I don’t think there is any argument that the month of March is one of the most exciting times in college sports.
The madness of the 64-team bracket (no, play-in games, you don’t count) wows sports fans every year with Cinderella stories, buzzer beaters, and moments of pure greatness. Hopefully, college football’s decision to adopt a 4–team playoff can do the same.
Of course, the new format will not take place until 2013, but this gives the sports world and ample amount of time to understand exactly what a real 4-team playoff means for college football.
We can finally see matchups between the powerhouse SEC schools and the undefeated mid-majors that “can’t compete.” In the past Boise State and TCU have had their seasons scrutinized because of easy schedules. Their undefeated seasons were considered by some to be less credible than a 1–loss Pac 12, Big 10, or SEC team. With this new format, teams that are on the bubble will be given a chance that they deserve a shot at the big boys and the national title.
Recruits will value and choose their schools differently. Top recruits may decide that a lesser name school is better than LSU or Alabama if they know that they have a shot at making the 4–team playoff. The window of opportunity to qualify for the national championship game for a lesser school is essentially shut in the current format (case and point: Boise State or TCU), but teams can capitalize on slip–ups by the big boys and sneak into the 3rd or 4th spot.
Teams with an early loss can still control their own fate. Teams that enter the year with a lot of hype but suffer an early loss often get deflated as their title hopes have taken a serious hit. Take Oklahoma State for example. Last year’s loss to Iowa State ruined any title hopes they had. But their offense was potent enough to score on anyone and some people wanted to see them battle either the LSU or Alabama defenses. Of course, that didn’t happen, as they played in a shootout against Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl. But the playoff format may have given them a chance to atone for the Iowa State loss. Now, teams will play even harder knowing that they can still control their own fate.
Finally, two of the four teams will most likely be from the SEC. As the top football conference in the nation, the SEC championship game usually features two Top 5 teams. Sometimes the 2nd best team in the SEC is better than the best team in the Pac 12 or Big 10. The four teams will be chosen by committee, so there is a chance that they would prefer teams from other conferences, but this will be doing a disservice most likely to a deserving SEC team.
It will be interesting to see how the teams shape out two years from now. Whether or not the system succeeds remains to be seen, but everyone seems to be in agreement that this is a step in the right direction.
Certainly it won’t surpass the elder statesman known as “March Madness,” but it certainly will change the hype surrounding college football.