JOHN GRANATO

Hey college football: David has a slingshot; let him use it and expand the playoffs

UCF should get its shot. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

As much as they say they want Alabama I don’t believe that Central Florida would enjoy the experience. Like everyone else who’s played Alabama, UCF would probably leave the field embarrassed and dejected.

But I do believe they deserve the opportunity to be embarrassed and dejected.

How many people thought Boise State could beat Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl? Boise’s Statue of Liberty two-point conversion gave us one of the most memorable moments in bowl history.

Before they got into the Pac-12, Utah was in the Mountain West and drew Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl. Alabama was a huge favorite and came away looking at a 31-17 straight up loss to the underdogs.

Just three years ago the Coogs got a New Year’s Day bid to take on juggernaut Florida State. We know how that ended; not well for the Seminoles.

You could make the argument that none of those favorites really wanted to be in those games, they had higher aspirations, and they weren’t championship caliber teams anyway. That is true. The quarterbacks for those three losing teams were Paul Thompson, John Parker Wilson and Sean Maguire, not exactly murderers row.

So why does UCF deserve a seat at the New Year’s Day table with the grown-ups?

Because what made the NCAA Basketball Tournament what it is today could take the College Football Playoff to a whole new level.

As recently as 1974 there were only 25 teams in the NCAA Basketball Tournament. In ‘75 it expanded to 32, in ‘79 40, in ‘80 48, in ‘83 53 and in ‘85 64. Today there are 68 teams in the tourney.

Why? David vs Goliath.

It’s the ageless story of the little man in the face of adversity, against all odds, backs to the wall, no chance in hell… taking down Goliath. We love it in business, in politics, in books, in movies and in sports.

If the NCAA didn’t expand we’d have never had George Mason, an at-large 11-seed out of the Colonial Athletic Conference, making the Final Four.  We would have missed out on VCU, an at-large that many said shouldn’t have even made the field and had to win a play-in game to get there, beating top-seed Kansas in the regional final to win a trip to Houston and the Final Four.

Those are the kinds of stories that “mid-majors” dream about and work for through the entire offseason knowing that however remote that chance is, there’s still a chance.

That’s not the case for the Group of 5 (G5) schools. If UCF can’t get there even though they have won 23 straight games, who can? Why be in Div. 1 if you have no chance of competing for a national title? In every other sport smaller schools have the ability to win national titles.

Every. Other. Sport.

I’m not breaking new ground by calling for an 8-team playoff: 5 conference champions from the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and ACC (The Power 5), two at-large teams from anywhere in the FBS and one G5 school. The Power 5 champions would win their way in. The G5 school and at-large schools would be chosen by a selection committee. The committee would then seed the tournament (like they do today.) The top seeds would host their first round games. The Bowls would then serve as hosts for the semis and championship game (like they do today.)

Is it feasible time-wise? School is out for the holidays in mid-December. We’d have four Christmas Eve quarterfinal games that would be a huge money-maker for everyone (except the players of course), New Year’s Day semifinals and the championship game eight or nine days later. Sounds like a plan.

You might be of the opinion that one more round of playoffs would be bad for the players. It was OK to add another round five years ago. It only affected two teams, the ones that made it to the final game. This would have that same effect. One more round would only affect two teams. Many high schools play 15 or 16 games to win a state title. The pros play 19 or 20 plus four preseason games. So 15 games is not an unreasonable amount.

You might be of the opinion that it would be a waste of time for UCF or any other G5 school to be in the playoff. Maybe. Maybe not. We’ve already seen G5 schools win New Year’s Day bowls. Plus, if at least one school was guaranteed a chance at the big prize, recruiting might be a little different. Better players might choose places they wouldn’t otherwise because they would have a shot to win it all.

Ask any player except maybe those from Alabama and Clemson (because they make it every year) and they would tell you they would love to have more teams in the playoff. Ask the Big 12 or Pac 12, who have been shut out of the playoff a few times if they’d love more teams in. Ask UCF.... Never mind. We know what they would say.

