It was gratifying to learn that our President-elect is a long time reader of the PhogBlog. In an interview with Chris Berman on the eve of the election, he echoed PB’s call on January 1, 2006 for an eight team college football playoff: “"I think it is about time that we had playoffs in college football. I'm fed up with these computer rankings and this and that and the other. Get eight teams — the top eight teams right at the end. You got a playoff. Decide on a National Champion." More specifically, the system proposed by PB is as follows:
1. Take the conference champion of each of the BCS conferences and two at-large teams—i.e., the two highest ranked remaining teams, or perhaps a mandatory slot for the highest ranked non-BCS team as one of the two teams. This Elite 8 would maintain the integrity and importance of the regular season, a concern often cited by the anti-playoff forces.
2. Use the four BCS Bowls for the Elite 8 games on or around January 1. Leave all other bowl games in place. They would be the nice rewards for the teams and alumni, with no effect on the big picture, just as they have always been. It also results in all four BCS bowl games being important instead of just one. Not to mention three more, for a total of seven games that matter—rather than the present singleton.
It would also result in a true champion being crowned for the first time in over 100 years of college football. The sport would join the civilized world in letting the best teams compete head to head with each other for the right to be called “champion,” rather than rely on the same method used to decide beauty pageants for ten year olds, diving, gymnastics, and ballroom dancing: i.e., opinions based on inherent biases. And, worse yet, unlike these other Opinion Driven events, Division 1 football does not even present the competitors to the scorers in an equal setting. Instead, teams play highly dissimilar schedules, with a major advantage enjoyed by teams in lesser conferences, because being undefeated in a weak conference with no playoff is given priority over being 12-1 in a meat grinder conference (such as the SEC) with an extra hurdle, sometimes a huge one, at the end of the regular season.
So what’s the problem? It isn’t money. The dollars to be made from a seven game championship series would dwarf what is now in play for the four meaningless BCS Bowls plus the Pretend National Championship Game.
Nor has any rational excuse been offered by the opponents of progress. The most common of the Bogus Arguments, as pointed out in our previous post in 2006, are:
Bogus Argument No. 1: Academics
Let’s see: We have two teams play one extra week and two additional teams teams play two. In January. Between semesters.
Why is it that academics is an important consideration in Division 1 football, but not in Division II or lower? Or in basketball, volleyball, soccer, golf, and all other sports that have multiple weeks of championship competition? Is it that Division 1 football players are not as smart as these other athletes?
If anything, Division 1 football players are better suited for coping academically with post-season games than their counterparts at other levels or in other sports. Unlike basketball, and virtually all other sports, the football playoff would be played when school is out. What Division 1 schools are in session January 1-20? If there are any, it is a marked exception, not the rule.
Bogus Argument No. 2: Too Many Games
This argument is not only bogus, it is hypocritical.
This pretend concern about the wear and tear on the athlete was used as a reason for not extending the season with a playoff when there was a nine game regular season. That didn’t stop the powers that be from adding a tenth game. Then an eleventh. And now a twelfth. With exemptions for “charity” games prior to the normal start of the season, exemptions for games in Hawaii, conference championship games, and bowl games, there have already been teams that have played 14 games. In fact, in 2002, Nebraska went 7-7, including the Independence Bowl, and would have played a fifteenth game had the Huskers won the Big 12 North and qualified for the conference championship.
Further, if there is a concern about the number of football games, why does it apply only to Division 1?
Bogus Argument No. 3: It would diminish the importance of the regular season
This argument’s premise is that EVERY regular season game now is big, because one loss can, and often will, cost a team any chance of playing for the national championship. EVERY game, the argument goes, is a playoff game. For example, Penn State just lost to Iowa on a last second field goal, and is now no more than an afterthought in the pretend National Championship picture.
The primary problems with this assertion are:
The regular season “playoff” games are not against each other. Florida, for example, defeats LSU, Auburn, and Georgia, and is then kicked out of the national championship picture because it has a letdown against Ole Miss? Why should teams like Oregon St or Ole Miss determine the Pretend National Championship Game participants? Why should teams in the ACC or Big East benefit by the fact that USC failed to get up for Oregon St early in the season? What argument is there for not having best teams playing each other, with equal motivation, and an identical task?
