When the College Football Playoff acknowledged midway through November its plan for members of its selection committee to meet in person each week to debate their rankings, there was quite a ruckus in the media.
It seemed needlessly risky for everyone to travel in the midst of the pandemic, especially when the weekly ordering of CFP contenders they produce is “for amusement purposes only.” It contains no lasting value.
There is also the inherent contradiction: The committee phones in these rankings, anyway.
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It appears charming to some for the Cincinnati Bearcats to be listed as high as No. 7 in the official CFP rankings, and it even has generated ostensibly thoughtful discussion among those who cover the sport that this placement assures that UC is being TAKEN SERIOUSLY as a contender for one of the four spots in the 2020 event. ESPN’s “Football Power Index” even gives the Bearcats a 33.4 percent chance of reaching the playoff. And, hey, that’s science.
In fact, listing the Bearcats as No. 7 is all the reminder anyone needs that they’ve got 0.0 chance to be selected.
Yes, that’s a full Blutarsky.
The placement of Texas A&M at No. 5 and Florida at No. 6 is precisely the evidence necessary to spot the charade. The CFP committee will rustle through all the closets at the Southeastern Conference trying to find some team with a representative record to install in front of an off-brand team such as Cincinnati. No combination of results over the final weeks of the season will alter this approach, whether the votes are cast in person, by a Zoom call or — gasp! — through the U.S. mail.
If the committee indeed were taking the Bearcats seriously, its members would have placed them in the No. 5 position they earned with their perfect record to date. They would have needed help from there to make it into the field, but they also would have needed to avoiding screwing it up.
It has been a mistake from the beginning to accept the CFP as a legitimate championship event. Its only advantage is that it happens to be more constructive than what it replaced, the Bowl Championship Series, which was more constructive than the Bowl Alliance, which was more constructive than simply a bunch of people voting to decide the champion.
The CFP ought to be known strictly by its acronym. Forget what the letters represent, because they are a misnomer. This is not truly a playoff. It is an invitational. A competitor does not qualify for entry into the CFP the way a tennis player does to enter the U.S. Open or a soccer team does to enter the MLS Cup playoffs.
The champion of the Pac-12 Conference has been ignored by the committee four times in six years. The champion of the Big Ten has made it three times in six years. These are two of the NCAA autonomy conferences that the media have chosen to designate as the “Power 5,” and yet whatever power is contained within commonly is ignored by CFP selectors.
The CFP operates closer to the ethic of a junior high birthday party than an event such as the NCAA Tournament, which includes the 32 who qualify to compete for the championship and those 36 deemed worthy of filling out the field by a selection committee. The CFP wants the cool kids. The cool kids make for a better TV show, or at least one likely to produce higher TV ratings.
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Cincinnati quite obviously is not one of the cool kids. When college athletics was convulsed by the conference expansion revolution nearly a decade ago, no one wanted the Bearcats. Never mind that they had six Final Fours and two NCAA championships in men’s basketball or that their suddenly energized football program had won three Big East championships in five years and recently had produced such NFL luminaries as Connor Barwin, Derek Wolfe and Travis Kelce. Or that they were in an attractive location and media market.
The Bearcats were left behind in the Big East, which soon dissolved into the “new” Big East for the basketball-first private schools and the AAC for everyone else. No team from the American — not even UCF’s extraordinary, unbeaten 2017 team — has been invited to the CFP.
And none will.
That is not me saying none should.
That’s me saying I’ve seen this film before, and I didn’t like the ending.