Read the fine print: College Football Playoff expansion good for Alabama football, SEC | Hurt

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

The 50th anniversary of the classic Who album, “Who’s Next,” with Roger Daltrey famously singing those words, is approaching this summer, but if sitting around and playing “Baba O’Riley” at full volume doesn’t convince you that change comes slowly if at all, then take a look at the new College Football Playoff proposal.  

There is a chance college football could be using the newer, bigger, bolder plan by 2023, but at least some of the strings are being pulled by the same institutions that always pulled them.

Remember the influential book “Death To The BCS,” by Dan Wetzel? Remember how that became a rallying cry for everyone who hated the old two-team system that began in 1998? Remember the furor caused by the Alabama-LSU rematch to decide the title after the 2011 season, the game that was more responsible than anything for the move to a four-team playoff by 2014? (In the small-world department, it was Oklahoma State that was left out in the cold, and just this week the Cowboys and Crimson Tide signed a home-and-home series that might give OSU a chance to avenge what it considered bid-stealing, 15 years after it happened.)

Remember the rejoicing at the change, that the bowls had finally given way to a fairer system even though the bowls remained right in the thick of things with the College Football Playoff?

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Well, guess who’s back, even though they never left.

One of the first things that struck me about the proposal when it was released Thursday was this sentence, which was in my first social media post after the release of the plan: 

"The quarterfinals would be Jan. 1-2 per the official proposal."

There was clearly a significance to the quarterfinals being on New Year’s Day, even though one of the more frequently asked questions over the course of Thursday was why the top four seeds wouldn't get a chance to play a home game, while the teams seeded five through eight would, even as an extra game. But I had to write in a hurry and didn’t have time to survey the entire chessboard at leisure.

But after reading some influential national college reporters like Ralph Russo, Ross Dellenger and Brett McMurphy, among others, the pattern became clear. If you had the key, it was clear. One of the things that the Rose Bowl, and to some extent, the Sugar and Orange Bowls, did not like about the current format was not having that annual New Year’s Day Bowl. Under the new proposal, they will, at least most of the time.

That could be a reason for Alabama fans, never endeared by the sway that the Big Ten holds (and still holds even after its league office came close to killing the 2020 season) to sputter and fume. Tuscaloosa would be happy to host a game, but there is also a consolation prize in the fine print. 

“The working group's charge did not include deciding which bowls might be a part of the CFP in the future; however the group did recommend that if traditional bowls host games, teams would be assigned to their traditional bowls for quarterfinal games, with priority going to the higher-seeded team.” 

Jan 1, 2021; Arlington, TX, USA;  Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Patrick Surtain II (2) celebrates after being named the defensive player of the game after the Alabama Crimson Tide defeated the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the Rose Bowl at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In other words, if you are the SEC champion (and thus, in all likelihood, a top-four seed), your quarterfinal game will very probably be in New Orleans, as you would be assigned to the Sugar Bowl. That’s not unpalatable at all if you are Alabama (or LSU or Auburn or much of the rest of the SEC). 

Yes, there is a familiar feeling to having New Year’s Day bowls. That’s probably going to be popular nationally, until your team looks up and is playing the SEC champion a few blocks from Bourbon Street.

Reach Cecil Hurt at or via Twitter  @cecilhurt

Sports columnist Cecil Hurt.