John Steigerwald

Column John Steigerwald

John Steigerwald has been a fixture of TV, radio, and newspaper sports in Pittsburgh, and has a Sunday column in the Observer-Reporter.

College football playoff system no better than BCS

College football playoff system ‘stupid’

August 30, 2014

Have you noticed our institutions of higher learning do a lot of stupid things?

There’s no better example of that stupidity than the new playoff system that will pick this year’s major college football “champion.”

The fact it’s only about 98 percent as stupid as the system that was in place since 1998 doesn’t make it any less dumb.

The Bowl Championship Series, which was introduced 16 years ago, was 99 percent as stupid as the system that dated back to the days of Pop Warner and Knute Rockne. What’s sad is the four-team playoff that will take place after this season has been embraced by 99 percent of the national sports media.

The BCS used polls and computer rankings to determine the top two teams in the country and had them play for the “championship.”

I’ll bet you didn’t know the NCAA actually used astrophysicists to interpret the data. That’s right. It turned picking a sports champion into rocket science.

The 2014 “champion” will be determined by a playoff between the top four teams at the end of the season, which would be fine if those four teams were determined, you know, on the field of play.


The geniuses at the NCAA have a 13-person committee that includes current athletic directors, former coaches and players and a former Secretary of State.

Condoleeza Rice and 12 other people will meet compile a list of the Top 25 teams every Tuesday, beginning Oct. 28. The committee’s top four teams at the end of the season will play for the “championship.”

It’s just a more roundabout way to vote for a championship instead of having the teams play for one.

And it’s still stupid.

And it will still crown a mythical champion.

How will these 13 really smart people make this stupid idea work?

Each committee member will create a list of the 25 teams he or she believes to be the best in the country, in no particular order. Teams listed by three or more members will remain under consideration.

Each member will then list the six best teams, in no particular order. The six teams receiving the most votes will comprise the pool for the first seeding ballot.

In the next seeding ballot, each member will rank those six teams, one through six, with one being the best. The three teams receiving the fewest points will become the top three seeds. The three teams that were not seeded will be held over for the next seeding ballot.

Finally, the 13 committee members will compete in a round-robin arm wrestling tournament with the winner awarded the honor of picking the best team in the country.

OK, I made that last one up, but there are two more steps. Are you interested in hearing them? Didn’t think so.

The champion of every other major team sport on the planet is decided on the field of play and the NCAA could pick its football champion the same way, especially now that the Power 5 conferences separated themselves from the rest of the riff-raff.

Have the champions of the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 12, SEC and three wildcard teams (chosen from the Power 5 using a formula based on wins and losses) play in an eight-team tournament.

In other words, keep it simple, stupid.

• Mike Tomlin can’t count on a committee to get him to the playoffs for the first time in three years, and if the Steelers performance in the preseason is any indication, he just might be looking at his third straight year without a postseason appearance.

It’s easy to dismiss the preseason record as meaningless, but recent Steelers teams had bad regular seasons after losing three or four exhibition games.

An 0-4 preseason last summer led to an 8-8 regular season.

Bill Cowher went 0-4 in his last preseason in 2006 and finished 8-8 in the regular season. He finished 6-10 in 2003 after a 1-3 preseason and in 1999 a 1-3 preseason was followed by a 7-9.

If Tomlin ends up having three consecutive nonwinning seasons for the first time since Chuck Noll from 1969 to 1971, legitimate questions will be raised about his ability to maintain a winning program.

He inherited a good nucleus of players, including two possible Hall of Famers in Troy Polamalu and Ben Roethlisberger, the second-best quarterback in franchise history.

He also got a couple of good years out of Hines Ward, another possible Hall of Famer and one of the best wide receivers in Steelers’ history.

Where would Tomlin be without Heath Miller, Ike Taylor, and Brett Keisel, not to mention the defensive coordinator he inherited from Cowher, Dick LeBeau?

Aaron Smith, one of the Steelers’ best all-time defensive linemen, started 16 games in the Super Bowl season of 2008.

Then there were inherited players such as Casey Hampton, Max Starks, Larry Foote, Ryan Clark and James Farrior, who made major contributions. Willie Parker gained 1,300 yards for Tomlin in 2007, his first season as head coach.

Cowher inherited a good nucleus from Chuck Noll, but also won with players drafted and developed after he arrived.

Can the same be said for Tomlin?

Not yet.

John Steigerwald writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.



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