Today I will attempt what is, for me, a truly daunting task: explaining to you all how Nick Saban is right.
Saban poured some cold water on the college football discourses’ case of playoff expansion fever when he was interviewed on Rich Eisen’s television show on Feb. 12. While Saban, whose Crimson Tide teams have made the playoffs six times in the seven years of its existence, may be somewhat of an imperfect messenger here, he makes an interesting point.
“Way back when we decided to have two teams, pick the best two teams and let the play in a championship game, and everybody wanted to expand to four teams, it was my comment then that if we expand to four teams and have a playoff, everything is going to be about the playoff,” said Nick Saban.
“All the media interest, everything is going to be about the playoff. The shows they do all year, the shows like who gets into the NCAA Basketball Tournament, that’s what it’s going to be. All the other bowl games and teams that had good seasons, but didn’t quite get there, the interest in what they do in the offseason is going to be diminished. And that is exactly what’s happened.”
Historically college football has been at its best when it’s been a regional game, but the creation of the college football playoff has forced fans across the country to view their school in a national context. That national context does nothing but make people more unhappy.
In 2018 Ohio State went 13-1, embarrassed Michigan, won the Big Ten, won the Rose Bowl and Ohio State fans were miserable. The Buckeyes missed the playoffs that year after an inexplicable road loss to Purdue so fans saw it as a lost season. I grew up in Columbus during the BCS era and I guarantee that a season like that would’ve been celebrated much more ten years earlier.
Auburn fired Gus Malzahn only two seasons removed from an SEC west division title in large part because Auburn had not ascended into the ranks of the college football one percent like their cross-state rival Alabama. This of course ignored the fact that Auburn had beaten Alabama more times than any other school during the Malzahn era.
The College Football Playoff has devalued every traditional metric of college football success from conference championships to bowl games to rivalry victories. Expanding the playoff would only devalue those things more.
Is all that really worth it just to see Alabama lose to someone like Iowa State in the first round of the playoff once every 15 years? Honestly, we were probably the happiest when a #5 ranked team could win a national championship by kicking Notre Dame’s ass in the Orange Bowl.