The CFB Playoff won’t ruin the Iron Bowl, but it will change it

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We college football fans were spoiled on Saturday. We saw a number of outstanding games all within a single Saturday afternoon fueled by a combination of rivalry hate, conference pride and championship stakes. Try to match that, NFL.

Related: 19 biggest takeaways from Rivalry Week

The Saturday, of course, was capped by the Iron Bowl – a game many are claiming to be the best game in years, maybe ever. A bitter rivalry, a potential end to the most powerful dynasty of the BCS era, a massive upset, a divisional championship at stake, a national championship berth on the line, and of course finishing on a 100-yard field goal returned for a touchdown. It was magical.

When the shouting of glee, anger, or just plain shock subsided, many of us just smiled to ourselves. This is college football.

And then my mind shifted to how this incredible moment might be altered with the changes coming to the sport. Those changes of course are the dismantling of the BCS system in favor of the four-team playoff.

The main problem is that a four-team playoff would have removed the must-win nature of the Iron Bowl for Alabama. Alabama will likely not drop below the fourth spot in the BCS rankings, and even if they do, they will remain in the top four once either Mizzou or Auburn lose in the SEC Championship Game next week. This means that win or lose in the Iron Bowl, Alabama would have gotten into the four-team playoff.

Related: The Great Debate — Does one-loss SEC Champion deserve shot?

Does this mean the game would be meaningless? Of course not. It would have been great, but one of those factors I listed above, namely the national championship berth being at stake, would have been removed for Alabama (Auburn still would have needed the win). Does this knock down the importance by a small degree? I believe so.

The common mistake that proponents of the college football playoff make is saying that the playoff adds intrigue to the sport. After all, we’re adding semifinal games in at the end of the season. Won’t that add two new and exciting games that we didn’t have before? Yes.¬†However, it won’t be a net-gain to the season. It will essentially just be a transfer of excitement and intrigue from the regular season to the playoff. A game or two or three will become less important in the regular season while the two new semifinal games become very important.

This isn’t a bad thing. It’s just a thing, and to ignore it is silly. Few deny that the semifinal games will be great college football. They will be huge matchups between teams that are both high quality teams and probably squads that rarely face off against each other. The entertainment value will be high.

The negative here is that we’re boosting the profile of an infrequent matchup (such as Auburn v. Ohio State) while risking the profile of traditional rivalries like the Iron Bowl. I prefer to protect the traditional rivalries and the regular season, but to do that requires a system like the BCS.

The rivalries won’t go away, but it’s another bite taken out of college football tradition. Major changes rarely occur overnight, but rather via a series of smaller steps. Make no mistake about it, a move to a playoff is a step that will de-emphasize traditional rivalries and the regular season. For Alabama in 2013, a four-team playoff would have essentially shortened the season making the Iron Bowl meaningless with regards to gaining entry into the playoff. Essentially, Alabama would have locked up a place in the playoff after 11 weeks. What happened in week 12 would only have changed their seeding.

The Iron Bowl will still be a big game for the households within the state of Alabama and SEC fans all over the southeast, but the risk of it losing something when both teams enter the Iron Bowl highly ranked as they did yesterday is real.

Remember, Alabama fans would feel differently today if this happened next year. Rather than the utter devastation they feel today and the complete disdain they harbor towards their rival, they would feel disappointment but remind each other: “Hey, we’re still in the playoff. Three in a row is still a possibility.”

The Iron Bowl won’t be ruined. It will just be changed.

COMMENTS

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  • I tend to disagree that the importance of the rivalry games will be diminished. How exciting would an upcoming Auburn vs. Alabama rematch under the 2014 playoff system be? Since they are both still in the top 4 (and assuming an Auburn win in the SEC Championship Game), they would be on a collision course to meet again in a few weeks for a playoff. The country would grind to a halt to see that game. The bragging rights associated with the great rivalries are always going to lend an air of importance to those games. Think of how much Auburn could brag if they beat Bama twice in 1 year?

    • Okay, so the odds of this happening are about as infinitesimal as being struck by lightning while winning the lottery, but there still is a microscopic chance for the Tide to reach the BCSCG this year. Two scenarios, one more appealing to Bama fans than the other.
      1. Mizzou beats Auburn, and Sparty beats OSU. Bama plays FSU.
      2. Auburn beats Missouri, MSU beats OSU, Duke wins an upset for the ages, and Bama plays a revenge game against Auburn for all the marbles. Yeah, I know it’s pretty much impossible. We’ve been unbelievably lucky to make it the last two years despite a late season loss, so I agree it probably won’t happen. But this is college football. Nothing is set in stone until the conference championships are decided.

      • Missouri beating Auburn might put them ahead of Alabama since we will be sitting at home that weekend. I just can’t see it happening.. I think it would take BOTH FSU and Ohio State losing for us to get in.. and FSU losing to Duke? Much crazier than Auburn beating Alabama.

  • I may be wrong and haven’t seen the rules of the playoffs except on television briefly. But I thought that they said you have to win your conference to be able to qualify for the playoff. Maybe im wrong but with that this rematch wouldn’t be possible.

    • I think you are right Phil G – to do otherwise would mean that the selection committee would have to choose a conference runner-up over a champion in another conference – For example, 2 SEC teams get in while the ACC champion gets the boot. I hope in 2014 we have a situation like this year – where it is conceivable (although extraordinarily unlikely) that Duke wins a huge upset for the ACC championship but is not even ranked in the top 10. The ACC people would scream that their champion should be included since they are a power conference but the rest of the country would counter that by pointing to several conference runners-up who are higher ranked and played more demanding schedules in tougher conferences. This will inevitably lead to a call for an expanded playoff field which is ultimately what we all want.