Thursday, May 23, 2024

College Football Playoff Selection

The metaphorical white puffs of smoke sent up by the College Football Playoff selection committee on Sunday signaled that the panel had chosen the four teams that would vie for this season’s championship — and that Florida State, unbeaten champions of the Atlantic Coast Conference, was not among them.This caused smoke of a different sort to emanate from the Seminoles’ ears.Florida State’s résumé was hard to beat. The Seminoles began the season by walloping Louisiana State, which was led by the presumptive Heisman Trophy winner, quarterback Jayden Daniels. They won at Clemson in overtime. In other weeks, Florida State showed the mettle of an elite team by persevering when not at its best — something that unbeaten Michigan and Washington were able to do but that Texas and Alabama, both with one loss and chosen to fill out the playoff field, were not.The Seminoles’ only shortcoming was being shorthanded: Their star quarterback, Jordan Travis, broke his leg last month against North Alabama.When his backup, Tate Rodemaker, suffered a concussion in a win the next week at Florida, it left Brock Glenn, a true freshman who had thrown four passes to that point, in charge against Louisville.The Seminoles’ defense stiffened, the running game eventually got unstuck, and Mr. Glenn accomplished his most important task — he did not lose the game.Still, the unsightliness of Florida State’s offense (and memories of last year’s championship game fiasco, when Georgia trounced Texas Christian, 65-7) moved the committee to a new precedent: It did not allow an unbeaten conference champion from one of the five marquee conferences to participate in the playoff.Florida State players sat in stunned silence as the committee rankings were revealed on television. Travis, with his surgically repaired leg in a cast, wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, that he wished he had been injured earlier in the season so the committee could take a fuller measure of his team.Mike Norvell, the coach at Florida State, said in a statement that he was disgusted and infuriated. “What happened today goes against everything that is true and right in college football,” he said. “A team that overcame tremendous adversity and found a way to win doing whatever it took on the field was cheated today. It’s a sad day for college football.”Mostly, though, the committee’s decision was a reminder of what college football is — a televised beauty pageant.An enduring allure of American sports is that it is the rare place where the deck isn’t (so heavily) stacked, where meritocracy matters. You want to win a race? Be the first to cross the finish line. You want to win a Super Bowl? Finish with one of the best seven records in your conference and you’ve got a chance.College football has rarely been that.Instead, the 13-person committee, made up of a rotating cast of administrators, former coaches and players, and former sportswriters, does its work behind closed doors. Only the committee chairman speaks to the news media.The opaqueness of the process, along with the influence of the television networks, which have been the puppet masters of conference realignment, lends itself to conspiracy theories that fans in other sports usually reserve for game officials — and, perhaps, the weighting of N.B.A. draft lottery Ping-Pong balls. The only thing that can be said for certain about college football’s last team in and last team out is that Alabama will draw more eyeballs than Florida State.

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