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Front Page - Friday, December 16, 2016

Climer column: Time to expand college football playoffs

When it comes to college football, I tend to be a traditionalist.

That doesn’t mean I yearn for the days of leather helmets and quick kicks. I try to adjust to the times. But I must admit it’s hard to swallow a 76-61 final score, as was the case in the Pittsburgh-Syracuse game this season.

That’s why it was difficult to make the leap to a college playoff. Perhaps it’s the contrarian in me.

I actually liked the BCS, at least in the beginning. The original formula included all kinds of widgets – a combination of the two major subjective polls, computer rankings and even a strength of schedule component. I found the mathematics fascinating.

In time, though, it made sense that some sort of playoff system would come on line. Limiting things to a two-team faceoff for the national championship gave way to a four-team playoff. Why? Money, of course. And I bought in.

Now, though, it’s time to take it a step farther. A four-team playoff is fine. But an eight-team playoff would be finer.

Hear me out: I understand this isn’t the NFL. I appreciate the fact that some schools – but only some schools – actually try to maintain the concept of the student-athlete.

But once you take the leap into the land of playoffs, the genie is out of the bottle. Why not add four more teams and one more round of games?

I understand that sometimes less is more. Playing three postseason games in three weeks against this level of competition could turn it into a war of attrition. The eventual finalists would face the possibility of playing 16 games in a four-month period – 12 regular-season games, a conference championship game and then the three-round playoff.

That’s lot of wear and tear on college players, many of whom are hoping to stay healthy enough to one day reap the rewards of an NFL contract.

This playoff system would go one step further than the NFL. There, only the wildcard teams in each conference face the potential gauntlet of three playoff games in three weeks, with a week off before a fourth game – the Super Bowl.

But it’s the world in which we live. Let’s double the playoff field and double the fun.

The idea of an eight-team playoff has been around for years.

In 1994, a decade before the College Football Playoff came on line, Georgia athletics director Vince Dooley proposed a field of eight teams in a three-round demolition derby. Given Dooley’s background as an iconic coach, his proposal raised some eyebrows.

That idea was shot down but got enough attention that college football’s overlords, including then-SEC commissioner Roy Kramer, came up with the Bowl Alliance that evolved into the BCS.

Some want to expand the playoffs but stop at six, with the top two seeds getting first-round byes. I just don’t see it. What’s next, play-in games like the NCAA basketball tournament? Nope. If you’re going to have three rounds, all playoff participants should be in it for the duration.

One of the arguments against an eight-team playoff as opposed to four is that it somehow devalues the regular season. I used to buy that. I no longer do.

With seeding and a first-round home game in play, the top teams wouldn’t let up. A team that suffers a loss early in the season or gets jobbed by a bad officiating call would be in survival mode the rest of the season. Nobody is going to quit.

Food for thought: Alabama already had a spot locked up in the current four-team playoff system, but did the Crimson Tide ease off the accelerator in the SEC Championship Game against Florida?

Hardly. If you deem yourself worthy of playing for a national championship, you’re not going to mail it in on a given Saturday.

The devil, of course, is in the details. Well, here are the details of my plan:

First, the selection committee for the College Football Playoff remains intact and continues to rank teams after two-thirds of the regular season has played out. There is a reason for this that I’ll explain below.

As for filling out the eight-team bracket, here goes:

The champions of the top five conferences – the so-called Group of Five comprised of the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-10, Big 12 and ACC – get automatic berths.

The top-ranked team from the remaining FBC conferences, based on the playoff committee’s ranking, gets a spot.

The top two teams in the rankings that have not yet qualified take the final two spots. Call them “wild cards” if you want.

From there, teams are seeded based on their final rankings by the selection committee. First-round games are played at the home fields of the higher-ranked teams before switching to the current semifinal and final format.

I understand there are issues with this system. Some wouldn’t want a team from, say, the MAC to crash the party. Why not just keep it to the power conferences, aka, The Usual Suspects?

I feel your pain. But we need to keep all of Division I engaged. It invites the Cinderella factor that is so appealing in the NCAA basketball tournament. It would be interesting to see what undefeated Western Michigan would bring to the bracket this year.

Maybe you SEC snobs think this formula would work against a conference that tends to devour its own during the regular season. This year, for example, only Alabama would make the eight-team field while three Big Ten would be included.

Reality check: Sorry, SEC fans, but the Big Ten is easily the best conference in the country this year, and that might be the case moving forward. It tends to be cyclical based on the quality of coaches in each league, and right now the Big Ten has the upper hand.

If you go back to 2012, three SEC teams would have made it into the eight-team bracket, based on this system. I bet no one in the SEC would have been complaining then.

Under my plan, the top four teams in the last College Football Playoff poll would hold their seeding spots at 1-4. The next three teams in the poll – Penn State, Michigan and Oklahoma – would enter the bracket at Nos. 5-7. The final spot would go to the top-ranked team from a non-Group of Five conference – Western Michigan, which would get the No. 8 seed.

And there you have it: an eight-team playoff.

Next week, we’ll tackle the Electoral College.

Reach David Climer at dclimer1018@yahoo.com and on Twitter @DavidClimer.