The most engaging, involving and dramatic regular seasons in sports will disappear in 2026.
No longer will you begin your Saturday by flipping on the TV at 9 a.m. and watch the dominoes fall until 11 p.m., from Columbus to Gainesville to Norman to Eugene. No longer will every game count.
Consistency will be shelved. Health will be devalued. And, in all likelihood, the end of the road will feature the same crimson, orange and scarlet suspects.
The College Football Playoff has totally erased what was a familiar and tiresome question, often voiced on the morning of Jan 2: So who was the best team?
Ohio State (2014), Clemson (2016 and 2018), Alabama (2015, 2017 and 2020) and LSU (2019) left little doubt.
Having rendered that problem nonexistent, the suits are crafting a solution.
They have proposed a 12-team matrix that will ooze its way through the committee maze and, one assumes, will be approved in September.
Using the CFP rankings after the conference championship games, the new system would invite the top six league champs. Then it would include the next six highest-ranked teams.
The top four would enjoy first-round byes. The highest seeds in the first round (5 through 8) would play those games in their home stadiums, which is smart, because it adds a weather element and it doesn’t ask its fans to travel. Then the tournament proceeds for three more weekends, at neutral sites.
Let’s go back to 2019, the last previous full season.
LSU, Ohio State, Clemson and Oklahoma would get the four byes. Oregon and Memphis would qualify as league champs, with Oregon No. 6 and Memphis No. 12. The six at-large teams would be Georgia (5), Baylor (7), Wisconsin (8), Florida (9), Penn State (10) and Utah (11).
So the first-round matchups would be Memphis at Georgia, Utah at Oregon, Penn State at Baylor and Florida at Wisconsin.
The Memphis-Georgia winner would play Oklahoma. The Oregon-Utah winner (a rematch of Oregon’s 37-15 win in the Pac-12 championship game) would play Clemson.
The Baylor-Penn State survivor would meet Ohio State. And the Wisconsin-Florida winner would take on LSU.
Theoretically, this would allow the non-power leagues to get multiple teams into the playoff and would ensure that one of them would get a chance to win the championship, a chance that Houston and UCF didn’t get.
That’s positive. But it doesn’t outweigh the damage to the regular season and to players generally.
If a 5 through 12 team gets to the championship game, and if that team played in a conference title game, the architects will extol the genius of the system and the restoration of the “underdog.”
They will brush off the fact that it would be the 17th, as in seventeenth, game of that season. That would be the equivalent of the new NFL regular season.
That is a ridiculous and dangerous way to answer what seems to be the biggest complaint, which is that Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State are too good. One or two of them have played in each of the seven CFP finals.
Guess what? That’s fine.
Two of the Clemson-Alabama finals were 45-40 (Alabama) and 35-31 (Clemson), and Clemson and Ohio State have developed a salty rivalry based solely on their CFP meetings.
People love to reminisce about the golden days of baseball when the Yankees always played the Dodgers in October, or about the near-annual holy wars between the Celtics and Lakers in the NBA.
The elite programs have won these titles on merit, not through an AP or UPI poll. The fact that the field will grow, threefold, is not going to hurt them a bit.
You could solidly contend that a four-team playoff is actually too big. Only three of the 14 semifinal games have been decided by fewer than 10 points. The average margin in those games is 21 points.
Why impede greatness? And why dilute a regular season that is leaking fan support anyway?
There is a real chance that Alabama and Auburn, or Michigan and Ohio State, could play their climactic game with the assurance that both would get into the CFP anyway. We need more winner-take-all, not loser-takes-something.
In that 2019 scenario, Utah would still make it despite a 30-23 loss to a lukewarm USC team that was down to its No. 3 quarterback. That should be a disqualifier.
Instead, the CFP seems more determined to mollify the complainers than to identify a champion. Let the Tide roll, if it’s good enough, and ignore the squeaky wheels.