Buried in an ESPN piece in which the commissioner of the Mountain West opines that the four-team playoff will soon expand to eight is a tidbit about some kind of “academic component” to the formula that chooses the participants in the yearly playoff. MWC Commissioner Craig Thompson actually said he “believes” there will be some kind of reward/punishment system involving the academics of teams trying to get into the playoff, but obviously he didn’t elaborate any. Probably because it will be a greatly watered down “component,” but I might just be a cynic.
It could, one supposes, be as simple as adding or subtracting rankings points based on a program’s ranking in the Academic Progress Reports, which is published yearly. That system scores teams out of 1000 possible points, and any team scoring below 900 faces possible sanctions from the NCAA. UConn basketball has already been penalized for having a low APR score. Adding this into a system that considers teams for postseason participation (and the financial windfall that comes with it) could create some very interesting debates during the season.
For example, both Alabama (970) and LSU (964) had good APR scores, so there is little chance any “academic component” would have affected their chances at making the playoff had it existed in 2011.
The next two teams, however, might not have been so fortunate. The No. 4 team in the final poll, Oregon, scored 948 on the APR. Had Arkansas’ pathetic 936 been higher, would they have passed Oregon and snuck into the playoffs? Maybe Oregon and Arkansas would both have jumped Oklahoma State, which had a very low score of 928, placing it in the bottom 20 percent of all FBS schools.
I’d imagine that any consideration of academic standing probably won’t be so strong as to completely flip the rankings around in favor of the high-scoring schools like Northwestern and Boise State. I’m sure the Broncos would be very happy to hear that the new system might actually do something to help them out though.
You’ll also notice that the commissioner of the Mountain West saying academics might maybe, kinda-sorta count is not the same thing as any major conference commissioner saying it and definitely not the same as anyone from the BCS saying it. The people involved in the money are staying mum on the issue because, as always, this thing is still about making money.
No school president, conference commissioner, or head coach is going to say they don’t care about academics, but no one involved at the highest levels cares so much about academics that they would submarine the season of a high-profile football team just to make a point.
We’re only stuck speculating on what the playoff formula because it hasn’t been released yet, and no one involved seems to have an idea what it’s going to look like. It could very well work exactly like the old BCS with computers and all kinds of polls involving head coaches who don’t even watch the games. That would obviously be the darkest timeline of all.
Academics – and possibly myriad other things – being included in the formula could also create more “debate” about the rankings during the season, something the higher-ups in college football used to justify several incarnations of the BCS and its ancestors. This is, of course, is another nightmare scenario for the fans because the BCS, and subsequently this playoff, were created to end the speculative debates about the true college football national champion and just let the best teams play each other.
A complex, esoteric formula could create quite a bit of debate, but no one should be debating the factors that may or may not keep teams out of the playoffs. We should not all have to become experts in the vagaries of “academic progress” for college football programs any more than we needed to learn about various computer formulas that some how ranked Ben Roethlisberger’s Miami (Ohio) team too high, keeping USC out of the BCS championship game (that was for you, Phillips).
So it’s a wait and see situation once again for college football fans. We’ve been tantalized by the sudden appearance of the four-team playoff, but the devil is in the details, and there are a hell of a lot of details yet to be worked out.