Would a college football playoff work…

bowl-season-logoHere is a guest column from my friend and co-blogger for Kicks Soccer blog, Alex Haueter. He’s quite knowledgable, and he approached me about a post National Championship Game post/column. So here are his words.

When Sam Bradford’s pass fell incomplete on fourth-and-four with about two-and-a-half minutes remaining in Thursday’s BCS National Championship Game, pens hit paper and fingers struck keyboards throughout the country as sports writers began an annual ritual.

The summary of a title game between two good teams?

Don’t be so naive.

Instead, American sportswriters have come to prefer bashing the BCS instead of writing about it. Even in the Associated Press’ summary of the game, the writer includes an obligatory reference to a college playoff system. Florida’s win got it the silverware, but fans of Texas, USC and Utah are hardly willing to acknowledge the Gators as national champions.

Do these other teams have an argument? Of course, they do. Utah did all that was asked of it, winning its games by an average of almost 20 points with an early season win at Michigan and victories over (at the time) 12th-ranked Texas Christian, 14th-ranked Brigham Young and fourth-ranked Alabama, a team that spent much of the season atop the polls. Texas was a missed tackle away from a perfect season, and beat Oklahoma on a neutral field by the same spread as Florida. USC’s stifling defense held its opposition to barely more than a touchdown per game, and probably would have done so against Penn State in the Rose Bowl had the game not been out of hand by halftime.

At the end of the season, the BCS is not the right way to find a national champion. Anything involving computers and algorithms that the average fan can’t understand isn’t. The system it replaced wasn’t perfect, either, but there was room for compromise through split national titles. Those, of course, caused plenty of debate, too. Remember the 1997 season? At the end of the year, Nebraska and Michigan shared the honor, despite the feeling of most pundits that the Cornhuskers would have easily handled the Wolverines had they played at year’s end.

The idea of a one-off system has its upside, but what happens if three teams go unbeaten through the regular season and the bowls? What if there are four one-loss teams at the end of the year? What’s the proper way to determine which team or teams are left out of a one-off game for the national title? As usual, it would be the polls, and whether human- or computer-generated, that system would majorly screw a program or two. Additionally, a one-off system would come under heavy fire as being unnecessary the first time it was one-sided, particularly if it pitted an unbeaten BCS crasher against a one-loss team from a major conference.

Naturally, the debate always turns to a playoff system. This is great in theory, but its advocates make a couple of fundamentally flawed assumptions about playoffs. The first is that the best team wins. That’s not always true.

Remember last year? The New York Giants upset the 18-0 New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. It was truly a game for the ages, an Instant Classic in ESPNese. But did the best team really win? No. The best team that day won, but if you took a poll after the Super Bowl (had an AP NFL Champion, so to speak), New England still would have been top. In other sports, the best team doesn’t always win the playoffs, either. The No. 1 ranked team entering March Madness has only won the title six times since seeding began 24 years ago. In Major League Baseball, the team with the best regular season record has won the World Series less than 50 percent of the time. In every year from 2002 to 2007, a wild card team – a team unable to even win its division – appeared in the World Series. Three of them won.

In playoffs, upsets happen. Were college football to adopt an eight-team playoff, it would only be a matter of time before an eight seed got lucky and ran the table, thereby opening debate about luck vs. skill in determining a national champ.

Granted, there’s not a lot of discrepancy in terms of players and records between the No. 1 and No. 8 teams in the country, but that brings up the next flaw in the system: Teams will get screwed in playoffs, too. Teams will be left out of the playoffs that deserve to be in them, and teams will get in that have no right to be there but are because they are conference champions. If a playoff system were applied to this year’s BCS, who out there would actually think Virginia Tech had a right to be in the playoffs ahead of a one-loss Texas Tech or the unbeaten Boise State?

Sit down, Hokie fan. You’re wrong.

How would a college football playoff solve anything? It would just invite controversy earlier than the national championship game. Allowing only conference champions into the playoff would be a complete farce, because let’s face it: The best team in the Mid-American Conference couldn’t hold a candle to the second- or third-best team in the Southeast Conference or the Big 12. But if let conference bridesmaids in, and potential BCS playoff crashers are going to be stuck watching a 9-4 major conference champion play in “their” playoff spot.

Additionally, think about the negative effect on fans and players. In order to accommodate a playoff system, either the regular season would have to be shortened or college football would need to continue until after the Super Bowl. College football fanatics would love this, to be sure, but remember that college football is played by student-athletes, not athlete-students. After the demands of football-filled fall, the last thing these men need is an equal (if not greater because of the win-or-go-home pressure) amount of strain on their spring semesters. Let’s face it: Most college football players, even ones at major programs, aren’t going to be stars at the next level. Academics matter.

The other option is to shorten the regular season to 10 games. Losing a home game or two probably wouldn’t ruin athletic departments, but fans of non-playoff teams would have less of what makes college football worth watching for them. Fans of 111 programs would have less vested interest in a college system with playoffs. Not only would the season be shorter, but the bowls would be more meaningless than they already are, if they continued to exist. Less interest in bowls could mean less interest from sponsors; bowls would dry up. A lot of athletic departments count on money from bowl games, and a lot of cities bank on the economic impact of 50,000-plus college football fans showing up to spend money on vacation.
No solution exists for crowning an undisputed national champion in college football. The current system is unarguably flawed, but fixing it with a playoff isn’t the right solution. The NFL has 32 teams; 12 make the playoffs, usually with no less than four or five common opponents each. The NCAA has 119 teams. Unfortunately, as it stands now, 10 make the BCS games, usually with little or no overlap, except among same-conference at-large teams.

It’s not fair, and it probably never will be. And shut up: Florida is the best team in the country.

Alex Haueter

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2 responses to “Would a college football playoff work…

  1. Just dropping by.Btw, you website have great content!

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  2. Yes will all love football, i think if we could play football better as ronaldo, beckamp or may be zidane we must be rich from football. but if we dont like that, there is guarantie to make money from football unless from litte leage.

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