It’s a fair cop.

I’m looking forward to hearing from the “playoffs at any cost” advocates – you know, the ones who hope for a train wreck to bring the college world to its senses – about the wonderful matchup the NFL playoffs have produced for this year’s Super Bowl.

And this is why I respect Sunday Morning Quarterback so much. He’s a playoff advocate who admits this time this didn’t work too well:

… Under no criteria can New York’s season, one that ended with NY three full games behind the winner of its own division, with six reglar season losses – the last of those defeats to New England – be described as “better” than the Patriots’. New York beat three NFC division champions on the road, including both of the top two seeds, but the argument about the “best team,” if it wasn’t over a month ago, is certainly finished now. This is not like Pittsburgh’s wild card run in 2005, when the Steelers finished the playoffs with the same number of wins as every team ranked in front of them at their start; ditto the Broncos in 1997. The Patriots have been something else, which can’t be accounted for. If the NFL decided anything by polls, New England right now would take first, second and third place, just to accurately represent the distance. But it still has a chance, after clearly the greatest single season performance in league history, to not be the champion.

This is what we nervous folks refer to as “devaluing the regular season”.

SMQ thinks this Super Bowl pairing should serve as a cautionary tale for college football to create a postseason format that gets things right.

For those who argue playoffs undermine the regular season, though, they’ve won this round. I don’t take a step back in my advocacy (a six-loss champion that won its way through the league’s best is still preferable to opinion polls), but the upcoming Super Bowl is the worst-case cross to bear with a playoff format, and it must be faced. As a cautionary tale, this is more proof the coming college football playoff needs to set the bar as high as reasonably possible to keep out the riffraff – no two teams as far apart in accomplishment as the Giants and Patriots should be competing for the same trophy. New York finished tied with a half dozen other outfits for the seventh-best record out of 32 teams, meaning roughly 18.75 percent of the league had a better regular season; compared to Division I-A, that’s the equivalent of the No. 22 or 23 team in the nation making the championship (last year, according to the BCS standings that would have been 9-3 Cincinnati or 8-4 Auburn).

If he were calling the shots, I’d sleep just fine. The problem for me is, though, he ain’t.

He can’t even make Miles Brand happy. What makes you think he’ll make us happy? (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

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UPDATE:  CFN’s Pete Fiutak adds some more thoughts along the same line as SMQ’s.   Money quote:

What’s the point of having a playoff system? Is it to determine who the best team is? Well, not really (the correct answer is money), because if that’s true the NFL would take all 32 teams, hold one big tournament, and everyone would be satisfied. As it stands now, an end of the year playoff forces battered and beaten teams to play in the biggest games, and it takes the luster and importance away from the previous 16 battles.

So now we’re all supposed to ignore the classic New England 38-35 win over the Giants, in the Meadowlands no less, and do this again because now it matters. No, New England didn’t give its full effort trying to go 16-0 and now it has to prove it’s the better team. No, the Giants didn’t give everything it hand in an attempt to ruin a dream season, and now it’s going to actually try.

In 1985, Villanova lost twice to Georgetown in the college basketball regular season, and then won the final game of the year when everything went right for one shining moment. So who was the better team? On the overall scoreboard it was Georgetown 2, Villanova 1, just like if New York wins the Super Bowl then the two teams are 1-1, with one team winning on a neutral site and the other winning in the other team’s park. What would it prove?

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15 Comments

Filed under BCS/Playoffs

15 responses to “It’s a fair cop.

  1. Ray

    Still don’t get your point, USC vs Illi, UGA vs U. of Hawaii weren’t exactly barn burners. At least some of the post season games would have some meaning. Mob rule is no way to run the college football polls.

  2. Ray

    I like you Senator but respectfully disagree.

  3. Ray, all I’m arguing here is that if the powers-that-be feel it necessary to foist a D-1 playoff on us, make sure it’s one that doesn’t screw up what’s special about the sport – the regular season.

    Even SMQ doesn’t argue about that.

  4. JM

    This would not happen in college football becuase a 6 loss team would never be in the playoff.
    The max I could see getting in would be a 2 loss team and they would have to be ranked in the top 8 if we went to that format.