Here’s how the 8-team playoff would have looked every year:

2014

  1. Alabama vs 8. Boise State

      4. Ohio St. vs 5. Baylor

      2. Oregon vs 7. Mississippi St.

      3. Florida St. vs 6. TCU

2015

  1. Clemson vs 8. Houston

      4. Oklahoma vs 5. Iowa

      2. Alabama vs 7. Ohio St.

      3. Michigan St. vs 6. Stanford

2016

  1. Alabama vs 8. Western Michigan

      4. Washington vs 5. Penn St.

      2. Clemson vs 7. Oklahoma

      3. Ohio St. vs 6. Michigan

2017

      1. Clemson vs 8. UCF

     4. Alabama  vs 5. Ohio St.

     2. Oklahoma vs 7. USC

      3. Georgia vs 6. Wisconsin

In every instance the G5 representative would have been the 8 seed. That could and would probably change this year. Another loss by Oklahoma or Washington St. would move UCF up to a possible 6 or 7 seed. Realistically two-loss Georgia or Michigan would probably not drop below UCF. Those losses would be at the hands of Alabama, LSU, Notre Dame and Ohio St. and the committee would probably not punish those schools for those losses and rightfully so.

Still, it would be significant to see a G5 school seeded higher than P5 schools. It’s happening all the time now in the basketball tournament and would happen in football too. We’ve seen the evolution of the “mid-majors” in college basketball and we’d see it in football too.

I can hear the naysayers claiming football is different. It is. But tell Appalachian St. they can’t beat Michigan or Troy that they can’t beat LSU or Louisiana Monroe that they can’t beat Arkansas or South Alabama that they can’t beat Mississippi St.

Yes, that’s the exception to the rule, but so was David and Goliath. That’s why we remember them thousands of years later.

 

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Dustin Johnson already committed to play in the Houston Open. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

Golfers around the world have been able to enjoy playing 18 holes despite the COVID-19 pandemic, as golf has been deemed a "social-distancing" sport. Houston golfers have been rewarded this year with a newly renovated Memorial Park course that is already being spruced up in preparation for the upcoming Houston Open.

The PGA's adjusted schedule has the tour coming to Houston November 2-8, a week before the Masters.

Current hope is for the Houston Open being played in front of cheering fans, according to tournament director, Colby Callaway. Callaway recently talked with SportsMap about what fans and players can expect when the Houston Open returns to Memorial Park for the first time since 1963.

SportsMap: What is the Houston Open's current position in regard to fans in attendance?

Colby Callaway: Currently we are working on a number of contingency plans and exploring all sorts of options. I wish we could say 'this is our plan' right now, and put that thing in concrete, but I just can't. 2020 is causing all of us grief in all sorts of imaginative ways, and it's certainly creating some chaos when it comes to putting a plan together for us. We're all committed to being as flexible in our planning as possible and will adjust as need be. We do think we'll have an idea very soon, and hope to announce some sort of plan over the next couple of weeks.

SM: What can Houstonians look forward to with the new course at Memorial Park?

CC: Well it's a really fun course. Players can absolutely bomb drives. The key will be their approach shots and how they navigate the sticky rough and very tricky green complexes. Several holes were re-routed and in doing so it provided some great spectator viewing areas. There is a fantastic spot where the Par 3 2nd hole, the Par 5 3rdHole, and the Par 3 7th all come together. It'll be a great area to sit and watch golf all day long. The Par 3 9th will be a great viewing spot for spectators as well. On the backside, lots of risk and reward comes into play on 15, 16 and 17. Water becomes a big factor on all 3 holes so a sense of caution is created, but the temptation to do something spectacular is there as well. It's going to be a very exciting stretch.

SM: What changes to the golf course will Memorial Park golfers find following the tournament?

CC: Two things in particular will benefit Memorial Park golfers. First the range will be fully functional by then. It's been open awhile now, but limited in spots to what you could hit club wise. By the time the event rolls around we'll have expanded the range so you can bring and hit any club in your bag. Yes, the big dog (driver) will now be able to hunt!

The other nice addition is an oversized putting green and chipping area that was created adjacent to the 1st tee and 18th green. It's a much-needed improvement. The finished product will be a great spot for the casual golfer to roll some putts and work on his or her short game.

