NEW ORLEANS - The inaugural four-team College Football Playoff hasn't eliminated the controversy surrounding the selection of the national champion. Just ask Big 12 co-champ TCU, a 42-3 winner over Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl, how its 12-1 team felt about being left out of the playoff.
What the first edition of the CFP did was emphasize how the rich are getting richer in college sports when the selection committee jumped No. 6 Ohio State into the final playoff spot off its 59-0 Big Ten title win over Wisconsin and dropped TCU from No. 3 to No. 6. That move created Thursday night's Sugar Bowl semifinal matching the two coaches at the top of the NCAA pyramid -- the Buckeyes' Urban Meyer against Nick Saban of No. 1 Alabama.
Meyer and Saban aren't mere coaches. They are more like CEOs of major corporations, the Ford and General Motors of the NCAA.
Saban has won four national titles, three at Alabama and one at LSU, and Meyer won two at Florida. When Meyer took over an OSU program that was on probation and coming off a 6-7 2011 season, he immediately succeeded in restoring the Buckeyes' brand among the NCAA elite.
Asked on the eve of the Sugar Bowl if that brand recognition and tradition helped Ohio State with a selection committee that ensured the success of the CFP by also picking heavyweights Florida State and Oregon for the Rose Bowl semifinal, Meyer was honest. "Probably," he said. "But I think Ohio State traditionally has got a great brand name."
Ohio State certainly got its $4.6 million worth when it hired Meyer. At $6.9 million, Saban is the highest-paid coach in college football, and when he was asked about the soaring cost of coaching salaries at schools that aspire to elite status, Saban said it's his understanding that schools are getting value in return.
The Saban brand certainly is the most valuable of all. When he was asked about the four name brands selected for the CFP, Saban noted they had to perform well to be considered.
At the same time, after Alabama's only loss came against the Ole Miss team that TCU routed, Saban knew the Crimson Tide would get the benefit of the doubt if he could limit the damage the rest of the way.
"When we lost to Ole Miss, not only did everyone discount this team totally and completely, it wasn't just that this team wasn't going to make it, it was that the whole era of what we've been able to do at Alabama was done, gone, didn't work anymore and all that," Saban said with some sarcasm. "Our players responded to the loss and did the things they needed to do to develop into a pretty good football team."
Saban, who went into the Sugar Bowl with a 2-1 record against Meyer when he was at Florida, credited Ohio State with playing its best at the end, too, despite losing its top two quarterbacks to injury. That's what the major-college corporations can do.
Meyer said he models his program similar to the Alabamas, Florida States, Oklahomas and Auburns of the world because they inhabit the "top shelf."
The mix might change slightly from season to season, Meyer allowed, but he said, "You point to whoever is at the top and say, 'This is where we need to be.' How many great teams are there in college football every year? Usually you can count them on your hand."
And the names usually have a very familiar ring to them. That's the value that comes with a Saban or Meyer brand name.