Friday, May 22, 2009

kill the bowls, and hang them out to dry

As an Alabama fan growing up and a graduate of the university, I have always naturally been a big believer in tradition. I don't like the designated hitter or interleague play; I favor starting school closer to September than July; and I always supported WCW over the NWO.

My life as a Tide fan is, naturally, steeped in tradition. Going to the Bryant Museum moves me to the point of distraction, just about every time, and a simple visit to Denny Chimes can keep me entertained for hours (but it's important not to bother on game weekends, when large crowds make it less than fun by volume and stupidity).

That's how I've always approached the college football postseason. I've never been comfortable with the idea of a playoff system, and here's why: I like college football tradition, which includes a completely inane bowl system. My New Year's memories as a child always included tons of football and my parents' annual New Year's Day party, which featured enough food to gorge ourselves for several hours.

And a playoff system would absolutely slaughter that, wouldn't it?

Actually, no. No it won't.

That's right, folks. After arguing on behalf of tradition for most of my young life, I finally came over to the side of a full-fledged playoff last year. It's the only way to do it — straddling the fence with a plus-one or 8-team thing won't work (though I'm not quite ready to come over to Mike Leach with his 64-team idea).

I've posted about this before, although I can't find the original post at the moment. Here's a list of reasons the "playoffs will kill the bowls!" argument is a complete crock:

-- First, at least half the bowls need to go away. I enjoyed the pageantry of the old New Year's Day bowl games as much as anybody, but the "tradition" of those games went out the door a long time ago when bowl games started adding ".com" to their titles and they started playing games in places like Boise and Birmingham.
(The Birmingham thing continues to slay me. Look, I love it here and wouldn't want to live any place else. But as a vacation destination? Really? The only reasons any non-native would want to travel here include: for school; for work; to visit family; to get shot. That's really it. I can't see how in the world a bowl game in Birmingham makes any sense.)
Furthermore, three of the four main reasons for going to a terrible bowl game — exposure (recruiting), an extra paycheck and a reward for the players — are barely valid anymore. Did spending New Year's in Shreveport in 2007 after finishing 6-6 really do anybody any good? At all? I say no — in fact, stories are now surfacing that various football programs are actually losing money by participating in some of these bowls. Really, the only reason to participate in these things now is for the extra month's worth of practice, and even that can be accomplished without the bowl trips by coaches who know what they're doing.

-- Second, many of the people who say these things have no idea of the history of bowl games. The truth is, when bowl games were first conceived back in the 1920s, no concept of a "national champion" really existed in college football. Bowl games were conceived as an exhibition, much like the Super Bowl was in 1967. It was an excuse to give players who rarely traveled outside their region a chance to do so, and to make a little extra coin on previously unheard o inter-sectional matchups. But those matchups happen all the time now — travel is much easier now, and you can witness all sorts of intersectional non-conference games (LSU at Washington and so forth).

-- Third, and most important: the BCS has already effectively accomplished the death of the bowls. Once upon a time -- and really, it was just 12 years ago -- real college football fans had to watch more than one bowl game to see the potential contenders for a national championship. In 1997, for example, undefeated Nebraska faced Tennessee in the Orange Bowl, while undefeated Michigan played Washington St. in the Rose (they wound up splitting the title). In '94, undefeated Penn St. faced Oregon in the Rose, while undefeated Nebraska played Miami in the Orange Bowl (Nebraska won both shares). In 1993, multiple teams -- Nebraska, Florida St., West Virginia, Notre Dame, even Auburn (undefeated and on probation) -- had a chance to claim the crown with an impressive enough showing. In those days, 1-2 matchups were rare, ultimately leaving us with an unsatisfying conclusion to the season in which at least one team (sometimes two) walked away claiming they should own at least a share of the national title. It's because of this system -- we called it absurd -- that we pressed the dissolution of those old bowl ties in favor of a system that would give us a 1-2 matchup to close out the season.
And that's fine: it's what we have now. Trouble is, those old bowl games now mean nothing beyond just an excuse to party (and as we've already discussed, who parties in Birmingham?). All that matters is that national championship date -- only once in the BCS era (in 2003) has more than one team claimed a share of the title at season's end.

So, if we're going to a playoff, let's jump in with both feet: 16 teams, figure out the logistics at your own leisure.
Discuss, please.

1 comment:

UmcMatt said...

Each Conference Champ is automatically in. The rest of the spots are chosen by a BCS type formula that rewards winning and strength of schedule. Stronger conferences get more teams.

If you aren't in a Conference, you aren't in contention.