SM: When will Memorial Park Golf Course be closed to the public before the tournament?

CC: The plan is to close it down sometime during the week before the tournament. We'll be working around golfers for approximately 20 days leading up to the event building our operational needs. As a casual golfer it's a fun time to play. There is definitely a little more activity in and around the course, but it's a lot of fun to watch the progress of the build.

SM: What special COVID-19 safety precautions will be in place during the tournament?

CC: We'll have a plan above and beyond what is required per the rules and guidelines we are given. We are currently working with our operational partners to make sure we're all on the same page when it some to these regulations. I can promise we'll error on the side of caution, and make sure our patrons feel safe when they enter the grounds. The positive is we have over 250 acres of green grass and fresh air to socially distance on. A golf course truly does have its advantages.

SM: Are you under any pressure to bring fans to the tournament because of its placement a week before the Masters?

CC: I don't think so. Speaking for our team, I know they don't feel any pressure. Maybe if this was a different year, and we didn't have all of the uncertainty swirling around, there would be some. It's just not something we are going to put any energy into worrying about this fall. We have enough on our plate.

SM: In prior years, Golf Club of Houston made efforts to replicate conditions at Augusta National. Will you be doing the same?

CC: No. Honestly even if we wanted to we couldn't. With the time of year we are in it's really impossible to over-seed, and that's the only way to create those iconic Masters-like conditions. Now we'll do everything asked of us by the TOUR to make it the best 2020 Houston Open course condition wise. They ultimately put the competition plan together. That plan includes among other things: required rough height, green speeds, and tee to green yardages. I know Jason Harsh, Director of Golf for the Houston Parks and Rec Department, will have his team prepare the course to the best of their abilities. One plus when you are a course that hosts a PGA TOUR event is you receive year-long plans and assistance from the PGA TOUR Agronomy Department. That's big for the event, but also a nice plus for all of us who enjoy playing Memorial year around. Following these plans course conditions will continue to get better and better each year.

SM: You have a lot of experience managing golf tournaments, most recently serving as the tournament director of AT&T's PGA Tour Champions event in San Antonio. How will your experiences help you to execute a successful Houston Open?

CC: It's crazy to think this is my 20th year being a part of a team that manages professional golf events. Even crazier to think that less than a year ago I felt like I had seen it all when it comes to things that could affect golf tournaments. I've worked events since 2000 that have experienced tornadoes, floods, hail, high winds, sleet, drought, dead greens, etc… but no one ever said we'd deal with a pandemic. Good Lord, maybe I've stayed in the business a little too long!

Kidding aside, fortunately I've spent most of those 20 years working for and with some of the best in the business. I've kept my eyes and ears open, and maybe most importantly learned to adapt to the situation at hand. Concrete plans do not exist in the professional golf world as Mother Nature will always have the last say. You put a plan together, but always must remain fluid and have contingency plans in your back pocket. Of course, this is unlike anything I've ever had to deal with. We will, however, figure this out and do our best to put on a really successful, and safe, Houston Open.

SM: The Astros Foundation is well known to support youth baseball and softball programs, how will the new partnership between the Foundation and the Houston Open bring more opportunities to junior golf in Houston?

CC: Junior golfers will benefit greatly from the Houston Open moving to Memorial Park. The Astros Golf Foundation is finishing up a par 3 course, which sits adjacent to the 1st fairway and 18th fairway, that will allow participants in the First Tee program an opportunity to hone their skills year around.

The Astros Golf Foundation will continue to support the First Tee financially as well with a yearly donation of $500K. The First Tee is an incredible program and I know our team loves being a part of their growth.

Also via a generous partnership with Chevron, the Astros Golf Foundation is building the Chevron Center for Education & Kids. This classroom style space will be housed in the new Astros Golf Foundation building currently under construction behind the 9th green at Memorial Park. This center will be open year around and will host students from all over the Houston area teaching them skills within the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) academic disciplines.

The best way to receive information about the event is to follow socially. Our social handles are located below.

www.houstonopengolf.com

@houopengolf on Twitter / Instagram

Houston Open on Facebook

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