril. You win ’em all, you’ve got a chance.

Um, yeah. We’ll get back to you on that.

Sunday we received the latest proof that such rationalization was all bogus. Even if you’re not a fan of Florida State, their exclusion from the final four-team bracket of the College Football Playoff era stinks for multiple reasons.

It’s the first time in the decade’s worth of the four-team format that an undefeated team from a Power Five conference has been snubbed. You might have heard the reasoning: Florida State quarterback Jordan Travis suffered a season-ending injury on Nov. 18, and even though the Seminoles beat Florida in their regular-season finale and held Louisville to six points in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game to go 13-0, the 13-member CFP selection committee determined that a Florida State team without its regular quarterback couldn’t possibly be one of the nation’s best four teams.

The reasoning, as expressed by selection committee chair Boo Corrigan on Sunday, was that Florida State was “a different team” without Travis. “One of the things we do consider is player availability,” he added, “and our job is to rank the best teams, and in the final decision looking at that, it was Alabama at four and Florida State at five.”

Stay with me here, because there’s a lot to unpack.

This is the final year of the four-team playoff, and the 12-team version can’t come soon enough. All these years, even before this playoff system when “national championship” matchups were selected by bowl organizers rather than committees or computers, it has usually been a closed shop. The idea of Holiday Bowl champion Brigham Young actually winning the national championship – yes, kids, they were No. 1 in both polls in 1984, as the only undefeated team in Division I-A – is now so quaint as to be splashed in sepia.

Now you’d better be a member of the landed gentry if you want to crash the party, and as we saw this weekend, even in that case there are limits. Florida State was snubbed in favor of 12-1 Alabama, and if you don’t think there was pressure to get at least one Southeastern Conference team in the field you aren’t paying close enough attention.

This isn’t a bug. This is a feature of this system, which was drawn up before the 2014 season with four spots to accommodate five major conference champions plus Notre Dame when applicable. Under those circumstances, with the Pac-12 on the sidelines for six straight seasons, it’s worth rooting for 13-0 Washington to win this national championship as the conference’s last hurrah.

And when the Huskies play 12-1 Texas in a semifinal on New Year’s night in New Orleans, instead of the Sugar Bowl maybe it should be the Steve Sarkisian Bowl, former employer vs. current employer.

What was it that SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said before the conference championship games were played on Saturday, when there remained the possibility that his conference might be shut out of the playoff? “That’s not the real world of college football,” he said. “Let’s go back to like ‘Sesame Street’ so we’re really basic – one of these things is not like the other, and that’s the Southeastern Conference.

“… The reality is there has been no one that’s experienced the success in the postseason in the College Football Playoff that we have. So when you put us up actually against the teams, rather than in the committee rooms, we stand alone. And we stand alone this year, regardless of today’s outcome.”

The first part of that statement required an interpreter. The second was the traditional shameless lobbying. But Sankey got his way, as he always does. Alabama (12-1) and Michigan (13-0) meet in the first semifinal at the Rose Bowl, in the traditional 2 p.m. New Year’s Day slot.

Who will you root against? I’ve got family members who cheer for each side, so I think I’ll pass on answering that question.

(An aside: CFP executive director Bill Hancock told me last January, when the details of the 12-team format were still being sorted out: “Any game that we play in Pasadena, we intend to have at 2:00 Pacific on New Year’s Day.” So far, so good. Enjoy that third-quarter sunset.)

It’s obvious that the four-team bracket was created with eventual expansion in mind, but who imagined in the middle of the last decade what the college football landscape would look like now?

Getting back to the committee’s reasoning, that Florida State without its starting quarterback wasn’t one of the nation’s best four teams, maybe the football committee was taking its cue from the NCAA basketball selection committee. It also makes decisions based on player availability, although in that case, it’s less inclusion than it is seeding.

The classic case there involved the 2000 Cincinnati Bearcats, who were 28-2 and ranked No. 1 but lost star forward Kenyon Martin – father of former Sierra Canyon star and current Philadelphia 76er KJ Martin – to a broken leg in their conference tournament. The committee dropped them to a No. 2 seed, and they were eliminated in the second round.

Next year’s process, with the expanded field, should be more inclusive, though you can bet fans of the 13th-best team in the rankings will be furious. But for those who pine for the “purity” of college football, let’s face it: The purest system would be one, like the NFL, where selection committees and computer algorithms were out of the picture and wins and losses would be the sole decider.

So, promotion/relegation pyramid anyone?

jalexander@scng.com



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