College Football Drama and Elephants in the Room

Awards.Gary Breedlove.Pac 12 Championship 12-5-2014 1468

Mike Merrell’s Three and Out

Despite a mid-season hiccup that had bandwagon fans clinging for their dear fan-lives, the Oregon Ducks are in the first College Football Playoff as the Rose Bowl home team facing the Florida State Seminoles. It’s a great matchup: East vs West, North vs South, this year’s probable Heisman winner vs last year’s Heisman winner; and, let’s face it, good vs evil. All of this is made possible by the conversion from the two-team BCS Championship to the four-team playoff format. Without the change, Oregon would be on the outside looking in on a rematch between the champion of the unbeatable SEC and (barely, barely, barely, barely) unbeaten Florida State.

Though the new format worked out great for Oregon, still not all is well with the way Division I-A college football wraps up its year. The problem: There are elephants in the living room, and that is the subject of this week’s Three-and-Out.


This is not the happy face of someone who was just named Coach of the Year.

Gary Breedlove

This is not the happy face of someone who was just named Coach of the Year.

Elephant No. 1: False start on naming the Pac-12 Coach of the Year. Why would the Pac-12 jump the gun and name its coach of the year before its championship game? Anyone who watched the Championship Game and considered the ramifications of the outcome could tell you: Mark Helfrich, not Rich Rodriguez, is the Pacific-12 Coach of the Year.

Rich Rod took an Arizona team that nobody thought would do all that much and won the Pac-12 South, which, top to bottom, is at worst the second best division in college football. Over the past two years, he coached the Wildcats to two wins over Oregon.

It was a nice achievement, but there are two problem with selecting Rodriguez over Helfrich. First, while the Pac-12 South is tough (Colorado aside) all the teams are pretty even and Oregon is head and shoulders above every one of them. Second, Arizona prevailed in the South and over Oregon the past two years largely on the basis of plain old luck. The Wildcats caught the Ducks on their worst day two years in a row and used up all of their nine lives to even make it to the Pac-12 Championship Game.

Among Helfrich's other accomplishments, he developed Marcus Mariota.

Gary Breedlove

Among Helfrich’s other accomplishments, he developed Marcus Mariota.

People might argue, “Well, yes, but Helfrich inherited a full cupboard from Chip Kelly and had Marcus Mariota for a quarterback.” They would be right, and that is exactly why Mark Helfrich is the 2014 Coach of the Year. Kelly was a tough act to follow, and Helfrich delivered in spades — in only his second year as a head coach, as compared to Rodriguez’s nearly twenty years.

Helfrich overcame two years of recruiting handicaps brought on while Kelly debated leaving and possible NCAA sanctions loomed. When Kelly did leave, Helfrich engineered a plan to save the then-current recruiting class. And who discovered Marcus Mariota? Mark Helfrich. Who recruited Mariota? Mark Helfrich. Who developed Mariota’s skills? Mark Helfrich. And whose team is ranked second in the nation and has been chosen to represent the Pac-12 in the Final Four? At the end of the Championship Game, who was wearing Gatorade and who was wearing a face that looked like somebody died? The Pac-12 jumped the gun on naming Rodriguez coach of the year.  Throw the yellow flag or send it to the replay official for review and play it over. Mark Helfrich is the Pac-12 Coach of the Year.

Elephant No. 2: While the general consensus is that the Playoff Selection Committee got it right in naming the top four teams, the process still stinks. TCU and Baylor certainly have to think so, anyway. The big question is how TCU went from third to sixth while beating up on Iowa State. As a society we seem to love our drama, and this is a good part of our love for sports. We’ve been playing the “Who’s in?” game for the last half of the season, hanging on the weekly announcement from our illustrious panel of judges. They’ve jerked us around and toyed with our emotions. They’ve said it was three SEC teams plus Florida State. As late as this past Saturday it looked possible that the SEC could be left out all together. The problem is that the process takes the drama off the field and puts it in the hands of judges. That’s all fine and good for ice skating and water ballet, but why go there for football? In this complex world we need some simplicity in our lives, something like: The team with the most points wins.