This “every game is a playoff game” theory has created an atmosphere of timid scheduling that robs us of truly compelling intersectional games from September through November. It is responsible for uncompetitive games between powerhouse programs and second, third, or even fourth level programs like Louisiana-Lafayette, Rice, Maine, Central Michigan, Middle Tennessee St, Appalachian St, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Indiana St, Sam Houston St, etc. Who in his right mind would not prefer a fall afternoon or evening watching games like Alabama/Texas, Michigan/Florida, Oklahoma/Ohio St–or even Michigan St/Texas Tech or Virginia Tech/Cal?
No, a playoff system that places an emphasis on winning your conference and playing a strong non-conference schedule (to qualify for one of only one or two at large slots) would create MORE important regular season games, within and without the conference schedule-and better games..
Bogus Argument No. 4: It would diminish the importance of the other bowl games
This is the most laughable argument of all. How do you diminish something that does not exist? Currently, there is one, and occasionally two-bowls that matter, and 30 or so that do not. With the playoff system proposed here, there will be more games that matter (seven). The others will remain as “important” and as relevant as they are under the present system: i.e., the football equivalent of the NIT.
Bogus Argument No. 5: A playoff would leave only one team with a successful season
This argument is that, with a playoff, rather than having 30 or so teams conclude their season with a win, there would be only one. Every other team would look back on their season with a bitter taste in their mouths.
Obviously, this assertion is nonsensical.
First, under the system proposed here, 30 or so teams (not one) would end their seasons with victories: the national champion and all of the other bowl winners.
Second, the additional three losers in the final two rounds would not likely consider themselves losers. Just making it to that point will be a badge of honor--as is making the Final Four in basketball. In fact, it would more likely be celebrated with new banners hanging in the stadium and contract extensions for the coaches.
Bogus Argument No. 6: The logistics would be too difficult
Yeah, right! We can run a three week 65 game neutral court tournament, with 14 sites, in basketball, but can’t figure out how to play three extra football games in two weeks.
My guess is that all the brains at all of the NCAA colleges, plus the television networks, with virtually unlimited resources, could figure it out.
Or I’ll do it. Play the extra three games at one of the four major bowl sites and rotate the honor. Or play the semi-final games at one site and the final game at another-and rotate these sites.
Oh, the detractors say, but the fans! How could they possibly afford the time and expense required to make all these games? Maybe they could--as many now do for three consecutive weekends of basketball in March and April, or maybe they couldn’t. If they can’t make it, they can watch it on T.V. I would take my chances on filling the stands with locals and a goodly showing by the participating schools. Especially if you make the tickets affordable-and why shouldn’t they be with all the TV money this spectacle would garner.
Bogus Argument No. 7: But the No. 9 team. . .
This argument is one I have never followed. If the controversy moves from whether an undefeated Auburn team is left out of a one game playoff to whether Oregon or West Virginia is left out of an eight game field, that’s a good thing.
The first team out in a two team field can make a strong argument that it was the best team in all the land and was unfairly prevented from proving it.
The argument for the No. 9 team is much less compelling. You have only yourself to blame by not winning your conference.
In other words, a controversy at the top of the food chain is important. The further down the food chain this controversy is moved the better. If 116 teams were allowed in, there would still be a controversy between the last team chosen and the 117th team. But who would care-other than the 117th team?
If you are left out of a two team playoff, it might be the system’s fault. If you are left out of an eight team playoff, with six automatic qualifiers, it is your own fault.
In conclusion, as long as only two teams are chosen to participate in one game to be declared the national champions, that title continues to be mythical. It is, in reality, nothing more than a game for the championship of two conferences: or even less if, somehow, both teams are from the same conference, or from no conference at all, a la Notre Dame.
Even the 2006 game between Texas and Southern Cal, where the BCS purportedly “got it right,” was not for the National Championship. It decided nothing more than championship of the Big 12/PAC-10. Who is to say that one or more teams from the SEC or elsewhere was not better than both? If Penn St, Georgia, Notre Dame, Ohio St, Florida St, and West Virginia or Oregon had been invited to the party, the winner would have been both REAL (as opposed to a myth) and to have gained its title the old-fashioned way-by earrrrrrrning it.
If the United States of America can elect a black President named Barack Hussein Obama, maybe even the presidents of the Division 1 universities can wise up and initiate an eight team playoff because it is the smart thing to do. And college presidents are supposed to be smart—notwithstanding Mizzou.