INDIANAPOLIS – The NCAA tournament was so compact when John Wooden coached his last game that all the madness was contained in March. However, the event was not a case of capital letters. It was more of a curiosity than the national sports show that we know today.
And it almost always ended the same: with UCLA as champion, 10 times in the 12 tournaments played between 1964 and 1975.
Only 32 teams qualified last year – the conference champions did it automatically, a few assorted independents were brought in, and for the first time, some accomplished league contenders were invited to compete. When UCLA won its first nine titles, the field was 25 teams or less. Imagine if the people in charge had left it that way, under the assumption that the Bruins would continue to win annually no matter what changes were made to make the tournament more fair and attractive.
That’s what one hears now from many who have watched the first eight editions of the College Football Playoff. They have seen the dominance of Alabama and, to a lesser extent, that of Clemson and Ohio State, and they assume that an actual tiebreaker extended to eight or 12 teams would produce the same result.
What a failure of imagination is that. What a disappointment it is to see so many smart people who don’t understand how the current playoff structure has helped bring about this circumstance.
It was not by design that those who conceived CFP spawned a world of college football in which three or four schools would be separated from the rest of the sport. They just wanted to get a little closer to something that looked like a true championship without inflicting too much damage on the bowl system they were mysteriously connected to.
However, elite players quickly recognized that if they wanted to be a part of the bigger games, they had to join the Tide, Tigers, Buckeyes, or perhaps the Oklahoma Sooners. This has become both self-sufficient and self-sufficient. Only one other program has claimed one of the seven previous championships. Only three others have played in the final.
College football was not always a sport where success was so regional and exclusive. In the 2000s, some of the biggest powers were Miami, Texas, and Southern California. In the ’90s, it was Nebraska and Florida State. Between 1976 and 1986, Pitt and Penn State combined to claim that distinction through the method of the day, cable polls, a total of three times. From 1975 to 2014, 23 different programs claimed at least a portion of the national title, including Georgia Tech, Colorado, Washington, and Tennessee.
The expansion of the CFP can help college football to enjoy the traditional variety that made the sport a national obsession, as well as the modernity of a championship in which success is based almost exclusively on achievement, and only minimal shape in someone’s opinion.
Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff has been on the job for just six months and has already recognized a fundamental truth about college football and its postseason.
“We have to expand,” Kliavkoff said on Mike Krzyzewski’s SiriusXM radio show, “Basketball and Beyond.”
Whether the expansion is to 12 teams or eight, it should include automatic qualification for at least six conference champions for the entire company to be legitimate, and it makes sense for those positions to be awarded to Power 5 champions and the best representative of the other five leagues. Arguing about semantics is pointless.
If the debate comes from inside the Power 5, it is clearly a bargaining ploy, because why would anyone argue about being presented with something so valuable? Whether it’s from the American West or the mountains or wherever, it’s a greedy gambit that could leave those Group of 5 shows desperate to be included through another coincidence of miracles so soon after the lucky confluence of the brilliant. Cincinnati season and rebuilding at Ohio State, Clemson and Oklahoma. .
With automatic qualifiers, each program can promise its recruits: if we win our conference, we’ll be in. This does not guarantee an equitable distribution of five-star recruits. Many will still want to be coached by Nick Saban or Dabo Swinney, but they will no longer be able to claim that theirs is the only path to the playoffs.
When the NCAA began to make its men’s basketball tournament more inclusive, it launched a phenomenon that has become one of the most beloved and consumed events in this country, not just in sports but in all of popular culture. With 68 teams on the field, that means 19 percent of Division I teams participate. In FBS soccer, Kliavkoff said, the small CFP field means the figure is 3 percent.
In just 10 years from the time Wooden coached his last game, the tournament field doubled in size and the list of champions crowned in that period included not only the longtime powerhouses Kentucky, Indiana and North Carolina, but also to the emergent forces of Georgetown, Michigan State and Louisville. .
Since 1975, 22 different colleges have won NCAA Tournament championships. Only one of them was UCLA, and only once.