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New Playoff System: Good For Irish?

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How will the new playoff system affect Notre Dame's title hopes? Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/ Getty Images.
How will the new playoff system affect Notre Dame's title hopes? Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/ Getty Images.

In many ways, the BCS was kind to Notre Dame.

The system allowed the participating bowls to choose at-large teams after their obligations to various conferences had been fulfilled, and, as a result of Notre Dame’s unprecedented national fan base, it was a shoe-in every time it was eligible.

Furthermore, the BCS bestowed an enormous financial reward on its participants. As independents, the Fighting Irish pocketed every last dollar of it, while other schools were forced to split it with their conference.

In the negative column, one might consider that the luck of the Irish seemed conspicuously absent in BCS contests. They were overmatched in each of their four appearances and were blown out in three.

Fighting Irish fans may want to focus on that last bit as the team readies itself for its first crack at college football’s new playoff system and waves goodbye to the BCS.

While the word “playoff” sounds democratic, the new system is actually as dictatorial as ever. The responsibility of selecting the four playoff participants will fall on the “selection committee,”  an assemblage of 13 college football dignitaries, each appointed to three-year terms. Once the committee has spoken (and the snubbed have had their say), the tournament will begin. The teams will tilt in a semifinal round (No. 1 vs. No. 4; No. 2 vs. No. 3) and the two winners will then go head-to-head for the National Championship.

Seems simple enough. But how will it effect Notre Dame?

Well, since the goal of the new rules is to make the sport’s postseason more equitable, the Fighting Irish don’t figure to enjoy the favored status they did in the BCS-era — nor will this system be as lucrative for the university as a whole. What this system does do, however, is provide a fighting chance to teams that are close to being elite, but lack the proverbial cigar.

Notre Dame has come tantalizingly close to regaining its powerhouse status, but the 2012 title game was a sharp reminder that it has yet to arrive at the mountaintop. Still, the new playoff system may just provide a foothold. Take a look at last year’s standings at the end of the regular season. There’s Florida State at No. 1, Michigan State at No. 4 …. wait, Michigan State? Yep, the Spartans, they of the 17-13 loss to Notre Dame.

Sure, a Notre Dame vs. FSU matchup likely would have ended in a blowout last year, but we saw what a Notre Dame vs MSU matchup looked like. The gap between the top teams in college football and the rest might be more of a gulf, but somehow, No. 4 seems more attainable, more realistic to covet, a sort of trap-door by which outliers can access the promised land.

As we see yearly in another collegiate sport, all Cinderella needs to do is get to the ball. Once there, anything can happen.