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Views: Slow progress for college football

Published: Thursday, June 28, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT

By definition, this is progress.

Before 2014, only two college football teams were selected for the right to play for a national championship. From 2014 through the ensuing 12 years, that number jumps to four, thanks to the sport’s commissioners and the university presidents including Northern Illinois’ John Peters who approved a four-team seeded playoff Tuesday. More access. More excess. Progress.

It’s been easy to complain about the BCS and all it’s gotten wrong since its inception in 1998. Declining TV ratings and attendance at BCS bowl games underscored that. So to see the current system end, it’s a great day for college football.

In reality, not much will change with only four teams in the playoff, especially for the teams that aren’t in current automatic qualifying conferences like the Mid-American Conference.

Instead of polls that included voters who don’t watch all of the games helping to determine the championship game participants, a selection committee will choose the final four teams. Again, a big improvement, but it’s tough to see how the end result in terms of access changes much from the current landscape. The SEC, the dominant conference the past six years, can lay legitimate claim to even more of its teams worthy of playing for a title. The Big Ten will have its say, not to mention the Pac 12, Big 12 and ACC.

The details of that committee and the criteria used to select teams remain to be worked out, but Peters told me Tuesday that it will be broad-based, every conference will have representation and it could be 15 people, modeled after the basketball NCAA tournament selection committee.

Among the factors for playoff teams discussed Tuesday: win-loss record, strength of schedule, head-to-head results and whether a team won its conference championship. One of those will have to stick out if you’re in a non-AQ conference.

The three letters that fans of non-AQ conference teams used to blame for a lack of access to the biggest games – BCS – will be replaced by another, more specific three: SOS, as in strength of schedule.

The MAC traditionally has been one of the bottom four conferences in college football in SOS, making the road that much tougher for a good MAC – or WAC, or Conference USA, or maybe even Big East – team to convince a selection committee it is worthy of inclusion.

If a MAC team wants access to the playoff, its non-conference schedule is going to have to resemble an NIU-in-2003-type schedule: At least three games against power-conference teams, a couple of those on the road or at neutral sites against ranked teams, and they’ll have to win every one of them. That, and an undefeated regular season and conference title game win might be enough to sway a selection committee for a No. 4 seed. Even the Boise States and TCUs of the world had to build for years, racking up double-digit win seasons, to even approach a top-four BCS ranking.

Tuesday was a great day for college football, but it’s only one step in a system that needs serious overhaul. This wasn’t a revolution, or even a revolutionary idea. It’s progress, and that’s not a bad thing.

• John Sahly is a sports editor for Shaw Media. Write to him at jsahly@shawmedia.com.

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