College football playoffs

Penn State’s 38-31 win second half over Wisconsin last night has put them in the Rose Bowl on January 2nd against USC. Penn State’s #5, USC’s #9.

This means Penn State won’t be competing in the College Football Playoff, despite its Big Ten Championship win last night and despite beating Ohio State, which will be in the playoffs. There are lots of layers to this conversation, and I don’t mean to disrespect the value of different schools of thought entirely out of hand. I understand, for instance, the idea that Ohio State’s overall season record (one fewer loss than Penn State) should hypothetically count for something. At the same time, I discount that. Why?

Since shifting from the Bowl Championship Series model to the College Football Playoff model, it seems like we’re shifting toward real playoffs, where the best teams compete. But the role of selectors is still enormous, and so “best” becomes not a product of the overall system, but “best” in the mind of an opaque system that practically no normal person knows anything about.

The value of division champions is what, exactly, in a world where selectors pick the final semifinalists for playoffs anyway? I saw Paul Clifford, Penn State Alumni Association CEO, share Urban Meyer’s 2006 comment: “If you don’t win your conference, you shouldn’t be playing for a national championship.” I think that’s right—and not just because it would mean Penn State would compete for the national championship this year, but because the current system devalues the division championships.

We’re moving toward a playoff model. In a playoff model, overall wins matter less than performance at key points in the season. The playoff model should allow for the rise of magical and unexpected teams like Penn State has proven to be this year, and who knows who’ll be next year.

I think we should probably move toward a system where the national champion is the result of division-victor playoffs.