It’s a good thing that the BSC commissioners decided against implementing a playoff system for college football. Yeah, I know you’re saying that I’m crazy and that I don’t know what I’m talking about; only everybody in the country wants this to happen and it would be really good for college football. It’s like that time when you said you really wanted your girlfriend to bring that other chick home. What could be better than a threesome? Then it goes down and there’s the awkward next day followed by the three strange weeks where your girl just didn’t seem interested and concludes in a drunken, tear soaked incident when she kicked you out because she decided that Missy just, “totally understands me in a deep and fulfilling way.” The point is that just because something seems like it would really be great the results can be much, much worse than what you had to begin with.
On the surface it does seem logical that a playoff would make the game better but let’s really look at that. It’s not as if college football needs the playoff to pick up followers. It is a reasonable assumption that the game is at the highest point that it has ever been. Season tickets and television contracts are not going un purchased or unfulfilled because there isn’t a playoff. What the reason to do it? To appease the fans and pundits or make it fair for the athletes? When has college presidents ever worried about that?
“Let them decide the champion on the field.” I’m here to tell you that that statement is a fallacy. At least in as much as the champion is being decided on the field right now. If I’m not mistaken, didn’t LSU beat Ohio State on the field? Is there any doubt that the Bayou Bengals weren’t the national champion? I’d agree that USC probably would have given them a better game but there is no guarantee that USC would have won the game that it took to play them were there a playoff in place. The truth is, or at least a solid argument could be made that Georgia would have given them the stiffest competition but I am certain in my belief that because they didn’t win their conference, or even division, that they shouldn’t have the right to play for the national title. That’s deciding it on the field. What everybody forgets is that prior to the BCS Ohio State would have played USC in the Rose and LSU would have played Virginia Tech or West Virginia in the Sugar Bowl, not to mention Kansas in the Orange Bowl and we would still be arguing about who the champion was. The thing about the BCS is that, whether you agree with it or not, a champion is named. Just because a playoff exists doesn’t mean that you’ll agree with it, unless it is a comprehensive enough tournament (16 or more teams in my opinion).
You can also stop the comparisons to NCAA basketball or Championship Division (Division II) Football because they are no where near the same. There are twelve game (thirteen if you play in a conference championship) and that is a whole lot of games. The effects of adding two or more games in December on teams would be indescribable. Think of a major conference team that goes through the regular season undefeated- thereby virtually guaranteeing a shot at a title (I’ll discuss Auburn later)- and in their first round game against the lowest seed of the tournament their star, all-everything quarterback, tears his ACL How fair is a playoff to them? The fact that there are so many teams that play such a brutal regular season makes a comprehensive tournament so unwieldy that it isn’t worth doing. Even in this day of increased parity there is still a large enough gap between the haves and the have nots and a tournament would only highten that gap. I know the argument is made that anyone has the chance to win the NCAA Basketball tournament but why then has no one lower than a 6 seed (I think)ever done it? My point is that the five guys on a basketball court (and D-II) football are so much more evenly matched than a D-I football team that it isn’t even funny and even then the talent gap is mostly insurmountable. Most of the basketball teams are happy just to make the dance and they don’t entertain serious thoughts of winning it all (not realistically anyway). Well there already is a reward for a team that is good but isn’t good enough in college football, it’s called the bowls.
The big gripe every year about the BCS is that someone who deserved a chance got left out. A tournament does absolutely zero to fix that – zero. This year it was Georgia, or USC, or Kansas that felt they should have been in (enforced by witnessing what did happen in the bowls). Well if there are four teams in a playoff there will be weeping and knashing of teeth over who the got left out of the fourth spot. Same with the eighth and same with the sixteenth. There will always be someone who is upset about being left out.
I am certain the that the out-of-conference schedule will get weaker if a tournament, especially a “plus one” is installed. There will be little benefit to schedule anyone that could ruin your chances to make it unscathed to the tournament game, especially for the tougher conferences. We’ll call it the “Ohio State Factor”; just be from a major conference and win out – which is tougher in the SEC than say the Big Ten- and you’re going to get a chance to play for it. The upstart programs, like Boise State, Hawaii, TCU, and Fresno State are going to have a much tougher time finding teams to play them. If you were a coach and your fan base was crying out for a shot at the title, why would you risk that chance to play Boise State – that is fairly talented but can gamble and play as if there is nothing to lose? There is no way the reduced scheduling is good for the game.
Virtually every year you will have the champion of the SEC, Big 10, Big 12 in the game with USC (unless someone else challenges for Pac-10 supremacy), the ACC champion and the Big East champion clambering for the remaining spot. In that scenario, the Conference Championship Game Conferences are at a slight disadvantage, or really rather the Big 10 and Pac-10 champions have an advantage because neither has to face that quality competition in a late season game. It will serve to effectively shut out the independents from the mix (which is pretty much the way it is right now) and give advantage to schools that have good pre-season hype that are in weak conferences ( read: Ohio State, West Virginia, etc.) Don’t even get me started on what would happed if Notre Dame finishes with two losses.
One of the big arguments about a tournament is that it would diminish the “every game is important” mentality. I absolutely agree with that. It is one of the huge things that make the regular season in college football so spectacular; every game has immense importance. LSU put a damper on that argument this past season by getting to the championship game after two losses, but the losses were to quality competition and in overtime. Had they lost to a vastly inferior opponent or by a large margin then they would not have had a shot. Georgia’s blow-out lost to Tennessee (coupled with their failure to win their division) kept them out of the title game, West Virginia’s renowned late season collapse against Pitt killed their hopes, and USC’s loss to Stanford effectively ended their chances. Kansas perhaps had a good argument to be included but only their Orange Bowl victory over Virgina Tech gave them any real street cred with them being Kansas and their out-of-conference schedule being so weak. Now I realize that with a four-team or “plus one” type system the effect of “every game counts” won’t be diminished as much as a larger format tournament but if any type of tournament get implemented then it will only be a matter of time before the hand wringing starts and a more inclusive format is mandated.
In the current system you are rewarded for scheduling, and beating, quality competition. I would hate to see that go away – and it will most certainly if we get a tournament.
If we want the current system to work better – and who doesn’t- there needs to be a few more ground rules set in place. First, if you don’t win the conference championship then you should not even be considered. That would have taken the arguement completely away from Georgia this year and would have made the Oklahoma and Nebrasks travesties form years back not possible. That is certainly winning it on the field.
Second, there should be no polls, or polls from the people that matter, until October. Too many teams get passes because pundits think they are going to be godo pre-season and won’t back off their votes even when performance doesn’t match the hype.
Although it would never happen I would like to see the flexibility to be there in case there was the “Auburn Scenario”. If there are three unbeaten- deserving-teams at the end of the year, let them play one more game. You need the possibility without the certainty because had Virgina Tech beaten Auburn there would have been no need for USC to play again; Virginia Tech didn’t deserve the chance.
In conclusion, a tournament isn’t going to happen anytime soon. The increased parity we are seeing might change the need for that but like the Big Ten, I’m alright with that, but for different reasons. The Big Ten might change their mind if they get shut out of the fun for a few years – the rise of Illinois, purported rise of Wisconsin, and Rich Rodriquez in Ann Arbor might make that happen sooner than later- and then have their precious Rose Bowl match up toyed with and then we’ll see what they say. This isn’t pro football, or division II, or even inter murals. It certainly isn’t basketball. It’s college football and it is the greatest event on the planet. A playoff isn’t going to change that one way or the other. I think it’s time that a lot of us came to grips with that.