Playoff is no exact science

Published 11:17 am Wednesday, July 30, 2014

It was Nick Saban, back in his LSU days, who noted that maybe a playoff to replace the hated two-team BCS system might not be the be-all, end-all.

Even then, of course, the BCS was the sports world’s designated root of all evil.

I never quite understood that. Though far from perfect, it at least attempted to get the two best teams in a national championship game — a big improvement on leaving it to the luck of the bowl pairings and their automatic tie-ins.

Anyway, Saban was addressing the playoff-centrists’ hot topic of the day, notably the suggestion of going to a genuine four- or eight- or 16- or — who knows? — maybe a 324-team playoff.

Saban wasn’t so sure that any number in a playoff would end all the chronic bickering.

To paraphrase, his answer went something like this:

“Basketball has 64 teams in its playoff, and when the selection show is over, I have to watch an hourlong ESPN special complaining about why Nos. 65 and 66 and 67 didn’t get in.”

For gosh sakes, this isn’t a cry for more than four teams for the College Football Playoff.

Please, I beg of you, please let the best regular season in all of sports retain some of its dignity.

But as hated as the old BCS “system” was, the oft-tweaked “formula” that picked the Final Two was at least as much maligned.

So it’s gone, too, every last poll and computer, every Colley and Massey, too.

Replaced by a committee.

Committees, of course, are most famous for trying to design a better horse and, when all the dickering is done and everybody has proper input, coming up with a camel.

But I have no problem with the committee itself.

The CFP seems to have gone out of its way to get the 13-most respected and beyond-reproach members on the planet.

I wouldn’t worry about any hanky panky or personal agendas getting in the way.

One can only imagine the background checks. And, as members go off in coming years, you can almost imagine something like Senate hearings for a Supreme Court nominee.

But is a committee actually the way to go?

In effect, they’re just rehashing the methods for picking the (larger) playoffs for the NCAA’s other sports.

Fine.

But one could make the argument that the BCS formula traditionally did a better job of crowning the actual “best team” as its national champion than all those committees did with their expanded playoffs.

It was decided on the field/court/pitch/etc., so nobody in those sports won a national championship that they didn’t deserve. Upsets happen, but at least they’re on the field and not a computer glitch.

Yet for all the haughty hand-wringing, for the most part that BCS formula got it right.

There were some flare-ups, most of which would have been reasonably handled by having four teams instead of just two (as it will be now).

Two glaring examples came back to back.

For the 2003 season, in retrospect it was obvious that LSU should have played Southern Cal for the title instead of (sorry, Bob Stoops) Oklahoma.

A year later, the formula wasn’t mathematically equipped to handle three highly ranked unbeaten teams and Auburn got left out while Southern Cal hammered Oklahoma.

But, for the most part, that dreaded formula wasn’t that bad. Shift the bickering to the 4-5-6 rankings, and at least you could say the left out team(s) wouldn’t have had a gripe under the old two-team system.

Now a committee will handle everything.

At least the College Football Playoff “Group of 13,” as it’s being called, will know it has small shoes to fill.

Take the basketball and baseball committees.

Let us assume that basketball, like football, is really just trying to give us the best possible Final Four.

And in 2008 they did just that — all four No. 1 seeds as determined by the committee advanced to the Final Four.

But it’s a rarity.

Over the last 10 years that was the only time the committee got more than two of the Final Four teams right. Twice none of the No. 1 seeds made it.

Four other times only one did. In fact, in the last decade, taking the 40 teams that the committee projected into the Final Four, exactly 14 of them made it.

Nobody wrote a book titled “Death to March Madness.”

The baseball tournament selection committee, even with a more fickle game, should have a far easier task.

It has a bigger target. It’s basically trying to get the final eight teams to the College World Series — and it can give them home-field advantage to nudge them along.

Child’s play, right?

Try it at home sometime.

One of the selections’s committee’s top eight seeds hasn’t won the national championship since South Carolina in 2011. And it gets worse. In fact, only two of the last 10 baseball national champions came in as one of the eight national seeds (LSU in 2009 was the other — and if it had been selecting only four teams, the Tigers would have been the only one).

So if that committee had been selecting an eight-team bracket, it would have denied the eventual national champion a chance in eight of the last 10 years.

This year only three of the selection committee’s top eight seeds even made it out of their own hosted regional.

Perhaps it’s an inexact science.

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Scooter Hobbs covers LSU

athletics. Email him at

shobbs@americanpress.comLouisiana State’s coach Nick Saban argues a call with field judge Scott Novak in the second quarter in a game against Texas at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas

TIM SHARP