By Dan Bernstein
The intervening time between the announcement of the College Football Playoff matchups and the actual playing of the games allows for what now is becoming a well-worn, if not entirely comfortable pattern.
Those still alive get a month-long victory lap that involves rest and practice and cutting massive checks to assistant coaches to keep them from leaving for bigger jobs elsewhere. The schools on the outside reconcile their respective fates, condemned to bowl games once viewed as great achievements in their own right. By the time the Orange Bowl and Cotton Bowl kick off, everyone will feel a bit better, but only after those on either side of the expansion debate have their say.
Nowhere was that more in evidence than on 670 The Score in Chicago Tuesday morning, where FOX analyst Dave Wannstedt and Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo shared starkly opposite opinions on the Mully and Hanley Show. And it was not what you might expect considering their respective affiliations.
Wannstedt covered the Big Ten title game that saw Ohio State beat Wisconsin Saturday night, after which an entire panel endorsed the Buckeyes as a playoff team over Alabama. Sticking with his opinion, Wannstedt railed against the imbalances inherent in a system that sees some teams benefit from avoiding such championship games, and that can create regional challenges for the game.
“Now we have nobody on the west coast — the PAC-12 is eliminated — and nobody in the Big Ten,” he said. “You look geographically at the area that’s involved in this, and you chopped away at least half of college football fans. I don’t think it’s good for college football.”
He argued for greater inclusion, saying “I’m almost glad that it happened, because two teams from one conference — the committee right now has to huddle up, and in my opinion they gotta expand and make some changes.”
Not so fast, says DiNardo, who believes the inclusion of more teams should be considered “only if you’re a spoiled child.”
“We don’t get the way we want, so we change things,” he said. “They’re playing enough snaps now. Four is enough, two was enough with the BCS. Why is it every time it doesn’t work out for everybody, we have to give everybody a trophy? Leave it at four! We’re going to change it because Ohio State was left out? This is insanity!”
DiNardo takes the longer view, in this case, understanding that knee-jerk attempts to fix something that isn’t necessarily broken can ignore underlying facts about the competitive landscape nationally.
“This was the reaction years ago to ‘Wah, wah, wah, where’s my team?’,” he said. “So we went to four, but it’s going to be a little bit cyclical. Right now the Big Ten, one through 14, is better than the SEC, but the two best teams are from the SEC. The depth of the conference is how you judge the best conference.”
Wannstedt seems to be making an argument based on viewership, looking at a map of the country and assuming that fewer eyes will be on marquee games when fewer hearts are directly connected. I’m not sure it’s correct, since most fans of the college game would seem to be tuned in regardless, for something deemed this objectively significant.
I think DiNardo wins this round on the merits of his presentation, stepping out and arguing for getting it right rather than watering it down.