The Game and The Playoff


As Buckeyes wide receiver Curtis Samuel scampered through a convoy of blockers and into the end zone to give No. 2 Ohio State University a heart-stopping victory over their bitter rival, No. 3 University of Michigan, on Saturday — fans across the nation were left asking a too-familiar question:

Why does our college football playoff system suck, and how can we fix it?

The highly anticipated contest, dubbed simply “The Game,” pitted the Buckeyes and Wolverines against one another in what was essentially an elimination game. Despite both sides’ lofty national rankings, the loser of the matchup would presumably be left on the outside looking in on the playoff picture.

Only four teams, selected by a committee, are allowed a chance to compete for a national title. This system replaced the Bowl College Series in 2014 much to the delight of fans, yet, the same controversy surrounding inclusion rears its ugly head this time of year every season.

Inevitably, one faction or another feels left out. The inception of the playoff was intended to serve as a remedy for schools who did not feel they got a fair shake, but this era has seen more criticism of the selection process than the BCS era ever did.

Watching Samuel hit his hole and explode past Michigan defenders and Ohio State blockers alike put the matter in perspective over the weekend. The play put an end to one of the most memorable football games of our generation — and to the 10-2 Wolverine’s playoff hopes.

Ohio State, despite finishing the regular season 11-1, will not play in the Big Ten championship game. Penn State University and the University of Wisconsin, both 10-2 and nationally ranked in the top ten, will meet in Indiana next week to decide who earns that honor.

That meeting between the Badgers and Nittany Lions deserves to have the same ramifications as “The Game,” that is to say, the winner should earn a spot in the playoff. In all likelihood however, that will not be the case, because Ohio State has already virtually earned one of the four spots and it would be an anomaly for one conference to secure two births.

Hence, the champion of what has been arguably the best and certainly the deepest conference in the country this year will not get a chance to compete for a national title. This is asinine and everybody knows it.

Until the NCAA establishes a hard-line criteria for schools to meet in order for them to make the playoff, a handful of fan bases will feel robbed every year and negative conversations concerning the selection process will subdue the fanfare of bowl season.

Stanford University head coach David Shaw was a prominent voice in the conversation surrounding the ongoing controversy last season after his Cardinals won the Pac-12 Conference before being “snubbed” by the committee and going on to win the Rose Bowl.

“I just think four teams is too little, regardless of our situation” Shaw said. “With enough evidence of how the seasons end, I think eventually it runs into an eight or six-team playoff with two teams with a bye. However it works, I think at some point we’re going to change it.”

Shaw’s stance is echoed by many in the college football landscape, and an expanded playoff is viewed as an inevitability — it’s not if, but when. Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford, however, indicated the timetable may not be what fans are hoping for.  

“I don’t want to say never,” Swofford said, “but I don’t think we’ll see it during the remaining years of the contract.”

That contract goes through 2025, so — in other words — 10 more years of controversy and calamity stare the college football universe in the face.

In expanding the playoff, the NCAA has the opportunity to treat a national audience to 10-12 more games every year with the same sublime win-or-go-home tension as “The Game” while simultaneously quelling the negative media firestorm that has become synonymous with the selection process.

Right now, we could be entering the football equivalent of March Madness. An expanded playoff field would render many rivalry week contests and conference championships the ramifications of elimination games just like Michigan-Ohio State.

Imagine the beauty of the national championship being decided by the players and on the field over the course of a month and a half of football as opposed to by “experts” in a board room behind closed doors.

In this reality, fan bases across the country would get a chance to feel the divine agony and ecstasy experienced by Michigan and Ohio State fans, respectively, this past weekend.

But no, we get to have an annual argument that nobody really disagrees on for another 10 years.            


Zach Joachim. Photo by Julie TrippZach Joachim
Zach is a junior pursuing a dual degree in print journalism and English. A proud Norfolk-ian, he enjoys long walks on the beach, English literature of the romantic period and anything pertaining to Harry Potter or baseball. Zach an avid Red Sox and Patriots fan who can usually be found working at the Student Media Center or running along the James.
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