Charboneau: College playoff great but can be better

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Cardale Jones scores on a 1-yard run in the second quarter Monday night.

As Oregon and Ohio State took the field at AT&T Stadium in Dallas on Monday night to determine college football's national champion there was one clear conclusion that could be drawn — the inaugural playoff was a resounding success.

Sure, some folks at TCU might be complaining and I'm sure the Big 12 as a whole hasn't been roundly endorsing the process, but even with all of the issues to the College Football Playoff — real and otherwise — it's hard to argue with the first go-around.

Television ratings for the semifinal games were through the roof and all the doom-and-gloom predictions about the regular season not mattering hardly materialized. In fact, if anything, the possibility of reaching the playoff made each regular-season game even more meaningful.

Ohio State at Penn State doesn't matter? How important does the Buckeyes' overtime victory look now? There is virtually no room for error these days, which makes every Saturday as big as the last.

But as good as it has been — compelling regular-season games, conference title games with huge implications and semifinals games watched by millions — it's far from perfect.

First of all, four is simply not a good number. Not when you have five conferences in the mix.

If there is, truly, a Power Five, then winning that conference should get you something, regardless of how that conference determines its champion. Maybe then the SEC will schedule someone other than Waterford Kettering in the non-conference and Michigan State won't be playing catchup all season after losing in Week 2 at Oregon. The same goes for an Ohio State team breaking in a freshman quarterback.

Perhaps, that will lead to more games like MSU-Oregon or Kansas State-Auburn. Maybe then, Nick Saban won't freak out at the notion of playing a road game in September — a true road game in another team's home stadium, not an NFL stadium with 50,000 Alabama fans.

The Big 12 deserves some blame here, declaring Baylor and TCU as co-champions in lieu of a conference title game. That gave the selection committee the perfect out in moving Ohio State in after its victory over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship game.

Bottom line — champions of the Power Five should get in. Add in three at-large teams — one can come from the other FBS conferences — and now we're in business.

Notre Dame? Join the ACC full-time. The special-treatment days are over.

And this has nothing to do with teams Nos. 5 and 6 complaining about not getting in. No matter where you draw the line, there will be gripes. It's inevitable, just like in the NCAA basketball Tournament.

Two teams? Three and four complain. Six teams? Seven and eight complain.

You can't avoid it, so don't worry about it.

There are problems with this setup. A legitimate issue is the number of games for teams that make it to the championship game — 16. That's a hefty amount for players that aren't getting paid and are still expected to go to class, not to mention for the universities shutting folks back and forth to each game. A move to eight teams could also spell the end of conference championship games, especially considering most teams won't want to lose a regular-season game and the revenue that comes with it.

The issue that is silly but carries far more weight is the old, tired bowl system. An eight-team playoff could likely mean on-campus games in the first round. Odds are, the guys in the polyester suits won't love that idea.

After all, where is their cut?

If that change ever comes, expect the folks associated with the bowl games to fight it tooth and nail. Or at the very least, they'll manage to come up with some other illogical solution that doesn't hurt the bottom line.

Which brings us to the other problem.

Next season, the semifinal games will be played in the Orange and Cotton bowls.

On Dec. 31.

On New Year's Eve.

Which games will be played on New Year's Day? Well, the Rose and Sugar bowls, of course. You know, the games that will have no bearing on the playoff.

It was a perfect setup this season as each hosted semifinals. But how backward does the next schedule seem?

Common sense says play the semifinals on Jan. 1 every season. But common sense rarely rules in college football and the Rose and Sugar bowls have contracts that say they must play at the same time on the same date every season.

So, lump the Rose Bowl in with the GoDaddy.com Bowl because my guess is you get far less watching it in 2016 than the 28 million that did in 2015.

"I think that every bowl that's involved in the semifinals has given up some things," Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told SI.com. "I don't think it's right to ask them to give up everything."

The Rose Bowl can't be played a day earlier? The Sugar Bowl?

College football can't shake the bowls. Even as the playoff era — in one season — has proven to be a smashing success, the bowls still have unimaginable power.

Tradition is great, but too often in this game it gets in the way of common sense. It's why nothing happens quickly.

There are bound to be tweaks to the playoff system, including whether the committee continues to release weekly rankings. But that is minor. Anything bigger than that will take time.

The playoffs have been great, but college football can get even better.

It just needs common sense, for once, to rule.

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

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