Wasserman: The price we’ll pay for College Football Playoff expansion

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When Brian Kelly kept his attack on the field in extra time against Alabama on Saturday night, time stopped. The whole country slid to the edge of their seats, some of us with beads of sweat on our foreheads.

This was a playoff game between bitter SEC rivals. Since the sport now exists, the results of these types of competitions go a long way in determining the eventual national champion. So we watched with bated breath.

Kelly, the freshman head coach trying to prove to his avid LSU fans that this program can compete at the highest level under his wing, didn’t want the game to be extended again. His team just scored a touchdown and was an extra point away from tying the score and forcing a second OT. Instead, he chose to go for two. He was home. His team proved it could score. It had the big bad wolf on the ropes.

He went for it with everything at stake: his team’s season, a potential spot in the College Football Playoff, and the approval of a fan base. He put his hands on his chips and slowly pushed them toward the center of the table.

Everything in.

Bet.

Drama.

College football perfection.

Kelly succeeded. Quarterback Jayden Daniels found tight end Mason Taylor within feet of the end zone before the talented freshman crossed the goal line. LSU won 32-31. The Tigers remain alive for the SEC championship — and the presumed Playoff spot associated with that championship — as Alabama’s national title hopes died.

Yes, that was a regular season game. But it was essentially a playoff game, with the winner winning everything. That’s how college football works with the current four-shift system. The spots are absurdly exclusive compared to other sports, which is why college football has the most immersive regular season. While some teams are given the benefit of the doubt — like teams in the SEC like the two-loss LSU, which is still clinging to hopes it can win the best and deepest conference in the sport — everyone at the Power 5 level has a chance. Win all your games, you’re in. It is easy. And once you lose, things may or may not fall your way, but that loss exposes you to the potential of being left out.

There were no CFP logos on the field in Baton Rouge on Saturday, but we all got a playoff game in November.

It seems everyone is in favor of the College Football Playoff expansion. There is excitement about how it will grant access to more teams and add the aforementioned stakes to other games that some of us may be skipping right now. The little man is finally seen. The group of 5 teams is finally represented. And branding Playoff games on campus is an exciting new opportunity in a sport that has evolved dramatically over the past three years. The positive sides of expansion are often emphasized in the media.

Oddly enough, not many have voiced the negatives. Do we really want to mess with the dramatic regular season that this four-team field offers? To get all the benefits of expansion, recognize that we’re taking the magic away from the major regular season playoff games already in existence.

What were the three biggest results of the past weekend? LSU over Alabama, Georgia over Tennessee and Notre Dame over Clemson. All three losers from those games were represented in the top 12 of the most recent College Football Playoff Committee rankings released Tuesday night. Tennessee was No. 5, Alabama was No. 9 and Clemson was No. 10. No loss impact.

Bah.

Oh, and this year’s Ohio State-Michigan game? You know, the game that will likely stake two undefeated Big Ten East teams for a chance to win their conference and make it to the Playoff? Well, with an expanded field, the results of that match won’t matter for the national title race. Sure, the fanbases will always care because it’s a bitter rivalry, but the only consequences of losing that game would be a lower seed and hearing the opponent’s fans talk nonsense. Ohio State may lose the game, but it will be No. 7 in the College Football Playoff and host another team and be a 23-point favorite instead. Excellent.

It is understandable to want to see new teams. We are tired of the same results every year. So what do we do? We are changing the definition of success – be a top 12 team instead of a top four team – instead of enforcing improvement and excellence.

What Michigan did last year was special. After continually falling short during the Jim Harbaugh era, the Wolverines restructured their workforce and got to work. They defeated Ohio state at the end of the year. They won the Big Ten. They made the playoffs. That’s something Wolverines fans can be proud of. That’s something they can cherish forever, to become the exclusive club the hard way. The pure way.

That’s a real feat, not a fake feat that would have come out of Michigan, making it another year as the No. 11 seed. Or the achievement that Cincinnati feels by breaking the Group of 5 barrier. They make sense. They are real. They are important.

