Jayne: Playoff plan still has questions unanswered

Greg Jayne: Commentary

By Greg Jayne, Columbian opinion editor

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It was a decision destined to alter life as we know it in the United States, a monumental ruling that challenges decades of precedence.

It involves big money, and long-winded negotiations, and fundamental questions of fairness, addressing an issue of vital national importance that long has been supported by President Obama.

Who will be included? Who will fall through the cracks? How will the money be dispersed?

So, as Americans ponder the profound changes that are scheduled to take place in 2014, it is prudent to consider whether or not this will make us stronger as a nation.

It is prudent to wonder what the United States will look like 20 or 50 or 100 years from now.

Because, while the decision was made last week, it will be up to future generations to pass the final judgment on a college football playoff.

Yes, a playoff is coming, and we didn't even need the Supreme Court to approve of the format. At least not yet.

Anybody who knows me knows that I have argued against a playoff since Woody Hayes was prowling the sidelines. And while it might be tempting at this point to reiterate the argument that a playoff will diminish the importance of the most meaningful regular season in sports, it is time to move on. It is time to embrace the new reality and offer a concession speech.

The powers that be in college football have been assuaged by public opinion, so it is time to consider what the future holds.

To begin with, they got one thing right — having a committee select the four teams for the playoff. Goodness knows, relying on the polls or some computer-generated mishmash like the BCS rankings would damage the credibility of the process.

It also makes sense to have semifinals played at bowl sites and have cities bid on the title game. Anybody up for a college football championship game in Seattle? Let's start that movement right now.

Yet, there are some shortcomings to the plan that received a blessing last week from college presidents. The initial deal calls for this plan to run through 2025, but I'll bet it doesn't last that long. I'll bet that years before then the playoff will be expanded.

Trying to differentiate between the No. 4 and the No. 5 team in any given year is simply too difficult. And the first time the Southeastern Conference ends up with three of the final four teams, the rest of the conferences will be overcome with buyer's remorse about the plan.

That's why it will become an eight-team playoff before the ink is dry on Nick Saban's next contract. And it won't be long after that before it is expanded to 16 teams.

While everybody was busy calling last week's decision a great moment for college football, the black hole in the plan is that no decision has been reached on how to divide the revenue that is expected to come rolling in. The power conferences surely will reap more than their share, but does that mean the ACC and the Big East are in the same tax bracket as the SEC and the Pac-12?

In order to retain the support of the public, college football will have to present the illusion that a Clemson or a Boise State at least have a shot at the title. Otherwise the sport is right back where it was.

Yes, there are plenty of questions remaining about the monumental decision that was handed down last week. But there is one begrudging concession to be made: We will be healthier for it.

Greg Jayne is Sports editor of The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4531, or by e-mail at greg.jayne@columbian.com. To read his blog, go to columbian.com/weblogs/GregJayne