  5. JM, that depends on the size of the playoff and the way it’s formatted.

  6. JM

    I don’t think we would ever go beyond a 16 team playoff. Even if we got to 16 teams, I think on average 3 losses would be the max you could have and still be ranked that high. I am all for a playoff, but I don’t want to see more than 8-16 teams.

  7. Well, what if it’s a 16 team playoff where all conference champs are automatic seeds?

  8. reipar

    Using this line of reasoning you would have to be against the college basketball tourney as it devalues the regular season. After all a team can get hot at the right time and win it all.

    Being a UGA grad I will admit basketball and excitement go together like deafening silence, but I seem to see a lot of schools that sell out every home game in basketball much like UGA does in football. One could make the argument that a lot of schools have total apathy for football as evidenced by the fact you can walk up to the gate and buy a ticket. In basketball however this same school has a waiting list due to the excitement they feel for every regular season game and this is despite the fact they play over twice as many basketball as football games.

    The type of playoff you seem to want is like the NBA/NHL/MLB or none at all. Where I would argue what makes football the best sport is the fact so much rides on one game. Argubly the most watched sporting event in the world is world cup soccer. If a country advances out of their pool it does not matter how well they played or what they are seeded one loss and you are out. That is the excitement that the college basketball playoff brings and without devaluing the regular season.

    Once the argument of devaluing the regular season is defeated the payoff naysayers then turn to arguing the details of a playoff. Who chooses the teams, how many teams, how are they seeded, where are the games played, etc. This is an excellent technique as it gets people to quibble over details. It is a can’t find the tree in the forrest way of attempting to win a losing proposition. It forgets the fact that monkeys throwing crap against a wall would be a better method than what we currently have. The old bowl system would have likely given us matchups as compelling as this year and I like the odds of the monkeys doing even better. Certainly there are details to work out, but the fact it is difficult is not a sound reason to not attempt to fix a broken system.

  9. Using this line of reasoning you would have to be against the college basketball tourney as it devalues the regular season. After all a team can get hot at the right time and win it all.

    Isn’t the horse already waaaay out of the barn on this one? It doesn’t really matter what I’m against, March Madness is a fact. And it’s dramatically changed how we follow college basketball. You may think that’s a plus, and that’s fine. But the regular season isn’t what it used to be.

    … Argubly the most watched sporting event in the world is world cup soccer. If a country advances out of their pool it does not matter how well they played or what they are seeded one loss and you are out. That is the excitement that the college basketball playoff brings and without devaluing the regular season.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but World Cup soccer doesn’t really have a regular season, does it? At least not in the sense that D-1 football does. The preliminary round of play is solely for the purpose of determining who will make the tourney.

  10. Walt

    Why not just let the pros go to a BCS type system. Now you want to see some P Oed people. Then sit back and watch all these D-1A presidents heads swell saying they new their system was best, even the pros went to it. I just can’t imagine. I’m all for some type of play-off in college but to many teams would take away the value of the regular season.

  11. reipar

    “Isn’t the horse already waaaay out of the barn on this one? It doesn’t really matter what I’m against, March Madness is a fact. And it’s dramatically changed how we follow college basketball. You may think that’s a plus, and that’s fine. But the regular season isn’t what it used to be.”

    Isn’t what is use to be? I am not sure what your basis would be for that argument. Looking at tix sales offers no evidence. TV ratings are no help for this position. Looking at clothing sales also does not lend any support. In fact you could argue that March Madness increases the importance of the regular season as many more teams have meaningful games at the end of the regular season (see MLB for example). As a result of this more fans attend and watch TV the last two weeks then would if there was not a playoff system. If you personally don’t find the regular season exciting that is fine, but you will have a hard time making an argument that is how the vast majority feel (especially in the ACC and Big10+1) based on the consumers response to the product. My argument is not based on my personal feelings, but rather the evidence that is present.

    As far as the world cup I believe you are a little off on the schedule. I am pretty sure you play several qualifying matches to make the cup. Then you have your seeded pool play, or as you call it preliminary round, which is three matches. Then the top two out of each pool advance. There is no single elimination until you get to this stage. You could say the regular season is both the matches played to get invited to the cup as well as the pool play (where a loss is not the end of your season). I only mentioned this sport as further evidence that a playoff system does not render the regular season meaningless. The fans sell out every match to watch their teams play for the right to qualify and be prepared for a fight if you want to see pool play as millions of fans travel from around the world to watch their team (imagine UGA playing in the Rose Bowl for the MNC to get an idea of the foreign invasion).