In the future we will have to celebrate forgettable teams because we lowered our standard. Those 9-3 teams that James Franklin puts on the field that frustrate Penn State fans? Yes, those teams can now pass the GVB. Change your perspective from failure to success, because that’s much easier than requiring Penn State to assemble a team capable of winning anything. Franklin can cash in on his $75 million guaranteed because he now makes the Playoff without having to improve the product.

The College Football Playoff exists to determine the national champion.

That is it.

But we invite teams that don’t deserve that distinction so we can all feel better for the little guy. Clearly inferior teams can now put up banners because hey, it’s not fair that they can’t compete with Georgia and Alabama.

And in cases where it’s not for the little guy, we’re just giving the Alabamas of the world a second mulligan so they can compete for the national championship in years when they don’t deserve to be on the field. The first team to win the new College Football Playoff as number 6 or worse becomes a super team that got a third chance and became popular by the end of the year. That 2015 Ohio State team that missed the playoff because it lost at home to Michigan state in November didn’t deserve to win a national title, as it stuck around all year despite its immense talent. Now we’re opening the door again to incredibly talented teams who weren’t great and don’t deserve to be celebrated.

The regular seasons no longer matter for Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State and Clemson. Lose three games? No problem, you’re in anyway.

Which brings us to the concept of amusement. In college football, we enjoy watching other teams suffer almost as much as watching our teams prosper. It’s unlike any other sport. And that’s what makes the oversteer so compelling. It’s not just beating a team you’re not supposed to beat. It’s the thrill of witnessing the season of the better team crumble for the whole country. That is the epitome of college football.

The reaction to that will be predictable that we now give more importance to games that would have been overlooked in the past. But won’t we get a playoff game for TCU when it travels to Texas on Saturday? My colleague, Sam Khan Jr., will argue that TCU is held to a different standard than LSU or Alabama. Yes, it is, because LSU and Alabama are built differently and are playing in a conference that is infinitely more difficult. When you win the SEC, you reap the rewards of that distinction. And even if TCU is held to a different standard, if it wants to compete for a national championship — because that’s what it’s all about — shouldn’t it beat Longhorns’ three playoff losses this weekend? Perhaps TCU is held to a different standard because it is a seven-point underdog for a team with three losses.

The great thing, though, is that TCU doesn’t have to win by 100 to impress the committee. All it has to do is win and keep winning between now and Selection Sunday. There is no Power 5 team that does not determine its own destiny. Wake Forest, Syracuse and whoever – want to compete for a national title? Be excellent, don’t lose and win your conference.

If you’re concerned about the Group of 5, fine. That is fair. There’s an element to it that stinks when undefeated teams like UCF are left out in 2017. If you want to call it the College Football Playoff, it’s fair to want everyone to be at the table. But if we focus on crowning a national champion, then the group of 5 must be the victim. And Cincinnati proved that it is not impossible for a group of 5 team to win a national title. The Bearcats also showed what happens when you face a team that is really equipped for it.

It seems to me that we are more concerned with making sure everyone is included rather than crowning the best team. And unlike other sports, the national champion in college football has unequivocally crowned the best team every year during the Playoff era. This is not an everyone loves everyone scenario. This is a big company where we demand excellence to be considered one of the best.

That’s how the world works, right? Nobody cares if you’re one of the highest paid people in the world if you don’t produce. It is action and then result. Here we change the results without demanding the action.

The play-off has been expanded since 2014. We just got the regular season play-off games. We like the regular season and we change it for inclusion. Yes, the UCFs of the world are going to make it now, but so are the teams with two losses in Alabama.

You could say it will make for more interesting games by the end of the year, and it certainly will. And we’ll watch them all because college football is hugely entertaining and none of us can get enough football. We will look at this sport, whatever the system looks like.

It’s just strange that despite all the cheers we’re getting from everyone about how cool the expanded College Football Playoff will be, no one is willing to stand up and talk about the cost of expansion: We’re handing out participation trophies to inferior teams and we are watering down the regular season. And we don’t even get new champions out of it. The same teams you’ve had enough of now will also win the next version of the Playoff, because they’re in a league of their own.

Expansion is expensive.

Most people, oddly enough, are willing to look beyond the price.

(Sam Khan Jr. takes the other side of this debate. You can read it here.)

(Photo of Jahmyr Gibbs and Micah Baskerville: John Korduner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)


The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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