Baylor's Art Briles: on the outside looking in and pointing fingers.

from video

Baylor’s Art Briles: on the outside looking in and pointing fingers.

Elephant No. 3. Five power conferences, four playoff spots. Yes, I’ve said it before, but for goodness sake, do the math. This does not work. It will never produce results that everyone can live with. An eight-team playoff would be better, but as long as we have a panel of judges selecting the finalists, the last few places will always stir controversy, whether it’s two teams, four, eight, sixteen, or whatever. Of course, any team that is marginal for the last position has a decreasing chance of winning as the number of teams increase, and that’s a good thing.

But having longer seasons for the selected teams carries its baggage as well: more risk of injuries to the players, and on the flip side, more practice time and more recruiting exposure.

Even with an eight (or more) team playoff, the scheduling differences among the conferences would remain problematic: the SEC and its teams’ four (usually patsy) nonconference games, the Big-12 with its lack of a conference championship game – which penalized TCU and Baylor this year. And the Big-12’s penchant for scheduling SMU, Samford and their ilk.

Would an eight-team playoff have solved much this year? For Baylor and TCU, yes, but numbers seven and eight would just be a new mess to deal with. Creating four super-conferences and letting the mid-majors do their own thing could take the judging out of the process without making the season any longer. With two divisions in each conference, a conference championship for each super conference would create an eight-team playoff without adding any more games than what we have now.

Waiting until all the results are in to name a coach of the year, deciding results on the field instead of in a hotel conference room, and structuring things in multiples of two when it takes two teams to play a game are all just common sense. Failing to use common sense creates drama in our lives. If that’s what we really want, then we’re doing everything right.

Top photo by Gary Breedlove

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Mike Merrell

Mike Merrell

Mike (Editor-in-Chief) is a 1970 graduate of the University of Oregon where he attended the Honors College and received all-conference honors as a swimmer. After college, Mike ran for the Oregon Track Club and narrowly missed qualifying for the US Olympic Trials in the marathon. He continues his involvement in sports with near-daily swimming or running workouts, occasional masters swim competition (where he has received two Top-10 World rankings), providing volunteer coaching to local triathletes and helping out with Mike lives on 28 acres in the forest near Sandpoint, Idaho, where he has served as a certified public accountant for most of his working career. His current night job is writing novels about Abby Westminster, the only known illegitimate daughter of Britain's finest secret agent who has to bring down arch-villains plotting dastardly deeds. And, yes, Abby is also a DUCK!

  • Dave_Seidlitz

    You are right…and wrong. Helfrich probably should have won the COY for his transformation of the Ducks into a team of speed demons that can now trade blows with the best of the knuckle-draggers. This (along with the undisputed best player in the game) is what is responsible for taking the team to the next level. Following the Kelly act is no small feat, either.

    But, for the rest, despite not really offering an alternative to the committees selection methods, you seem content to jump on the bitch bandwagon and complain about “the process”. It seems to be universally accepted (except. In Waco and Ft. Worth) that the most worthy teams made the cut, so I think a “prima facia” case can be made that the system works. And, we have two excellent semi-final games to look forward to.

    Jeff Long made it clear that the committee felt there was a razor-thin difference between teams 4-6 going into the last weekend. Those that can’t see how Ohio State could overtake TCU with the game they had vs Wisconsin just don’t want to see or aren’t paying attention.

    I was a proponent of an eight team playoff before this season played out. But now, even if it meant the Pac got excluded, I think four teams is perfect! With 5 conferences competing for 4 spots there is always a question if your conference will make it in. Yes, contrary to your opinion, drama is GOOD! Controversy is GOOD! It sparks and widens interest. It serves as a vehicle for empathy and schadenfreude to cross conference lines. For myself, it has made me a better fan. This season, I was much more inclined to watch a Baylor or FSU game than in years past. If my conference was guaranteed an “in” to an eight team playoff, my interest would probably have concentrated on the Pac races. There’s no denying interest in college football has jumped with the controversy and drama of a four-team playoff. I have to admit the four-team format took me by surprise.

    Its perfect.

