The main story in college football this week did not involve any star players, epic comebacks or even a look forward to this weekend’s big matches.
It centered on how the College Football Playoff Committee decided to place Michigan No. 6 and Michigan State No. 7 in this week’s standings, even though they have identical 8-1 records and only nine days before, the Spartans had defeated the Wolverines.
“The committee gave great confidence to the Michigan State victory head-to-head against Michigan,” said Chairman Gary Barta.
Yes, except when it did not.
The order of the order between two teams outside the actual top four that would come in the playoffs – if the season ended today, which it is not – is of course irrelevant. It’s a fictional exercise.
It still caused a fan and media resurgence with days of negative stories, bad headlines, TV screams, conspiracy theories, talk-radio rip-off jobs and tumult on social media. Much of it was centered around the perception that the playoffs favor larger brand programs in an attempt to increase TV viewership.
It was another blow to the committee’s credibility, the playoffs and the whole sport.
And it was, as always, completely self-inflicted.
The question is not that the selection committee can come up with some peculiar rankings backed by weak explanations – trying to rank 25 football teams with so few comparable data points is inherently problematic. Plus, there is an intellectual argument for UM over MSU. The problem is that the committee tried to do it in the middle of the season as part of a bizarre marketing plan that does not do much to create excitement for the off-season, but a lot in getting fans to believe the sport is corrupt, incompetent and stupid.
The truth is, it does not matter where Michigan or Michigan State is located this week. Both teams have three regular season games left – including against Ohio State and Penn State. Things tend to fix themselves.
As such, before December 5, when the committee actually sets the playoffs, the debate is likely to be controversial.
In some seasons, there has been almost no controversy about the top four teams. The work of the committee in the final weekend is often very easy. The ranking that matters does not cause a negative reaction; the locations that do not.
So why do it? Why make a TV show that serves to make the playoffs just less popular and less trusted? The NFL does nothing like that, and it continues to grow in popularity.
Just let the sport be the sport. Stop turning the focus of the late season on who is or will not be screwed together in a pretend argument.
While College Sports Inc – as it often does – will repeat an old traditional wisdom that angry debates are what drive interest, why is it accepted? It’s not like any other sport does this.
You do not need a ranking show for fans and the media to argue about who hypothetically should get into the playoffs anyway. It will happen organically – both the Associated Press and USA Today give an unofficial top 25 via a coaching vote.
Money? Of course, ESPN gets a weekly half-hour show, but the result is often a segment of fans blaming the network for secretly pulling strings. It has left ESPN and its front-facing personalities trying to defend themselves against vague credibility allegations that are not even true.
TV ratings for the playoffs have steadily declined over its seven-year existence. In 2014, the three playoff games averaged 30.4 million viewers. In 2018, it was 25.6. Last year, it dropped to under $ 20 million for the first time, checking in at $ 18.9 million per year. SportsMedia Watch.
Matchups and game competitiveness play a role in year-on-year ups and downs, and last year’s COVID-truncated season certainly did not help, but how many fans of the sport have given up in the playoffs because they have been fed a stable diet of confusing locations that make them suspicious?
No one needs scenes like last week’s “ESPN GameDay” appearance at the University of Cincinnati, which should have been a celebration of the Bearcats program. Instead, fans overwhelmed, angered by their current (and meaningless) ranking, the broadcast with insults and mockery of Barta, the otherwise reasonable athletic director at the University of Iowa.
There is a need for a selection in college football where 130 teams compete for a single championship. Someone has to pick out the big teams and set the seeding. A single public computer formula could theoretically do the trick too, but it does not fly.
What is not needed are half-baked results and tortured and contradictory reasoning each week that put the committee into later decisions. Just came out with the final location. Only speak once a year. Avoid the weekly piñata routine.
College football will almost certainly get a new 12-team playoff soon. It will be more exciting, fairer and more profitable.
But part of the new plan should include sending the weekly ratings show to the trash pile of horrible sports marketing ideas. This is just stupid.