Henning: College playoff needs larger field, new day
Dallas — Never did it seem like a reason to argue. A college football playoff made sense in the way the Super Bowl, or World Series, or NCAA Final Four, or the Stanley Cup playoffs, or any other sports competition that craves a winner — an ultimate champion — creates a structure to decide one.
But still there were protests:
■ It's better to have the polls decide a "mythical champion." (What?)
■ The season already is too long. (Please don't ask why the NCAA basketball season lasts five months — minus October practices).
■ You would be forcing some kids to miss too many classes. (Again, don't seem to hear that argument during March Madness).
What drove the anti-playoff gang, of course, was a reflexive defense aimed at propping up that incessant enemy of sound reasoning: the status quo.
Some people simply hate change.
So, now we have, in a minimalist way, a four-team playoff framework designed to more equitably determine an actual champion in a sport that captivates Americans on a par with the NFL's playoff blueprint.
One of those semifinal games, the Cotton Bowl, will be played here Thursday night at AT&T Stadium, featuring two final-four contestants, Alabama and Michigan State.
It's a start, this playoff system that now enters into its second year. But it's still about four bricks shy of a load.
It needs four more teams to ensure that something closer to a true championship bracket accommodates the right number of quality schools.
In other words, some mix of Ohio State, Notre Dame, Stanford, Iowa, Florida State, TCU, etc., should have been part of this season's playoff group.
And some day, probably sooner rather than later, it will be.
Eight is enough
It's inevitable that the College Football Playoff will extend to eight teams in the same way it was absolutely certain 40 years ago that the NCAA basketball tournament would move from 32 schools to an eventual field double that number.
No one seems to have complained about the 68-team "March Madness" sanctum sanctorum. Not overly loudly, anyway.
It's because everyone has seen how much better the tournament is with more participants.
And it will be no different in football.
True, the game takes more out of players than does a basketball season, although tell that to Tom Izzo or John Beilein or other college coaches who deal, constantly, with injuries and the stress of a season that can last six months.
But the other arguments against an expanded football playoff are, well, specious is one word, and silly is another.
You can get this whole thing done by mid-January and graduation rates aren't going to fall dramatically from the current marks, which among this year's Final Four runs 65-86 percent.
You can pull it off and not tax players more than they've been challenged by regular seasons that once were nine games and now have hit 12.
Moreover, you can do it, all in the name of having a more exciting, and far more accurate, means for identifying a final victor.
This question was asked Wednesday of the Cotton Bowl coaches, Nick Saban of Alabama and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio, and neither had an appetite for an eight-team bracket.
"It would be too long," each coach said.
Well, this year, anyway.
If you're one of those next four teams, and know how close you've come, or how ready you'd be to play in a quarterfinals match-up that might enable you to run the table and make off with a crown, you definitely want an eight-team grouping.
So do your players.
So do your fans.
And, so, eventually will America, which is destined to see eight teams and will be tickled by the additional layer of playoff football.
Ring in the new year
While they're making a necessary adjustment there, the NCAA and playoff bosses can also get busy correcting another, far more odious, problem with the current arrangement.
The semifinals schedule is ridiculous. New Year's Eve is no time to be staging the season's top two college football games.
New Year's Day is when these tussles should be played, when audiences are peak, and when the typical person who loves this game isn't obliged to forgo dinner reservations and parties on one of the most explicitly festive nights of the year.
That, of course, would require dislodging some golden oldies from their current perches paved in cash. But there's no reason the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl's slots can't be altered to make those time slots the property of two semifinals games.
Such shuffling would allow the broadest possible audience to enjoy the most competitive of all games, in the same way the NFL has back-to-back late Sunday games to decide the Super Bowl card.
But, alas, that also would require shaking loose from the status quo and, more to the point, adjusting cash flow to a couple of bowls whose directors and whose conference dance partners enjoy particularly cozy and profitable coexistence.
Not much chance of that happening.
But give this long-overdue playoff party a chance to grow, evolve, and become even more of a national sports obsession. It will happen. And then the money will follow.
And then, finally, we'll begin to make some additional, common-sense progress in a sport that will have no choice but to do the smart thing.