A Playoff Is Coming

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: the SEC has won the current BCS system.

After Auburn got left out of the title game 2004, SEC partisans relentlessly pushed the idea that it was ludicrous to exclude the champion from the nation's best conference if it was one of the worthy candidates. The first big test of whether that politicking worked came two years later, when Florida edged by Michigan to get to go to Glendale. The Gators' blowout win over Ohio State cemented the point that was made. I thought at the time that the point was that "most deserving" won out over "best".

We saw this year that the point was "when in doubt, go with the SEC team". Alabama was the "best" argument to Oklahoma State's "most deserving", and the Cowboys ended up in the Fiesta Bowl. Alabama's dominant performance last night only further proved the point. No one disputed that LSU belonged in the game; now, almost no one disputes that the Crimson Tide is the rightful national champ.

Last night, the BCS system as we know it reached its logical conclusion. Sure, it depended on one crazy, random night in Iowa, but the point is clearer than ever. The system as presently constructed favors the SEC. When circumstances line up just right, the SEC can put two teams in the national championship game despite controversy. When the SEC does get two teams in the game, it can prove conclusively enough that the controversy was for naught and no one else really did belong after all. S-E-C, S-E-C, S-E-C, indeed.

That is why the system is going to change. It has to. It favors one conference disproportionately over the others.

What precisely the college football national championship is has evolved over the decades, gaining more importance with each passing year. The BCS, along with its predecessors the Bowl Alliance and Bowl Coalition, made it the primary focal point of the season in the most formal of ways. Gone are the days when different polls picked different champions and folks just focused on which one of them selected their team as best. College football has a two-team playoff, and it matters intensely who plays and wins in it.

The seismic shifts in the sport over the last year and a half are all about consolidating power and money across college football. The rest of collegiate sports are largely just along for the ride. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany might care most about preserving the Rose Bowl, but he's a part of a small and dwindling number of people like that. I would guess that a lot of his constituency cares more about the national championship than the Rose Bowl, which means that after a lot of rhetoric and posturing, he'll end up signing his conference on to a plus one.

The SEC and ACC have been on board with a plus one since 2008. The Big 12 is now up for it too. Larry Scott says he doesn't have an official opinion on one yet, but he's the least pro-status quo commissioner of them all. The Big East doesn't have the power to raise any serious opposition if it wanted to, and the non-AQ conferences are going to be for anything that gives them more money (as a playoff probably would) and keeps the power conferences from breaking off into their own division.

The BCS as we know it has two more years to live. The current contract runs out after the 2013-14 bowls. I feel more confident than ever in saying that after that point, college football will have a four-team playoff to end the season.

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