Playoff proponents of the world, unite!

I keep saying it: the most irritating thing about the D-1 football playoff debate is the stupidity/disingenuousness of many of the arguments for a playoff.

Even though I disagree with their goal, I can at least respect the straightforward approach of those who just say they like playoffs and brackets over the current regular season-oriented format. It’s the folks like Sally Jenkins of The Washington Post that drive me up the wall when they argue that a

… simple nagging truth is undermining the BCS: It’s bad for the game. The system actually inhibits the dramatic and competitive possibilities…

which simply means, when you translate that into English, that she enjoys watching Cinderellas win games. Bully for her.

In fact, she seems to think that it’s not even necessary for Cinderella to win the prince’s heart at the ball in order to justify Jenkins’ attack on the BCS. It’s OK if Cindy has a good time and snarfs down a few hors d’œvures and a couple of glasses of Cold Duck before she goes home dateless:

… Each week, there is another bolt from the blue on the scoreboard: tiny Troy thumping Oklahoma State, Utah pounding UCLA, Fresno State taking Texas to triple overtime, UAB actually making a game of it with Florida State, Marshall leading West Virginia at halftime. [Emphasis added.]

Hey, don’t forget the number of times an underdog scored first last week! That ought to justify a sixty four team playoff all by itself, right?

Look, upsets happen every week of every college football season. So do games that come out much closer than the pundits expected. That doesn’t change the fact that after the completion of a twelve game regular season, the rational observer of the sport has a pretty good idea of who the top eight or so schools are in college football.

So, when Jenkins goes off with something like this…

There is simply no rationale left for a system that locks out certain schools or obstructs their upward mobility. Five years ago, BCS supporters could argue the differences between the bigs and littles were too great, and that some separation between them was necessary to prevent mismatches. Even third-place teams in the major conferences, it was said, were better than the top teams of small conferences…

it comes off as little more than hyperbolic prattling, rather than the bomb she so obviously wants to throw. Yeah, Utah embarrassed UCLA a couple of weeks ago, but guess what – the Utes were shut out last weekend by UNLV. Appy State, the Upsetter for the Ages, was itself upset. (Maybe Jenkins would argue that means Wofford should get a spot in a D-1 tourney.) As much as Jenkins wishes for it, neither case justifies channeling Karl Marx and arguing for a new world order.

Besides that, her main point about the have-nots never having a chance isn’t even particularly accurate. There are a number of cases in the last 20-25 years of lesser programs hiring the right coach to elevate them to national power status. Look at what’s going on in the Big East these days, for example. That’s why we see schools regularly throw obscene amounts of money at certain coaches these days – a practice that I suspect Jenkins heartily disapproves of, by the way.

But what we’re not going to see is some lesser light roll through an extended playoff. Hell, it doesn’t happen in March Madness. George Mason was a nice story, but in the end, it went down. That’s an even more unlikely possibility in college football, where because of team size, depth is so critical. Sorry, but the truth is that Troy, at least as it’s constituted now, could never survive a six round playoff.

The most logical argument I can see in support of a D-1 football tournament is that it would help clean up a dispute at the end of the season when there are more teams deserving a shot at the MNC than there are slots in the BCS title game. That’s what the fans get upset about – not some historical diatribe about the Gilded Age (puh-leeze) and how The Man is holding down The People (she actually capitalizes that in her article – twice) by not allowing Fresno State to have a shot at a post season playoff game.  In the end, if all you’re trying to do is clean up the clutter at the top, you don’t need an extended playoff to do that.

Once Jenkins puts her raised fist down, she gets to a rather familiar place in her conclusion – familiar, that is, to those of us who think that an extended playoff would sound the death knell to what we love about D-1 football right now:

A college season ought to be a test of stamina to see who can survive the delirium, not a predetermined check-cutting ceremony. It may well be that 2007 will end with a predictable No.1 vs. No.2 confrontation between the super powers of Southern Cal and LSU. But it’s the switchbacks on the way there that are meaningful. The best seasons are those that keep us guessing until the end.

Yes, that BCS title meeting between USC and Texas left a lot to be desired.

The college football regular season already is a test of stamina. Beating Middle Tennessee State in the first round of a sixty four team tourney won’t change that.

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