Saturday, January 20News That Matters

Championship weekend sizzling, but some ideas to make college football even better


It’s that time of year.

Time when college football lovers revel in what’s ahead — in this case, the greatest championship Saturday ever, with five games all matching top-12 teams. And also time when suggestions fly for how to improve the sport.

The majority, it seems, craves an eight-team playoff. I’m opposed:

— We kinda, sorta already have one: The ACC (No. 1 Clemson vs. No. 7 Miami) and SEC (No. 2 Auburn vs. 6 Georgia) title games are essentially quarterfinal playoff games, though Clemson might have a chance to sneak into the playoff even with a loss.

The Big 12 panicked and created a title game, so third-ranked Oklahoma has to beat No. 11 TCU. No. 4 Wisconsin is grateful for its shot to take down eighth-ranked Ohio State in the Big Ten game in Indy. A victory gives the Badgers the duct tape needed to silence shouters and doubters.

Even Friday night’s Pac-12 showdown — No. 12 Stanford at 10th-ranked USC — could affect the playoff if things get goofy (i.e. TCU wins and the Buckeyes win unimpressively).

Some see potential chaos and their knee-jerk reaction is: We need more teams!

I love the exclusive nature of the playoff and how it makes November games and Championship Saturday (mostly) do-or-die.

I also see it like this: The likelihood is that either fifth-ranked Alabama or Ohio State (with a big win over Wisconsin) will get the final playoff slot. Neither is truly worthy. Alabama is a non-league champ with few premium victories. Ohio State got trucked by Oklahoma and Iowa.

And people want more teams to make it?

— My other point is that we need to start thinking more about the players and less about ourselves. Many I know are actual students, stressing over finals in December. Many are also NFL prospects who do not want to put their maxed-out bodies on the line over and over again simply to satisfy our cravings for more football.

Hope this will trend: #4isenough.

Now on to a couple of ideas that we should consider:

1. Northern Illinois athletic director Sean Frazier continues to push for a playoff for the Group of Five leagues — the MAC (NIU’s conference), AAC, Sun Belt, Conference USA and Sun Belt (plus independents Army, BYU and UMass). Given that there’s virtually no access to the four-team playoff, the winner would claim the designated G5 spot in a New Year’s Six bowl. As it stands now, the CFP selection committee makes that call with UCF (ranked 14th) in the driver’s seat this season.

Frazier said his goal is to “create a true G5 champion and a new revenue stream.”

Lower-rung bowls (Camellia, Frisco, Bahamas, Idaho, Dollar General, Quick Lane) can be six-figure money-losers for the schools involved. And some of those games attract “crowds” that could fit into a high-school cafeteria. Frazier is pitching a playoff with games that replace some of those bowls.

There doesn’t appear to be support, at least not yet, from a media partner. AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco is opposed, asserting that the AAC is more like a sixth “Power Five” league. Saturday’s AAC title game is juicy, pitting No. 14 UCF against No. 20 Memphis with the winner slated for a high-profile New Year’s Six bowl date.

My take: Frazier deserves props for trying to replace Dec. 16 and 23 bowls with meaningful games, but I don’t favor asking players to suit up 15-16 times.

2. Joel Klatt sees that something is out of whack. The Fox Sports analyst told the Tribune he advocates abolishing the divisions in the Power Five conferences, noting the more muscular side of various leagues (Big Ten East, SEC West, Pac-12 North).

Next step: Create a round-robin schedule to more fairly identify the top two teams and have them meet in the conference title game, as the Big 12 already does.

“Only conference champions,” Klatt said, “can go to the playoff.”

He said Notre Dame could join the Big 12 for football while retaining its third-tier (NBC) media rights. Or the Irish could be thrown into the “league champ” pool if they win at least 10 games. So some seasons, you’d have six teams fighting for four spots, decided by a selection committee. (Klatt, a former quarterback and econ major at Colorado, said he favors creating multiple committees, some with media members and former coaches, to minimize the impact of a “rogue” vote.)

My take: Brilliant. It’s the best way to address the Big Ten’s obvious imbalance. It would create a truer conference champion while allowing the players (and fan bases) to experience more Big Ten stadia. The negative: In years with two monster teams from the same league, one gets left out.

tgreenstein@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @TeddyGreenstein

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