No, Stewart Mandel. You are not on an island full of Alabama fans. You are squarely in the neighborhood of common sense and good reason. The requirement that all of the participants in a four-team FBS playoff be conference champions—which shall henceforth be referred to derogatorily as the “Kramer Rule”—is a bad idea.
It’s bad on many different levels, too.
To start with, such a requirement is an arbitrary standard because all conferences are not the same size or have equal levels of competition. The Big East Champion is not the same as the Southeastern Conference Champion, who is not the same as the Big 12 Champion. Rewarding a 9-3 Big East Champion while excluding an 11-1 SEC West runner-up is arbitrary.
The current BCS faces imminent antitrust litigation from Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who will challenge the BCS under the Sherman Antitrust Act for arbitrarily limiting competition. Do you really want to make Shurtleff’s case easier by adding even more arbitrariness to the selection process?
Of course not.
Secondly, what to do about Notre Dame? The school holds a chair at the same table as the conference commissioners of the SEC, PAC-12, ACC, Big 12 and Big East. Imposing a conference champions only rule arbitrarily excludes Notre Dame because as an independent, they cannot be a conference champion.
So with a wink and a nod, do you make an exception for the Fighting Irish? Should the four teams in the playoff be conference champions plus Notre Dame if they otherwise meet BCS Bowl eligibility standards? That gives college football’s perennial media darling an advantage not afforded to any other school in any other conference (including mid-majors in the WAC, Mountain West and Conference USA).
I guarantee you that if Notre Dame is 9-3 or 10-2, the old school media will bang the drum loudly and make sure that they’re ranked highly enough to get in the playoff.
Good luck selling that, Mr. Kramer.
Third, the fans won’t stand for it as soon as they realize what would have happened in 2011 had there been a conference champions only, four-team playoff. It would have pitted No. 3 Oklahoma State against No. 5 Oregon and No. 1 LSU vs. No. 10 Oregon. No Stanford, no Alabama, no Arkansas. Fans clamored for the two best teams to be paired against each other for the championship two decades ago. They weren’t asking for the two best conference champions.
By extension, fans won’t care to see the four highest ranked conference champions in a four-team playoff. If they demanded that the two highest ranked teams be paired in 1992, they’ll holler just as loudly for the four highest ranked teams in 2012.
Fourth, money talks. When the conference commissioners start cutting nuts and putting details of a new postseason plan together, CBS and ESPN will counsel their partners about installing a plan that puts good inventory on the schedule, not some high-brow notion of inclusiveness and “fairness.” The public and the media might think it’s “more fair” to include a 10th ranked conference champion in a playoff, but that doesn’t mean college football fans will buy tickets or watch the game.
Which playoff game would you rather watch: Alabama vs Oklahoma State, or LSU vs. Oregon in a rematch? If you’re a TV executive, you already know the answer to that question and you’re already showing the commissioners how much damage could be done by pursuing such folly.
Fifth, there is a big difference between “winning the case” and “not getting sued,” which takes us back to Shurtleff’s pending lawsuit against the BCS. The BCS is vulnerable on antitrust grounds, but that doesn’t mean Shurtleff will win (or lose) his case. Deciding to reduce the arbitrary nature of BCS selection by instituting a four-team playoff reduces that vulnerability. It’s a lot easier to argue having four teams with access to the championship is an improvement over only two. Why give Shurtleff his bullets back by substituting one arbitrary standard for another?
If you institute a four-team playoff and you make sure that the four highest ranked teams are chosen regardless of conference affiliation or conference championship status, you’ve probably eliminated the entire basis for Shurtleff’s complaint. Not getting sued is the right course of action. That’s doubly true if the only requirement for gaining access is winning enough to be ranked in the top four.
Even Notre Dame and Utah should be happy with that.