Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I Don't Need A Playoff Anymore

Don't misunderstand me, I still loathe the BCS system. It's completely dishonest and a total farce; it's a fallacy that it can even create a valid national championship game, let alone crown a champion. But I'm done demanding a college football playoff, for two reasons.
  1. I don't care about college football. Anyone who listened to our radio show from last week (which featured mostly NFL discussion) knows that we were broadcasting right in the middle of the BCS National Championship game, and that didn't bother us one bit. Like most faux fans, I'm excited when my alma mater (Penn State) does well, and I have a sufficient level of fatalism when talking about them (as in, I told everyone that USC was going to crush the Nittany Lions in the Rose Bowl). But when it comes to tracking the season-long progress of various teams, I don't do it. And when it comes to watching the championship game, I don't do it unless I care about one of the teams, which we've already established is pretty rare. The last one I watched was that barn-burner between USC and Texas, which might be the best college football game I've ever seen. So they've got that going for them. But really, I'm just not that interested in the whole scene.

  2. The playoff would still be wrong. There are a lot of ways you could set up a playoff in college football: anywhere from four to sixteen teams would work, bye weeks could be integrated (to keep the regular season meaningful), etc etc. But the reality is that, whatever system gets put into place will have its flaws. How will it reward conference champions? Will there be sufficient at-large bids to ensure that the very best teams are in the mix? How will the system confound potential problems with teams of identical records, or teams who play particularly weak or strong schedules? Will computers get involved? There are so many questions, and not a lot of reasonable answers. A playoff would be better, but it wouldn't be a final solution, because the determination of who gets into the playoff would still be based on opinion, a natural flaw of the college systems.
There are other issues that are often cited when explaining why a playoff system would be bad for college football, and I'm sure you've heard many of them:
  • Missing class time. There's always an argument that missing class time in late December/early January is a detriment to student-athletes. Please feel free to check the University of Maryland's academic calendar (and remember that only dummies take class for the brief Winter Term). Most students aren't going to miss much/any class time.

  • De-valuing the regular season. This might be true on a rare occasion. However, how can you say that de-valuing the regular season is a concern when we've had multiple teams in recent years go undefeated during the regular season, but have no chance at the national title? Also, does the NFL, which has a playoff system, suffer from a meaningless end-of-season?

  • The eventual demise of the bowl system. This argument actually holds some water for me. Certainly, if we start taking the best eight to sixteen teams out of the regular bowl system, we're going to reduce the luster of the biggest bowls. Additionally, the single postseason game for each team in the current system allows alumni and fans to make a single, special trip to the bowl site for the festivities and the game. Multiple playoff games would likely result in corporate purchases and outrageously priced secondhand tickets for fans, which hasn't ever been the nature of college football.
The reality is this. While I'd probably prefer a playoff system as a casual fan, I am just that: a casual fan. For people who really love college football, the playoff system may deprive them of the ability to see their favorite team in their final game of the season (often a much stronger attachment than you'll find in professional teams' fans). The old system, without any mockery of a national championship game, gives each team's fans a decent chance to catch the game. You also keep the ticket prices low enough (at least the student tickets), and have enough lead time before the games to allow students to make travel plans and buy tickets, keeping the classic college football atmosphere.

When you think about it, some of the resistance of college football against a playoff system might be in deference to its most rabid fans, and in the interest of maintaining the things about college football that it's most staunch supporters love. I can't be too mad about that.

The BCS is still a joke, though. The national championship game that the purport to create is an absolute farce. Do you know how I know that? Because after the game, there are still lots of questions as to who the best team in the country is. You ever hear that after the Super Bowl or World Series? No sir. Personally, I'd rather have no championship game at all than a championship game that doesn't give me a feeling of having declared a champion.

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