Houston, we have a problem: The Army-Navy Game is making college football respond poorly to a logistical squeeze.
Houston does not currently refer to the Cougars, but if Tom Herman’s team goes 13-0 and makes a case for the fourth playoff spot, we might really have a problem with the Army-Navy Game.
If Notre Dame beats Stanford and goes 11-1 while Utah goes 12-1 and becomes the Pac-12 champion, we’ll also have a problem with the Army-Navy Game.
The College Football Playoff Selection Committee must reconsider a decision it made on Tuesday, as noted by Brett McMurphy of ESPN:
Potential issue w/final Dec. 6 @CFBPlayoff rankings: if ND in top 6, committee won’t consider Navy-Army game which could help/hurt ND’s SOS
— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) November 10, 2015
First of all, this represents — if not an act of backtracking — certainly a modification of a previously expressed desire to wait until after the Army-Navy Game, if indeed it was felt the event would affect the final College Football Playoff rankings. This issue came into play last year, when Navy — an Ohio State opponent — played six days after the final rankings were released and the Buckeyes snagged the fourth and last playoff spot by climbing past Baylor and TCU. Navy did beat Army, but the question lingered:
What if the Midshipmen had lost?
Wouldn’t that have devalued one of Ohio State’s better non-conference wins? Could the committee, in good faith, claim that a Navy loss to a bad Army team was irrelevant to the final rankings?
For Ohio State fans (relative to 2014), Notre Dame fans (relative to this year’s potential controversy), and Houston Cougar fans (if you beat Navy en route to a 13-0 record), let’s immediately cut to the chase on this issue:
The main point being advanced is not necessarily that a Navy loss to Army means you’re not worthy of the No. 4 seed in the playoff. A very strong case could still be made that the Buckeyes (last year) or the Fighting Irish and Cougars (this year) would deserve to be in the playoff under the right circumstances, even if Navy slips on the banana peel against the Black Knights, which — to this point — have not improved in West Point. That’s part of this story, but it’s not the number-one point.
The main point of this examination — it’s not a complicated one — is simply this: Utah, the Big 12 champion, a 13-0 Iowa team (if it manages to pull off the feat), 12-1 Alabama, 12-1 Florida (not likely, but possible), or any other team involved in a close, granular comparison with 11-1 Notre Dame or 13-0 Houston for the No. 4 seed, DESERVES TO HAVE ALL THE GAMES PLAYED BEFORE A DECISION IS MADE ON THE IRISH (and/or possibly the Cougars, should they go 13-0).
That’s it. One need not make the matter any more complicated.
This is NOT an attempt to say that a Navy loss to Army should somehow eliminate or disqualify 11-1 Notre Dame or 13-0 Houston, given that the Navy win would decrease in quality. That would be unfair to the Irish or the Cougars under such a circumstance.
The point is simply to wait until all the games are played. Every team with a shot in this very significant process deserves that basic courtesy.
We’re going to go through 14 weeks, but then not evaluate every game because of a logistical issue? There is no defense for this response on the part of the committee, at least in its present form.
Let us at least offer this bit of advice to the CFB Playoff Committee: If you are going to say that you are going to make your decision on Dec. 6, six days before Army-Navy, at least have the courtesy to say that Notre Dame (or 13-0 Houston) would be No. 4 even with a Navy loss.
To not at least make that statement flatly conveys an intent to IGNORE A GAME WHICH SHOULD BE PART OF THE EVALUATION PROCESS. If the committee does that, this process becomes a joke, especially since the committee was never similarly forthright about last year’s process in terms of saying whether Baylor’s head-to-head tiebreaker over TCU automatically placed the Bears above the Horned Frogs in the final rankings. (No firm and official statement was ever made on that point.)
Let’s advance a specific point about Navy’s profile and how that profile — relative to Notre Dame’s and Houston’s resumes in the event of a close call for the No. 4 playoff spot — can change.
When Team A loses to a quality opponent, the strength of that resume does not change to a meaningful extent beyond the fact that the team lost instead of winning. However, when Team A loses to a low-quality opponent, especially in a non-road game (Army-Navy is, of course, played on a neutral field every year), that’s cause for appreciably downgrading Team A, which — of course — is Navy.
If Team A is one of the more notable wins for Notre Dame or 13-0 Houston, and you have 12-1 Utah or 11-1 Oklahoma with road wins over Baylor, Oklahoma State, and Tennessee, right there in the conversation for the No. 4 spot, can the committee, in good conscience, proclaim to all the world that:
A) WE’RE GOING TO IGNORE NAVY’S FINAL GAME BECAUSE WE WANT TO MOVE ON WITH THE STAGING OF THESE BOWL GAMES AND ENSURE THAT FANS CAN PLAN THEIR TRAVEL SCHEDULES RIGHT AWAY?
B) WE KNOW THAT EVEN IF NAVY LOSES, 11-1 NOTRE DAME OR 13-0 HOUSTON ARE STILL CLEARLY BETTER THAN OTHER CHOICES?
Choice B would be better than Choice A, without question. Yet, Choice B would still leave a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths.
The decent… and ethical… and fair… and honorable thing to do here is to WAIT UNTIL ARMY-NAVY IS PLAYED. That way, no team is given ANY reason to feel that it was not given a fair shake or a full chance.
We in these (not-so-) United States call this country a “land of opportunity.”
If the College Football Playoff Selection Committee intends to ignore Army-Navy within the context of the playoff for a SECOND STRAIGHT SEASON, no one’s being given a full or equal opportunity in this process.
The necessary postscript is this: Navy is highly likely to thump Army something fierce. An experienced Keenan Reynolds, going up against an Army team which has struggled on offense (partly due to injuries) for much of the season, should be able to do more than enough to win.
Again, that’s not the point.
The point is that regardless of probabilities or likelihoods, waiting for every relevant game to be played in a college football season before making a final determination of playoff teams is basic common courtesy. No one should dispute that in any context or circumstance.
If South Alabama-Texas State was the only game being played on Dec. 12, no, the committee wouldn’t need to wait. Navy, as a major win for Notre Dame in actuality, and a major win for 13-0 Houston in the realm of hypotheticals, represents something different.
If the committee cannot be bothered to wait six whole days to make the ruling which carries such enormous weight and prestige and (for the losers) disappointment, what kind of process do we really have?
Not much of one, to be sure.