The Spread, Week Ten: It’s All About the Benjamins

The first-ever College Football Playoff rankings have been released, and you probably know someone who’s mad about where their team has been slotted. That’s not me, and that’s not what this is about. I don’t really care how many SEC teams are in the top whatever or how this team isn’t being measured by the same standard as that team. To be perfectly honest with you, I don’t even really care where Ohio State is ranked.

Now, that’s partially because this week’s rankings are completely meaningless. I’m not even sure I understand why the committee is doing a weekly update when one of their announced important factors is conference championships, something we won’t know until all the games have been played. I guess they just want us to know they exist. And ESPN needs to fill time and fuel their shouting shows for another seven days.

What I’m concerned about is the absence of a specific team, a team who–admittedly–hasn’t beaten anyone noteworthy and won’t really have a chance to. I’m talking about undefeated Marshall, one of only three teams with a perfect record remaining and the only one of those three to not show up in the first official top 25.

And yes, I know all the arguments against the Thundering Herd (and I don’t disagree with them) but the simple fact is that any post-season structure that doesn’t allow an undefeated team a shot at the title is broken. It’s what I was most afraid of with the paltry four-team format and it’s clearly going to come to fruition should Marshall win out.

Some may argue that a team like East Carolina, with its three non-conference games against “Power Five” schools, could crack the top four had it won every game. (ECU does check in at #23 in this week’s rankings, the lone non-power team on the list.) But let’s face it, by the end of the season having beaten South Carolina, Virginia Tech and North Carolina wouldn’t have been impressive enough to leap-frog a one-loss Oregon or Michigan State or Auburn or Notre Dame.

And it’s all by design.

The College Football Playoff replaces the BCS, a championship system developed in 1998 by the six major conferences. (This, kids, was a time when the Big East was populated by Miami, Virginia Tech and West Virginia.) For sixteen years, the BCS ensured that a team from one of those six conferences would be named the champion, even as it pretended to open it doors ever-so-slightly to the smaller conferences.

Eventually, people grew dissatisfied with the format, reaching the breaking point when two teams from the same division (guess which one!) played for the national title. Playoff talk–which has existed pretty much since the beginning of the sport–heated up again. So, the exact same group of teams, who had now rearranged themselves into just five conferences, came up with our new system and made sure to keep nearly all of the money (over 70% guaranteed) for themselves.

Of course, conferences receive an extra $6 million for each member team that makes the playoff, so it’s very important to make sure the committee understands exactly where those four teams should come from. By placing value on things like conference championships, strength of schedule, quality wins and (apparently) quality losses, the deck has been sufficiently stacked against the mid-major conferences.

Judging from the initial rankings, the committee has heard the message loud and clear. A mid-major team will never play in the College Football Playoff as long as it only has four teams.

Money wins again.

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