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College football playoff hopes have bigger problems than getting Big Ten's blessing

BERRY TRAMEL COMMENTARY — We may be moving toward a four-team college football playoff, but we're not moving anywhere close to fairness in college football. Too much opinion. Too many subjective decisions. Too big of a beauty-contest factor.
by Berry Tramel Published: February 18, 2012

/articleid/3650364/1/pictures/1643877">Photo - FILE - In this Jan. 9, 2012, file photo, Alabama running back Trent Richardson holds up the championship trophy after winning the BCS National Championship NCAA college football game against LSU, in New Orleans. College football may finally get a playoff system of sorts, if the rumblings out of the Big Ten this week are any indication of the current thought process. The conference that helped spike the idea of teams actually earning their spots in the national title game when it was proposed four years ago, seems to be warming up to it now. (AP Photo/Dave Martin, File) ORG XMIT: NY167
FILE - In this Jan. 9, 2012, file photo, Alabama running back Trent Richardson holds up the championship trophy after winning the BCS National Championship NCAA college football game against LSU, in New Orleans. College football may finally get a playoff system of sorts, if the rumblings out of the Big Ten this week are any indication of the current thought process. The conference that helped spike the idea of teams actually earning their spots in the national title game when it was proposed four years ago, seems to be warming up to it now. (AP Photo/Dave Martin, File) ORG XMIT: NY167

* March Madness. Ah, you say, the 68-team bracket is a monument to opinion. And you're right. The same scheduling problems in college football affect college hoops, mandating opinion if you want a bloated tournament.

But the format minimizes opinion. When you have 68 teams in, you're guaranteed one thing: no deserving team is left out. A ton of undeserving are admitted, but no deserving team is omitted.

And the effect of seeding is tempered by the NCAA's revelation of 20 years ago that no team gets to play on its home court. OSU-Alabama on a neutral field would be interesting football. New Orleans, Houston, Arlington, doesn't matter. OSU-Alabama in Tuscaloosa or Stillwater almost surely would leave us still mystified on which was the better squad.

Put March Madness on home courts, and the NCAA basketball committee is not determining matchups, it's determining results. Northern Iowa can beat Kansas in front of a pro-KU crowd at the Ford Center. Northern Iowa cannot beat Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse.

Putting a college football playoff on neutral fields – be it four teams or, my personal preference, 10 (just conference champs) – would be rough on the fans. Not as many fans from Oklahoma could get to a game in Kansas City or Phoenix or Nashville, as opposed to the game possibly being played in Stillwater or Norman.

But let me get this straight. We schedule games against Savannah State and Florida A&M. We kick off at 11 a.m. and 9 p.m. We play on Thursday nights.

And now you want to start worrying about the fans?

If we want a legit college football playoff, we've got to minimize the power of decision-makers. Got to expel this beauty contest culture that pervades college sports. This culture that what we think is more important than what we know.

Here's an example. NCAA basketball committee chairman Jeff Hathaway, a Big East adviser, talked the other day about how committee members try to watch as many games as possible.

“Certainly you need to watch teams play…” Hathaway said. “That gives you some further insight. How a team looks is crucial, and we get out and see games throughout the season. We need to go beyond the numbers.”

How a team looks? What does that mean? What difference does that make? What are they looking for, who makes bank shots instead of swishes? Who smiles after victories? Who keeps their shirttails tucked in?

That's the same cultural problem with college football. We care what a team looks like as much as we care what a team does. We go so far beyond the numbers, we forget them.

This should be a zero-sum process. Instead, it becomes a collage of opinion and unsophisticated analysis.

You want a real college football playoff? You want a good one? You want it to be legit?

We've got to go past two teams, everyone agrees. But four teams, 10 teams, 16 teams? Irrelevant details until you solve the pressing problem. Creating a system whereby teams earn their way in, and we tell pollsters and computer programmers to take a hike.

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at btramel@opubco.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.

by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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