A version of this column first appeared in January, 2001. Some of the names have been changed to protect the guilty.
Congratulations to Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Notre Dame. They are the unsurprising “final four” of college football.
We won’t use the initial caps Final Four until the powers that be stage an acceptable and legitimate national championship. It’s been a long wait.
For this reporter, there is no true champion in major college football, nor will there be until every team that has a realistic chance to win is included in the process. All we have now are three invitation-only bowl games masquerading as a playoff. A best-of-seven between Alabama and Clemson might be more appealing.
It’s been more than a decade since we needed this type of review, but the 10 reasons college basketball is better than college football are as apt as ever:
1) If the CFP ran college basketball, it would cancel the second weekend of the NCAA tournament and hand-pick the “four best teams” from the Sweet 16 for a three-game invitational. And if a team it really wanted wasn’t among the 16 choices, it would simply change the rules after the fact.
2) If bracketologists ran college football, a suitable playoff would be established in which all conference champions and a handful of at-large teams are included. The argument that the last team left out of the bracket will complain is moot. The last team left out of the NCAA basketball bracket complains, too, but doesn’t have a realistic claim to the championship. The lowest seed to win the NCAA title was a No. 8 (Villanova, 1985); at-large teams are included all the way down to the No. 11 or No. 12 seeds. This is a huge margin of error.
3) If the CFP ran college basketball, every team from a non-power conference would already be eliminated from this season’s national title hunt. Sorry, Gonzaga. Tough luck, Houston and Saint Louis. You’re only around to help us make money in the regular season.
4) If bracketologists ran college football, the so-called “minor bowls” would be reorganized into the NIT of college football. A three- or four-week series would culminate at the highest-rated bowl not part of the main playoff. If Coastal Carolina loses its conference title game, it still has something it can go out and win.
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5) If the CFP ran college basketball, in a non-pandemic season, the nation’s top teams would play their last regular season games in early March, then sit idle for a month or more awaiting playoff games for which they’d be rusty and over-prepared. Imagine the ACC tournament ending on March 4th and the Final Four taking place on April 6th with no games in between. Great idea.
6) If bracketologists ran college football, student-athletes in that sport would be allowed to compete in a full-scale tournament the same way basketball players can. Why is it that football players can’t leave campus in December in non-pandemic years while their basketball counterparts seem to go anywhere, anytime? If the response is that football season is too long, then stop playing games in August and early September when the weather is ridiculously hot.
7) If the CFP ran college basketball, winning conference championship games wouldn’t mean anything much of the time. Nor would head-to-head results or, for that matter, winning all of your games if you’re not sitting at the cool kids table. If you’re at the really cool kid’s table, you can lose up to 80 percent of your games and still keep playing.
8) If bracketologists ran college football, we would be subject to the same second-guessing, debate and projections that make basketball’s Selection Sunday among the very best days in sports. We would then deliver a college football tournament that would shatter every record for ratings, exposure, interest and sponsorship dollars (not to mention office pools!).
9) If the CFP ran college basketball, the chance of it producing an acceptable 68-team bracket is zero or less. These people meet every week for two months and can’t even rank six or eight teams properly, much less 68. Say what you want about the NCAA men’s basketball committee — and I have — but it could give quite a lesson to its CFP counterparts on process and transparency.
10) If bracketologists ran college football, you’d get to read bracket projections virtually year-round!
With that said, I’m officially turning my attention to a sport that truly understands how to determine its annual champion. Only 82 days until Selection Sunday!