College football botched the playoff, left Memphis in conference realignment mess | Giannotto
There’s a scenario in which all the greed and all the potential chaos of this latest incarnation of conference realignment don’t matter as much for schools like Memphis. Or at least there would be a path far more palatable than the one college sports is barreling down much to the dismay of those who most care about college sports.
The tradition being discarded, and the competitive disadvantages being exacerbated, could have been easier to stomach. A solution was right there in front of us about a year ago, right before the SEC poached Texas and Oklahoma and sent schools dithering in every direction seeking shelter in whatever league wasn’t going to be the one left behind.
The power brokers of modern college football actually did something right before they inflicted all this wrong, and the absurd notion that a different set of power brokers then elected to completely ignore all that right to inflict all this wrong – and harm their own interests by doing so – isn’t getting enough attention.
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We had a 12-team playoff proposal that would have given automatic bids to the six highest-ranked conference champions and then chosen six at-large teams.
The Pac-12, with USC and UCLA gone, would have almost certainly had a team in the playoff every year. Same with the new-look Big 12 and the ACC, whether Notre Dame decided to join the Big Ten or not. Even Memphis, weakened as the American Athletic Conference will become beginning in 2023-24, would have had a better shot at fielding a playoff team than it currently does with Cincinnati, UCF and Houston in the league.
“How cool would that be to one day host a playoff game in the Liberty Bowl?” Memphis coach Ryan Silverfield said last year.
He didn’t sound crazy, either.
This was one of the few plans college sports has devised in recent years that seemed to have almost universal support. The haves were going to get more teams in the playoff and the have-nots were actually going to get a chance every year.
Consider if that had been ratified by now. If that postseason hovered over conference realignment. A lot of the angst driving the conversation would be dialed down.
There would still be schools trying to get to the Big Ten and SEC. There would still be schools like Memphis trying to improve their position in the pecking order. There would still be complaining about the lack of oversight related to new name, image and likeness rules. There would still be a record number of transfers.
But there would at least be a semblance of stability, from knowing the sport driving all this dysfunction (football) at least had a postseason in place trying to protect the interests of everyone.
Instead, we’ve got this: “It's musical chairs and then the music is gonna stop and you're not gonna have a seat at the table. That's scary for a lot of universities,” LSU coach Brian Kelly said Monday at SEC Media Days. “And there's not enough chairs for everybody. That's the current state of college football."
And this: "Megaconferences will create more of a caste system, maybe, in college football," Alabama's Nick Saban said Tuesday, "and everyone has to decide if that's the direction we really want to go or not."
We’ve got a group of new Power Five conference commissioners inspired almost entirely by conceit, who figured the best course of action was to completely railroad the one thing everybody else in college sports actually agreed on.
The so-called alliance between Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren, ACC commissioner Jim Phillips and Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff makes the League of Nations look like an unbridled success. Of all the hypocrisy that has damaged college sports, this might be the most indefensible example.
By joining together, they created a voting bloc capable of blocking the approval of this 12-team playoff idea. They didn’t like not being included in the planning stages, which were spearheaded by a committee featuring SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, outgoing Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick and Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson.
This alliance, of course, lasted just long enough to ruin everything. It effectively ended a few weeks ago when USC and UCLA bolted to the Big Ten. And on Monday in Atlanta, Sankey didn’t sound all that enthused about revisiting the automatic qualifier designations that were to be part of the 12-team playoff he originally helped construct.
"If we're going to go back to square one, we're going to take a step back from the model introduced and rethink the approach, number of teams, whether there should be any guarantee for conference champions at all,” Sankey said. “Just earn your way in. There's something that's healthy competitively about that and creates expectations and support around programs.”
The playoff he’s suggesting is a playoff that will most benefit the SEC, and essentially prevent a majority of the schools playing college football from earning their way in to the postseason.
It’s a playoff that would exacerbate the divide conference realignment is already driving forward.
It’s a playoff crafted entirely by ego run amok.
Worst of all, it’s a playoff we should have already avoided.
You can reach Commercial Appeal columnist Mark Giannotto via email at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter: @mgiannotto
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: College football botched playoff, Memphis conference realignment mess