It’s time for change in college football

Change is good.

It may not seem like it all the time and sometimes it can take years, or even decades, for things to adapt.

However, in the end, things always seem to work out for the better. Now it’s time for change to happen again for Division I college football.

There have been major changes in the professional leagues and things have turned out pretty well overall. Instant replay was frowned upon for years, for reasons that I never understood, but it’s been great for Major League Baseball. For the NFL, it’s also worked out pretty well. The main dispute that people have with it isn’t necessarily the replay, but the fact that the league can’t make up its mind on what its rules are. I’m still not sure what counts as a catch anymore and I feel like the league wants it that way just to mess with my head.

Shootouts have also turned out to be a good thing for both the NHL and the western college hockey leagues (WCHA, NCHC, Big Ten). There’s still some people who dislike them, again I’m not sure why, but it gives you an outcome to the game you watched. I agree that they shouldn’t be allowed in the playoffs, but for a meaningless game in November, wouldn’t you rather have an actual conclusion? Whenever things end in a tie, it’s like you went to a concert and the band stopped playing 10 minutes before the end of the show. Or you went to a movie and it just cut off right before the climax. You’re left wondering what might’ve happened and that’s never a pleasant feeling.

Well college football fans went through that unpleasant sensation every season for years and years and years at a time. Whenever a team was crowned “national champions,” there was almost always a legitimate argument that whomever that was didn’t deserve it. It wasn’t until after Michigan and Nebraska split the national championship in 1997 that things actually started to move in the right direction. Apparently having split titles in 1990 (Colorado and Georgia Tech) and 1991 (Miami and Washington) weren’t enough motivation.

Anyway, in 1998, the much-maligned Bowl Championship Series era began. I understood the concept at the time as a “computer” calculated who should be in the BCS National Championship game based on a wide variety of criteria. In the early days, it was pretty successful. There was a little debate each season, but not enough to want to overthrow the system. Things started to rumble in 2004 when the No. 1 team in the polls, USC, was somehow left out of the BCS title game. After the Trojans won the Rose Bowl, the pollsters tried to remedy this with the Associated Press (AP) voters choosing USC as the champion and the coaches poll picking the BCS winner LSU. Things went smoothly again until 2011 when two SEC teams (LSU and Alabama) played in the title game, and that’s when the BCS reached its breaking point. Two years after that, the BCS busted and we got the wildly successful 4-team College Football Playoff. For years, college administrators and conference commissioners resisted the move to a playoff fearing that it would be a bust financially. Common sense finally won out though and things have been OK.

That is until last season. Alabama didn’t even make the SEC Championship game, but somehow managed to slide its way into the final playoff spot ahead of undefeated Central Florida. The Crimson Tide ended up winning the championship but the fact that they got into the 4-team despite not even winning their conference irked some people. The Knights did get a bit of revenge though as they were recognized as co-national champions by the NCAA after finishing first in the Colley Matrix poll, which will always give me a chuckle.

This year, things got even more controversial. Alabama finished undefeated, so this season, people were fine with them making the CFP. Clemson and Notre Dame also got in with unblemished records, so they also deserved slots in the final four. The fourth spot was where things got debatable. After finishing with one loss, both Oklahoma and Ohio State had legitimate claims to the last slot. There were also some analysts who made the ridiculous claim that two-loss Georgia should get in instead, despite just losing to the Tide in the SEC title game. In the end, the Sooners filled the fourth slot, but the argument can still be made that the CFP committee got it wrong.

There’s one way to fix this problem and it’s remarkably simple. Just create an 8-team playoff and eliminate the conference title games. Those championship contests have gone from fun to a nuisance as a loss in the game can doom a team’s chances of getting a CFP spot. The current four teams would obviously make it, but then the teams who were on the outside looking in can get a shot as well.

If you look at the final AP poll, the next four squads will be Ohio State, Georgia, Michigan and UCF. The Knights would receive their opportunity to prove themselves, and this year, they’d be facing No. 1-seed Alabama in the first round. If UCF says it deserves a shot at the title, a massive upset of the Tide would show that.

Even though Michigan flopped against the Buckeyes a couple weeks ago, the Wolverines could make up for it by taking down Clemson. Georgia would play Notre Dame, which would then decide the two-loss Bulldogs could keep up with the current four teams, and OSU and the Sooners would battle in what could be an epic game.

Millions would watch these games, which translates to more money for the networks and the schools as well as more exposure. UCF could be the adopted team of casual college football fans, just like Gonzaga is in DI college basketball. Not only that, but if one of the smaller seeds, like Michigan, manage to rattle off three wins in a row to win the CFP, it could consider itself one of the nation’s elite, and not just because it used to be years ago.

The other change that should happen is the elimination of some of the smaller bowl games. The amount of these contests is flat-out absurd (there’s 40 this year) and I can’t imagine winning the Redbox Bowl is going to help draw high school freshmen to come to Michigan State. If you think that’s bad, Minnesota is in even worse shape. After all that talk about “Rowing The Boat,” from head coach P.J. Fleck, the Golden Gophers have earned the right to play in the Quick Lane Bowl for the second time in four years, which is in Detroit. I love Detroit and I’ve been there three times now, but you’ve got to admit if your reward after all your hard work during the season was a trip to the Motor City in late December, it’d be like the people at Quick Lane forgot to change your oil and decided to punch you in the crotch.

Things are worse for Western Michigan as it heads to Boise for the Idaho Potato Bowl. Woo! Getting to play in the snow in below zero weather! At least the Gophers get to play inside Ford Field. The Broncos didn’t just get punched in the crotch. They got roundhouse kicked to the head by a horse on the way down. Miami goes from playing at home in sunny south Florida to playing in Yankee Stadium two days after Christmas. Talk about a step down for the Hurricanes. Their reward at the end of the year is to go from paradise to what will probably feel like the North Pole. Talk about climate change for a school that will probably be underwater 50 years from now. May as well get a head start on it.

The cutting down on bowl games probably won’t happen because 6-6 teams need to feel like they accomplished something, but the 8-team CFP is inevitable, so we may as well go for it now instead of postponing it like you do when taking out the trash or paying your cellphone bill.

Adapting is never easy, and taking out those empty pizza boxes to the dumpster isn’t the most enticing thing, but it needs to be done. Nobody will ever be entirely happy when it comes to the CFP, but an 8-team bracket is the closest we’ll get.

Like I said, change is good and it’s time we fix college football. At least when it comes to the postseason.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.