Posted: Thursday June 28, 2012 12:14PM ; Updated: Thursday June 28, 2012 7:03PM
Stewart Mandel

Four-team playoff ideal, but growth inevitable; more playoff Mailbag

Story Highlights

Four-team playoff maintains the regular season's intensity, limits field to true elite

Mid-majors have harder path to title, easier path to top-tier bowls with committee

Rose Bowl had to make the biggest sacrifice, but will remain relevant as a result

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Collin Klein's Kansas State Wildcats, who finished No. 8 in the 2011 BCS standings, were not a championship-caliber team.
Collin Klein's Kansas State Wildcats, who finished No. 8 in the 2011 BCS standings, were not a championship-caliber team.
Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images
The Mandel Initiative Podcast
Stewart Mandel and Mallory Rubin celebrate the arrival of a playoff. BCS Executive Director Bill Hancock answers questions about the forthcoming selection committee and bowl rotation.

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I always feared that when the day finally arrived that the BCS was put to pasture, the Mailbag might go out of business. But two-and-a-half years before we even play the first semifinal, the four-team playoff complaints are already rolling in. Even in the wake of a historic, sought-after-for-decades announcement, many of you seem just as grumpy as ever.

So thank you!

But to start, let's celebrate just a little.

Stewart, do you think that the four-team playoff will remain for a long time or will it change to eight teams in 2026? I believe four teams is as perfect as it gets. It preserves the sanctity of the regular season -- more than one loss is almost a guaranteed miss of the playoff for most teams -- and it removes the stigma of the deserving team not having a chance. (Yes, the distinction between Nos. 4 and 5 will still remain, but that's a heck of a lot better than Nos. 2 and 3.) Plus, everybody can agree that every year there are no more than three "elite" teams.
-- Nick E., Irvine, Caif.

I couldn't agree more. I've only ever wanted four teams. In the BCS era, there have rarely been more than four teams with a legitimate claim to No. 1. In fact, according to my research, it's only happened once in 14 years, in 2008. A four-team playoff maintains the intense week-in, week-out stakes of the regular season while also creating a more climactic postseason. It eradicates absolute injustices like 2004 Auburn while still restricting the field in most years to the truly elite teams.

When I saw all the eight-team proponents flooding my Twitter stream during Tuesday's press conference, I loaded up last year's BCS standings. The No. 8 team was 10-2 Kansas State -- a good team, and certainly deserving of an upper-tier bowl berth, but not a squad anyone would mistake for a national championship-caliber team. As I've written before, that's what separates college from the NFL: A team can't go 9-7, like the New York Giants did last year, and still get a shot at the top prize.

That said, I think we can all see the writing on the wall. The first time there's a dispute over No. 4 (presumably the very first season) we will hear every bit as much outrage as we did over No. 2 in the past. As soon as people get a taste of thrilling college playoff games, they'll want more of them. That's exactly why the commissioners are locking this thing in for 12 years. They don't want to be pressured into going back to the drawing board and doing this all over again four years from now. So those of you who agree with me and Nick should enjoy the heck out of 2014-25. Every other playoff in every other sport has eventually expanded, and this one will too.

How can you suggest that a four-team playoff is a "big move forward" for college football? It is a continuation of the stranglehold that AQ conferences have on college football. Can you think of a scenario where a non-AQ member gets one of the four selections? No, this "new" format will give the AQ's revenue from two more games and nothing more. Fans get shafted again.
-- Dave Tout, Graham, Wash.

Not to be condescending, but of all the reasons college football fans have clamored for a playoff, fairness to the little guy was generally pretty low on the list. I've never sensed the same love affair with Cinderella in football as there is with March Madness. If anything, it's quite the opposite, as evidenced by how Boise State unwittingly became a national villain two years ago when pundits had the audacity to consider the Broncos a national title contender. First and foremost, people want to see a more conclusive ending to the season, which they're going to get. They want to see at least two more exciting, high-stakes games between the nation's best teams. They want to see Ohio State play Alabama or Florida play Texas. They don't want to see USC play Louisiana Tech in the Southwest Regional semifinal.

It may well be more difficult for the mid-majors to play for the national title in a four-team event than it was in the BCS, but it won't be because of any grand conspiracy. For one, realignment has hurt the former non-AQ leagues more than any other factor. Nearly all the best programs have now joined the "haves," with the exception of Boise State, which is now sitting somewhere between "have" and "have not." And by putting such an emphasis on strength of schedule -- which any rational person would agree is a good thing -- it becomes that much harder for even an undefeated mid-major to make its case.

For instance, I fully believed that Boise State's 2010 team was one of the four best in the country before it lost to Nevada, but I could not have argued in good conscience that it had a better résumé on paper than most of the major conference champions. That's something people are going to have to get used to with the playoff: Assuming this selection committee does in fact follow much the same protocol as the basketball version, we are officially shifting from "best" (in the subjective opinion of voters) to "most deserving" (based on agreed-upon criteria).

But all is not lost for the little guy in this new world.

Stewart, under the college football playoff system, where do you think a team like Boise State would have ended up this past season? Many believe the most disgraceful treatment of any team this last year was Boise State playing a mediocre Arizona State team in a meaningless bowl, as the final score attested. Would this new system have made a difference or will we still see these kind of disappointing bowls?
-- Lars Justinen, Enumclaw, Wash.

It appears the selection committee will be enlisted not only to pick the playoff teams, but to fill out the entire bowl pool for those top six games -- not necessarily to dictate matchups, but to decide which teams qualify for selection -- using the same criteria. We will essentially have the top 12 teams (or close to that) spread out over six bowl games. "At the one-through-four level, champions, strength of schedule and head-to-head matter as tiebreakers," Jim Delany said Tuesday. "Likewise, at nine, 10, 11 and 12, those same principles will be used to separate teams from each other." Idaho President Duane Nellis, who was in the room for Tuesday's presentation, told the Idaho Statesman five additional non-BCS teams would have gained access to those six bowls over the past 12 years and that Boise State likely would have been selected last year.

No one can say for sure what would have happened -- it would still, at the end of the day, have come down to the committee's decision -- but the point is, this new tier of elite games is meant to weed out lowly ranked participants and avoid situations like last year, when Boise State and Kansas State got passed over by the Sugar Bowl for lower-ranked teams. It also throws a bone to the former non-AQs, seeing as the major conference champions are all still guaranteed berths through their contracted bowls (the Rose for the Big Ten and Pac-12, the "Champions" for the SEC and Big 12 and presumably the Orange for the ACC). I'm sure the bowls aren't thrilled about losing even more control over the selection process, but it's a sacrifice they'll have to make if they want in on the playoff games.

Stewart, I nominate you for the new selection committee for your clear thinking, sound analysis and cool-headedness on all matters college football. We engineer some outstanding body armor here at Auburn and would be happy to provide you with a kit, no strings attached.
-- Bart Prorok, Auburn

I'm flattered and honored by the suggestion, and while I'm fully supportive of the selection committee concept, it would take more than body armor for me to serve on it. I would demand seven-figure compensation, a fully-stocked bunker and secret, deluxe accommodations abroad during the other eight months of the year, preferably changing locations about once or twice a month. Maybe fake passports, too.
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