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Tramel: Don't blame Ohio State or the College Football Playoff committee for the chaos

The 5-0 Buckeyes play Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship Game on Saturday, and if Ohio State wins to get to 6-0, it will have played FIVE fewer games than many of the other playoff contenders. [AP Photo/Al Goldis]
The 5-0 Buckeyes play Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship Game on Saturday, and if Ohio State wins to get to 6-0, it will have played FIVE fewer games than many of the other playoff contenders. [AP Photo/Al Goldis]

Gary Barta, chairman of the College Football Playoff committee, climbed on his soapbox Tuesday night.

Soapbox. His term, not mine. If you look up soapbox in wikipedia, there’s a picture of a con man, standing on a soapbox, in front of a vintage carriage marked “Medicine man.”

That about sums up Barta’s job, trying to peddle college football’s postseason selection system.

“Well, I'm going to go on my soapbox,” Barta said when I quizzed him about the statement he made that it doesn’t just matter that a team wins, but how it wins.

“I've been in college sports now for about 33, 34 years, and there are differences between college and pro. They're both great. But one of the differences is the way we put together our football championship and our basketball tournament, and it's based on how you play, it's based on who you play, it's based on your record, but it's also selected by a committee that evaluates those things in addition to just statistics. It is unique, but I would say it's unique in a wonderful way.”

It’s unique, all right. But there’s nothing wonderful about it.

The crazy 2020 college season staggers to the finish line this week, and the committee on Sunday morning will select four teams for the playoff field. One of those teams almost surely will be Ohio State, which will have played half a schedule.

The 5-0 Buckeyes play Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship Game on Saturday, and if Ohio State wins to get to 6-0, it will have played FIVE fewer games than many of the other playoff contenders.

And the Buckeyes weren’t even eligible to play in the Big Ten championship, until the conference suspended its own rule. Even when college football tries to do the right thing, it can’t follow through.

Don’t blame Ohio State for the chaos. Don’t blame the Big Ten. Don’t blame the committee. Don’t blame anyone.

Except the sport itself.

This is what college football is and always has been. Frontier justice. No rule of law. No regulation. It’s the Holy Roman Empire. Feudal kingdoms. The ultimate chaste system. Revolution need not apply.

College football wants no standards. No requirements. Not for scheduling. Not for winning. Now not even for games played.

Think about the absurdity of it all. In a sport in which losing matters more than winning, a sport in which losses cost you more than victories help, a team is going to be rewarded for playing half a schedule.

Again, don’t blame the committee. It was charged with picking the four best teams, and anyone who tried to clarify exactly what that means, or set up some parameters that might offer direction, was ushered out the door. Use all ambiguity to your advantage, and the football committee is nothing if not ambiguous.

College football could have set up a system by which only conference champions would qualify. That seems reasonable. Five major conferences, five lesser leagues, plus four playoff spots. Whittling down the contenders would seem to be a good idea for a committee faced with difficult decision-making.

But no. No parameters.

As is, a conference title is considered a factor when teams are similar in the committee’s eyes. Which means, as Pat Jones said the other day, it matters when the committee wants it to matter and doesn’t matter when the committee doesn’t want it to matter.

College football could have instituted a minimum games requirement for this COVID-19 season. Doesn’t that seem reasonable? You get penalized heavily for a defeat in this sport. But now we’re rewarding teams that have found the elixir; just don’t play that many games.

Would a minimum requirement of eight or nine games have been fair?

Fair? When did anyone start asking about fair? Is it fair that Cincinnati has no path to a playoff, no matter what it does on the field? Is it fair that unbeaten Coastal Carolina, with more good wins than Ohio State, is ignored by the committee while the Buckeyes are exalted?

College football is burdened with a century-long curse of selection. In the NFL, in high school football, no one sits around and makes selections on who might be better or best. Teams win their way into the postseason, then win their way through the playoffs.

But because the college game is so expansive and unregulated, committees are required. And parameters are kept at bay, so the power structure can remain.

And the committee can fall back on the eye test, and the video watching, as excuses for its selections.

“It's important to win, but the committee watches all the games, and who you play is important and how you win those games is also important,” Barta said.

No offense, but that’s an asinine philosophy. In golf, who cares if you hit it stiff and tap-in for birdie, or hole out from a bunker? Who cares if you pitch a no-hitter or give up a grand slam, so long as you’ve got more runs than the opponent after nine innings?

“How you play” is just code for empowering the committee carte-blanche.

I’ll let you in on a secret. If it’s so important what a team looks like on video, we can go ahead and write in Alabama and Ohio State for the playoff. In 2021. The Crimson Tide and the Buckeyes will look great on video next September.

The committee needs help. It needs guidance. It needs parameters. It needs someone to say, five or six games is not enough for a team in the College Football Playoff.

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.

Berry Tramel

Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›