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'We are going to have a playoff,' College Football Playoff selection committee chair says

College Football Playoff National Championship slated for Jan. 11 at Hard Rock Stadium
Hard Rock Stadium before College Football Playoff semifinal at Orange Bowl, Dec. 29, 2018
Posted at 11:57 AM, Dec 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-09 12:07:54-05

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — As more and more college football teams are losing games to the coronavirus, many fans are wondering the likelihood that the sport's premiere event is even played.

But the chair of the College Football Playoff selection committee is steadfast that the four-team postseason and national championship game at Hard Rock Stadium will go on as planned.

"We're not going to try and have a playoff," Gary Barta told reporters Tuesday night after the third College Football Playoff rankings were released. "We are going to have a playoff."

Iowa Hawkeyes athletic director Gary Barta in 2019
Iowa athletic director Gary Barta walks on the field before a game against Iowa State, Sept. 14, 2019, in Ames, Iowa.

The top four ranked teams -- No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Notre Dame, No. 3 Clemson and No. 4 Ohio State -- have all had games postponed or canceled this season because of the coronavirus, leading to some concern about the inequity of imbalanced schedules.

Take Ohio State, for example, which has played half as many games as Clemson and Notre Dame. The Tigers and Fighting Irish, who are idle this weekend ahead of the Atlantic Coast Conference title tilt on Dec. 19, have played nine ACC games and one nonconference game.

That's one less conference game than Alabama, which is playing a 10-game, Southeastern Conference-only schedule.

The Buckeyes, who had their upcoming game against rival Michigan canceled Tuesday, have had two other Big Ten Conference games nixed already, thereby making them ineligible for the league title under current conference rules.

Ohio State Buckeyes QB Justin Fields escapes Michigan State Spartans defender in 2020
Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields scrambles against Michigan State's Antjuan Simmons during a game, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in East Lansing, Mich. Ohio State won 52-12.

Barta, who is also athletic director at Iowa, said there is no minimum-game requirement for the College Football Playoff selection committee, but he admitted the "difference in number of games played is a problem when you're trying to evaluate teams."

"But we are taking that into account," Barta said.

Although there is no magic number when it comes to games played, the selection committee does weigh conference championships in determining the playoff-bound teams.

That might force the Big Ten to adjust its rules in an effort to ensure the Buckeyes aren't left behind in the playoff race.

Two teams on the outside looking in are No. 5 Texas A&M and No. 6 Florida. The Aggies handed the Gators their only loss of the season, while the Aggies' lone loss was to Alabama.

Texas A&M Aggies linebacker Buddy Johnson tackles Florida Gators tight end Kyle Pitts in 2020
Florida tight end Kyle Pitts fights off a tackle by Texas A&M linebacker Buddy Johnson during the second half of a game, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020. in College Station, Texas.

Alabama and Florida will meet in Atlanta to play for the SEC championship. If the Gators were to beat the Crimson Tide, would it be enough to catapult a one-loss Florida team past an undefeated Ohio State team that has only played five games?

"Certainly, the committee has taken into account and talked a lot about the differences in games, but at the end of the day, to be over-simple about our job, it's just to identify the teams, the best 25 teams in the country, and for the playoff the top four," Barta said.

So what happens once the top four teams are selected and a COVID-19 outbreak forces any one participant to pause practice headed into the semifinal games at the Sugar and Rose bowls? What if either or both of the final two teams standing incurs a similar situation ahead of the Jan. 11 College Football Playoff National Championship?

Bill Hancock, executive director of College Football Playoff, in 2015
College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock speaks during a news conference, Nov. 4, 2015, in Rosemont, Ill.

"There will be protocols -- safety protocols -- for the games," Bill Hancock, executive director of the College Football Playoff, said. "Our games will be conducted very similarly to what the conferences have been doing during the season."

However, Hancock wouldn't elaborate on the provisions in place.

"We'll be ready for whatever comes down," he said. "I don't want to get into hypotheticals, but we will be prepared for whatever we have to deal with as far as the games themselves go."