I return to the great Midwest from my two weeks in the Sunshine State, that magical land where aspiring Broadway actors, Bible thumping fundamentalists, and octogenarians all somehow manage to mesh seamlessly into one ungodly-hot microcosm, only to sit down in front of my TV, turn on ESPN and see our beloved President Steger ear-fuck the BCS by announcing the approval of a four-team playoff. (Except the playoff really isn't a playoff. More on that later.) The heads of the (former) BCS conferences all proceed to gush all over the podium about how this is a great day for college football and the sanctity of the sport, blah-blah-blah yakkity shmakkity, and I confess, I myself started to get a little excited.
This is, after all, big fucking news. It's the closest to a true playoff the college football has ever had, and a hell of a big step in the right direction from the BCS. It is not, however, a true playoff. Quite far from it, actually. And I'll explain why.
In a true playoff, teams gain automatic qualified entry through play during the regular season by securing the best record in their respective division or conference or, failing that and depending on the sport and the playoff setup, through a predefined wildcard setup through which a team secures the best overall record among all non-division-winning teams. The one recurring theme among all true playoffs is that securing a playoff berth is an objective and indisputable achievement based on regular season record and a set of criteria that is codified and universal to all teams.
In the four team college football "playoff," although the details haven't been fully hammered out, inclusion in the playoff is going to be highly subjective and determined in high degree by a selection panel charged with finding the four best teams in 1A football. Those teams, however, need not have actually won their respective conferences, as there is nothing on the books (at least yet) that requires it for consideration before being included in the playoffs. The flip side of the coin is that actually winning your conference guarantees you nothing under this "playoff" system.
This new system is actually much less a playoff and more like a four team tournament with wide-open invitation requirements. At least in the NCAA basketball tournament anyone who wins their conference automatically gets in. Then again, March Madness has that luxury by having such a huge number of tournament invitations to send out. In this case we have roughly 120 teams and only four invites.
So no, this setup isn't perfect, and it's not a true playoff. It's a tournament and the selection process is going to be sketchy at best. But let's get down to brass tacks: how does this affect VT and its chances of winning a national championship? After much deliberation I can say in my opinion this move helps the Hokies' chances, but not by much.
First, let's be clear. To win a national championship, whether under the current BCS setup or the new four team tournament, VT is pretty much required to go undefeated. To have a shot with one loss the ACC as a whole would have to have a monster year or VT's strength of schedule would have to be through the roof, meaning two or possibly three non-conference games against other BCS conferences. What the four team tournament setup does is basically reduce the risk of an undefeated VT team getting snubbed in favor of two other undefeated teams from more prestigious conferences. Under the current setup, if Alabama, USC, and VT all went undefeated, the Hokies are odd man out in most scenarios. Under the four team tourney, an undefeated VT gets in. The new setup also slighly increases the chances of a one-loss VT squad getting a shot to play for a national championship, but any time VT puts a 1 in the loss column we're going to need some degree of luck beyond our control if we are ever to have a shot to play for it all.
To be honest, the biggest benefit to VT under the new setup might have nothing to do with the national championship at all and much more to do with the Orange Bowl. Rumors are swirling that the ACC will announce in short order that it will be maintaining its relationship with the Orange Bowl under the new format, sending its champion to play in Miami on New Year's Day in the seasons that the ACC champs don't make the tournament and the Orange Bowl doesn't host a tournament game. (Remember that the fucktarded date assignments for the BCS bowls will be out the window come 2014, which means a New Year's Day Orange Bowl once again.) The other significant rumor concerning the Orange Bowl is that the OB will announce a direct partnership with Notre Dame that will send the Irish to play in Miami if certain criteria are met (most likely a 9+ win season).
Spare me your personal feelings about the Fighting Irish, they are still a premier program that carries a lot of gravitas (and boatloads of cash and traveling fans). If the Orange Bowl can land a Notre Dame vs. ACC champions matchup a decent amount of the time that is enough to keep the Orange Bowl relevant against the Rose Bowl and the newly minted Champions Bowl, especially if the ACC champs are routinely FSU, Clemson, or VT. And honestly, do we see any other ACC team being competitive for the title any time soon?
This four team tournament does not fundamentally alter VT's path to the crystal football. It gives the Hokies a smidgen more breathing room in the form of an insurance policy against an undefeated Tech squad getting snubbed, but it doesn't make the task significantly easier than it was before. VT remains on the outside looking in as a national program. Whereas the true elites can have one and even two losses to their names and still be in the conversation, VT will require perfection to fill the empty trophy case. This new setup will not change that fact.