Georgia and its fans are still suffering to find the silver lining in Saturday’s heartbreaking loss to Alabama in an epic Southeastern Conference championship.
Bulldogs, however, can at least be thankful it’s not 2014.
It seems silly to argue about whether a date in New Orleans with Louisville would be better than a matchup against Nebraska in Orlando. Neither one of them is the BCS championship game that Georgia came just a few yards and seconds from qualifying to play in.
But there’s certainly an argument to be made.
“There’s absolutely no question that we are deserving of a BCS bid,” said Greg McGarity, Georgia’s director of athletics. “I know Florida finished third, and by way of them finishing third in the BCS, that locked out us without any discussion. There’s no question that we played great the last half of the season, and just to see the way that we laid it on the line (Saturday) proved that we’re right there along with the best in college football.”
It seems a shame for the Bulldogs to fall from third to seventh in the BCS rankings after playing to a virtual draw in the greatest championship game since conferences started playing championship games, but it doesn’t really matter right now.
But in two years, it will matter a whole lot.
The aftermath of this weekend’s conclusion of the meaningful portion of the college football season illustrated beyond a shadow of a doubt how insufficient the move to a four-team playoff starting in 2014 will be. If that system were in place today, only one team that even PLAYED for its conference championship (Alabama) would be included in the playoff. No. 1 Notre Dame, of course, is stubbornly independent.
Division runners-up Florida and Oregon would likely fill out the short bracket that would exclude Pac-12 winner Stanford, Big 12 champ Kansas State and a Georgia team that beat Florida and came 5 yards short of winning the toughest conference in the nation.
Can you imagine the howling? It would be brutal. Now imagine it again if you replace Alabama for Georgia in the excluded category. No tree in America would be safe from the rising Tide of wrath.
Perhaps that explains why Nick Saban was so vociferous in his argument that the SEC championship runner-up deserved a BCS bowl berth.
“I watch teams playing that are 7-5 that are talking about they might go to a BCS game because they won their championship?” Saban said after his team’s 32-28 victory. “Something’s not right here. I don’t think it’s fair to the Georgia players, coaches and their institution if they don’t go to a BCS game.”
Saban is right in that not every conference champion deserves a national title shot. If Georgia Tech had won the Atlantic Coast Conference title with a 7-6 record, they wouldn’t deserve to be in the same zip code with Notre Dame much less a first-round game.
But there needs to be more inclusion to ensure that worthy champions get a rightful opportunity. Plucking only four programs from the pool of legitimate contenders isn’t enough, whether it’s the top four in the polls or just the top four conference winners.
Eight is the bare minimum threshold to alleviate for potential grave injustice. Any conference champ (or independent) rated among the top 10 in the final poll should be automatic as well. This year that would include the Irish and Tide as well as Kansas State and Stanford.
Then you’d have four more spots (perhaps three if Ohio State wasn’t ineligible) to argue about.
And it should be an argument and not blind allegiance to any polls. Because the polls this week showed that the system is flawed when three idle teams not even eligible for their conference title games jumped a narrow conference loser and stayed ahead of two other major conference champs.
Let any at-large candidates make their cases to a selection committee. Almost every team from No. 3 Florida (beat four top 12 teams) and Oregon (only one overtime loss to Pac-12 champ) down to No. 12 Florida State (won the weak ACC) and No. 15 Northern Illinois (one point in opener from being undefeated) could make a credible case.
Better yet, make the playoff field 10 teams and have four “at-large” teams that didn’t reach conference title games play for spots in quarterfinals. If you think that’s too much burden on the athletes, get rid of that superfluous 12th regular season game against patsies to make room.
Will there still be complaints? Of course. But the level of collective outrage diminishes the further you get down the polls.
The bottom line is simple. The leaders in charge need to wake up and make an adjustment before it’s too late. Because being excluded from a boutique playoff with real stakes will make getting passed over by an insignificant BCS bowl seem trifling by comparison.