Friday, November 21, 2008

thought for the weekend ...

For a very long time, I've been one of the loudest voices speaking out against a playoff in Division I college football. I'm a traditionalist at heart, never believed in throwing the football if you can gain 4.5 yards/carry in a regular two-back set and favor the old-style 50 defense over everything else. So it's natural that I think nostalgically of the days when Alabama might have already guaranteed itself a Sugar Bowl trip and abhor the idea of a postseason tournament -- it just ... I don't know ... it seems wrong.

So I have no pleasure today in coming to you waving the white flag. Seriously, I give. I admit the BCS is ridiculous, admit the national championship process in football is flawed, admit we need to do something different.

(Taking a deep breath.)

My thoughts on exactly how to accomplish this have been myriad. I've been, alternately, a fan of 4 teams, 6 teams and 8 teams, all of which could be done while keeping the inferior bowls running.
Today, however, I submit to you that a 16-team playoff is the bandwagon upon which I'm hopping. Obviously, there are pitfalls -- you'd have to trim the regular season, first off, and you'd probably have to try and convince the conferences with championship games to dump them.
(While we're here, can we please drop the ridiculous notion that only conference champions would be admitted to a potential playoff, any potential playoff? The designation "conference champion" means nothing when it comes to crowning a national champ -- it's like saying the Red Sox shouldn't have won the World Series in 2004 because they weren't division champs. Who cares? Does anybody remember who won the Big XII basketball tournament last year? I bet you don't, but I bet you do remember that Kansas won the NCAA Tournament. Wait, where were we?)

The arguments against a 16-team playoff are myriad. I know because I've made most of them. So let's address them one by one.
-- It would kill the bowl system. First of all, there shouldn't be more than 10-15 bowl games under any circumstance, anyway. Does anyone actually get excited to watch 6-6 play 7-5 in Shreveport every year? What about the Bowl, which matches two mediocre teams from conferences no one cares about? These bowls need to go away, and I have no problem with that.
-- It de-values the regular season. The regular season has already been compromised to a staggering degree, starting with the SEC Championship Game -- a terriffic money-making venture but one that rendered much of October & November useless -- and continuing with the addition of a 13th game (used in large part to pad the schedule with another Citadel or Arkansas St.). When LSU is winning the title with two losses, and Nebraska's playing for the title three weeks after being de-pantsed on national television by Colorado, it's safe to say the regular season has already been de-valued. We're not breaking any new ground here.
-- You're lining the NCAA's pockets. The real reason college presidents are so dead-set against the idea of a playoff: the bowl system right now pays out huge chunks of money to the universities and their conferences (one of the many reasons Vanderbilt will never leave the SEC -- they get the same bowl share everybody else does every offseason). In a playoff system, it's likely the NCAA would receive the bulk of the money, as it does from the NCAA basketball tournament. So yes, it is fair to raise this question, and some people much smarter than I am will have to figure out how to make it profitable for everyone involved.

So how would this 16-team affair play out? In my brain, the first two rounds would take place on home fields, with the BCS system used to determine 1 seeds for 4 different regions (in an effort to cut down on travel and thus increase the gates). It wouldn't always work, obviously -- right now Alabama, Florida, Texas and Texas Tech dominate the four top spots. But once the season plays itself out, that should resolve itself.
Furthermore, you give more chances to the little guys. If the playoff started tomorrow, TCU and BYU would get a shot. Even Ball State could play its way into things with a break or two. To me, that's better for the big guys, also -- the best way to get people to shut up about these "mid-majors" is to play them and whip them. The tournament would give everyone a chance to do this.

It's not a perfect system, of course. And it never really will be -- even in basketball, where 65 teams get in, there are still squabbles. But that's the way I'd play it out in my dreams.
Sadly, in reality, we're stuck with what we have.


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