  • wildcatjohn

    Yeah, uh huh, ok whatever you say, typical team journalist narrow vision. Helfrich can thank Rich Rodriguez for pioneering the offense he runs. Also that’s fine you call the wildcats 2 wins over the ducks flat out “luck” cause like I’ve always said “I’d rather be lucky than good”!. But seriously I do like the ducks & I root for them & will continue to except when they play the wildcats. But this journalist is an idiot & has NO REASON at all to take anything away from the wildcats or Rich Rodriguez. There in the playoffs& have chance to win the natnational championship that should be enough. Stop your nitpicking and just be happy for what you do have to brag about which is alot & stop complaining about what you don’t have, & is rightfully deserved to the people & teams do have!

  • Carlos Aona

    Duh, a-hole de la stupido–the coach of the year is not based on the championship game, nor is it based on wins vs. losses. What the hell planet did they eject you from?

  • FishDuck

    A message for Carlos and WildcatJohn,

    It is fine to disagree and state it as Dave does in these comments, but to insult and call names–there is just no need for that. We don’t do that on this site and insist that our writers and fellow readers are treated with respect–even if you don’t agree with them.

    There are plenty of other sites that allow you to engage in such behavior; please go there. We want our readers to have a safe environment to share their views without enduring such childish behavior.

    BTW…I have your IP address. Come back and be abusive and you will be deleted AND blacklisted.


    • wildcatjohn

      That’s fine blacklist me I just came across this article & read it then discovered how this was crying about other team’s & people’s hard work and accomplishments should be Oregon’s also. I don’t really care if you blacklist cause I won’t read anything else from this site being that it’s coming from a narrow vision “so called” “rounded” writer. Which is what a good writer is supposed to be!. Bye

      • FishDuck

        So you can disagree without name-calling or epithets! Note I leave your post up–because again it is not the disagreement that is the problem. We LIKE to discuss and disagree, but keep it classy.

        BTW…we are not “journalists” in the traditional model because we don’t believe we have to put our team down to be “objective” as so many newspapers do. Narrow view? You bet. We want to inform and entertain our readers with a love for our Ducks.

        I’ve been accused of being a “homer” and I say, “absolutely,” and I make no apology for it. We have found there is a whole subsection of Oregon fans who want to read and discuss the Ducks without all the negative. And we have over 40 writers and editors who want to operate that way as well, so BYE.

      • Crying? I don’t think any Oregon fans are crying about now. I’m certainly not. We recognize that Rich Rod is a good coach, maybe a great coach. Not to take anything away from him, but in his SECOND year as a head coach, Mark Helfrich has about 99 % for sure produced the Pac-12’s first Heisman winner in quite a long time, and has 100% for sure gained conference representation in the four-team playoff for the Pac-12. Rich Rod had a great year at Arizona, but if narrow vision is believing that a Heisman and a trip to the final four beats winning the Pac-12 South, then, yes, I have narrow vision. I also believe that a royal flush beats a pair of threes, but that’s just the way I see things, I’m sure.

  • Mike Merrell

    Dave —

    Thank you for reading and commenting. If you would like to join the team at and post an article here and there, we would love to have you! Just drop an e-mail to Charles.

    I have no disagreement with the final results this year. The process, however, at one point told us that the top four looked like three SEC teams plus Florida State, which I believe is something the process should not allow. If four teams from two adjacent states was the result from play on the field, we could live with it. But because twelve people say so doesn’t work, especially where the system allows teams from those two states to avoid playing substantially all of the rest of the country.

    I don’t know that drama and controversy are necessarily either good or bad — more a matter of personal taste, and where football is concerned I get my fill from what’s on the field. This is my personal taste, and I respect yours.

    If anything, I’m glad the Big-12 was the one that got snubbed. The conference is worse than the SEC for scheduling OOC patsies. Its best OOC win was TCU over Minnesota, and it doesn’t demand a championship game performance. Then they tried to game the system by declaring “co-champions,” hoping to get two teams in. Oops – sort of backfired.

    Likewise, I don’t necessarily favor an 8-team playoff. One of these weeks I’m going to spell out exactly what I think would be the best. Of course it’s just my opinion; I’m not God of the World — and I respect others’ opinions, especially when presented as nicely as you have done.

    Please do consider dropping Charles an e-mail. We’d love to have you.