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Live Life Deliberately

College football surrounds a gripping product with meaningless chatter

Sunday will mercifully bring the end of the single most worthless television show in history. No, not “My Mother the Car”; Jerry Van Dyke had some very funny moments.

I honestly don’t know what name ESPN slapped on the weekly college football rankings show when it began 10 years ago, but I can’t think of anything more meaningless than this past Tuesday’s episode. Unless it was the previous Tuesday’s show. Or the first version in 2014.

They are all exactly the same. ESPN announcers asking the self-important chairman — for the record, the current chairman, Boo Corrigan, is a friend — of a self-important group of alleged football experts to “explain” how the committee reached the conclusions that led it to … that week’s absolutely meaningless rankings.

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Let’s look at this week’s “unveiling.” (I keep using quotes around these words because I can’t possibly write them with a straight face.) Oh look, the top four teams were the four remaining undefeated teams — with apologies to Liberty, which might go undefeated and still find itself in the same type of minor bowl as 5-7 Minnesota.

The top four teams in the second-to-last rankings of the season were Georgia, Michigan, Washington and Florida State. All are 12-0 and will play in conference championship games this weekend. The next four teams — Oregon, Ohio State, Texas and Alabama — are 11-1. Only Ohio State, which lost to Michigan last week in what amounted to a conference championship game, will not play this weekend.

What does that mean? It means none of the previous rankings mattered, regardless of how seriously Corrigan looks in answering questions from an equally serious ESPN broadcaster. You know what else is meaningless? The “analysis” from the equally serious ESPN talking heads after the “unveiling.” (I think I’m running out of quotation marks on my computer.)

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On Sunday, after several more minutes of unnecessary, time-killing “analysis,” the four playoff teams will be announced. Then, after another mind-numbing round of analysis and commercials, we’ll learn who will play in the “New Year’s Six” bowls. Personally, I’ll remain on the edge of my seat waiting to hear the matchup in the Pop-Tarts Bowl.

Here are three words that need to be banned from the English language forever: “The committee felt …” Okay, “road work ahead” is probably more heinous, but not by much. What does “the committee felt” mean? Was there a vote, and who voted for whom? Like the NCAA men’s basketball committee — which is only slightly more secretive than the CIA — the 13-member committee acts as if it is guarding state secrets in discussing how it “feels” on virtually any subject.

Retiring CFP executive director Bill Hancock has tried valiantly to lend some diversity to the committee, but this year’s group has just one woman — Kelly Whiteside, also the committee’s token journalist after working for years at USA Today. Whiteside might be the best reporter in the world, but her experience is meaningless as long as she — like everyone on the committee other than the chairman — is gagged the minute they walk in the room.

This year’s final rankings might be different than the previous nine in that there might be some real controversy, depending on this weekend’s outcomes. In past years, at least three of the teams have been locks, while there has always been some screaming and yelling from the fifth team. This year could also be a slam dunk — any undefeated power conference teams will get in. Period. That includes Florida State, which opened the season with a win over what became a three-loss LSU team and then faced little competition in the ACC, America’s football home to mediocrity. Of course, should the Seminoles lose to Louisville, they will be off to the Orange Bowl.

Everything changes next year with the CFP becoming a 12-team tournament. All the “traditionalists” will moan and groan that the regular season no longer matters and, as I’ve written for years, they will be wrong. What would be at stake this week in putting together a 12-team tournament? Only a first-round bye, meaning a top-four team would have to play just three games to win a national championship instead of four. At this time of year, that extra game could have huge implications, with players banged up and bruised as the season drags to a finish.

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By the way, does anybody remember when university presidents objected to any kind of playoff on the grounds that the “student-athletes” would take too much of a physical pounding after an 11 game regular season — not to mention how it might affect their “academics.” I might need an extra set of quotation marks after that one. Next year, a non-bye playoff team could play 17 games (!!) if it reaches the CFP championship

You can bet, too, that ESPN — which for all intents owns the CFP, having reportedly paid a rights fee worth about $500 million a year — will expand the meaningless Tuesday shows to an hour since there will now be three tiers of teams to discuss: the four bye teams, the four teams hosting first-round games and the four first-round road teams. If you think the scramble for basketball bubble teams in March gets silly, just wait until SEC No. 5 and ACC No. 3 are battling each another for the 12th spot. The screaming and yelling will probably begin around Halloween, which is exactly what the CFP and ESPN want.

When they do finally get around to the Sunday show that actually matters next year, they’ll probably be on air for six hours instead of four. I can’t wait for the breakdown of Tennessee’s kicking game.

Twelve teams is the right number for the playoff, although there should be spots for at least two Group of Five teams, not one. Given that the fourth-place team in the Big Ten will undoubtedly draw better TV numbers than Tulane, SMU or Liberty — unless it’s Iowa — you can bet a second Group of Five team is about as likely as next year’s chairman beginning his first “interview” with a self-aware joke. How about this one: “A college president, an athletic director and a commissioner walk into a bar …” Oh wait, no one that distinguished would ever walk into a bar. Neither, surely, would a “student-athlete.”

So let’s enjoy the games Saturday and then endure the droning on Sunday. At least there might actually be some suspense. Meaningful suspense.


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