    It seems that the evidence tends to support the fact that a playoff does not hurt the regular season. Much like college basketball this may also be just your personal preference. If so I too would argue against a playoff, but it would seem a better argument to make might be that you are a traditionalist. This is an unassailable point and would not need debate as it is simply your personal preference. However, an attempt to argue it hurts the regular season just does not bear scrutiny.

    But if none of this convinces you I am still willing to try the monkeys. Lord knows they would do better than Adams at figuring this out.

  12. I am not sure what your basis would be for that argument. Looking at tix sales offers no evidence. TV ratings are no help for this position. Looking at clothing sales also does not lend any support.

    What period are you comparing? I was a rabid college basketball fan in the mid-70’s and it’s a totally different world now.

    As for TV ratings, go check out how much regular season broadcast money college basketball generates compared to college football (there’s an article archived at my blog, if you want to look). It’s not even close.

    In fact you could argue that March Madness increases the importance of the regular season as many more teams have meaningful games at the end of the regular season (see MLB for example).

    This is a means to an end argument, as is your point about the World Cup.

    Look, I don’t want the regular season to be reduced to being nothing more than a delivery system for the postseason. It’s been more than good enough to stand on its own for a very long time.

    I don’t object to a playoff. I just want the suits to find a solution that doesn’t screw up what’s already great.

  13. I am with you, Senator. Although I am MORE open to a playoff than you are, we’re both skeptical.

    Comments above like where someone even entertains the POSSIBILITY of a 16 team playoff, illustrate the problem to me. That should be unthinkable. If people who even think that MIGHT be a good idea are putting the playoff together, then I want to stick with the current system.

    To me, a ‘final 4′ is passable, and actually I might even get kind of pumped about having it. I might actually be a ‘playoff advocate’ , if that’s what we’re talking about. 8 teams and I would make a face like Myles Brand in that picture, but I wouldn’t loot or pillage. Although it would depend on how the 8 teams were determined. If the six conference winners get automatic seeds, then I’m close to pillaging b/c that’s pretty arbitrary (the conferences are often vastly different in skill to one another from one year to another, and telling, say, a 2 loss team that is ranked in the top 8 that they don’t get to participate in the playoff b/c they got bumped by a 4-loss conference champ would be just plain wrong.).

    Also, I’m a HUGE free market guy (I’m even so idealistic as to support Ron Paul, the uber-free market candidate). I like your argument, reipar, that the consumers are the ultimate deciders of what has value and what doesn’t. But I’m pretty sure, with SB, that while college bball may get really popular during the last two weeks of the season, the conference tourneys, and the big dance, that up until about the last week of February its ratings ain’t all that great. And, again, comparing it to college football, the passion for its regular season isn’t anywhere close. Furthermore, polls represent the ‘wisdom of crowds,’ too. You can’t write off exercise of mass-choice as a ‘popularity contest’ but then support ticket sales as “just showing us what the market wants.”

    The truth is that final human rankings are pretty good, especially if we don’t require them to be precise but limit our evaluation to, say, the top 4 or top 8 teams. At that point, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a human poll that takes an obviously deserving team and leaves them out of the top 8 altogether. Sure, there might be some despite about whether X should be 5 6 or 7, and that might be individual voters who put X at 12, but the aggregate result of the ‘market’ is that X ends up in the top 8 if that’s where they deserve to be.

    No system is perfect, though.

  14. reipar

    I am not sure what you mean by it is a totally different world now? The fact you are no longer a rabid fan has no bearing on the world. I too no longer watch college basketball as I am just too busy. The fact college basketball has lost the two of us for what ever reasons does not mean they are hurting. In fact just the opposite appears to be true. I am simply stating the facts that are readily available. Maybe you have some information that you are not sharing, but I do not see anything that would indicate playoffs are causing the regular season to suffer in terms of any measurable criteria.

    Your comparison of basketball and football does not hold water. You are comparing apples and oranges. Think about it for a second….it is not what the sports (or any sports) bring in against each other, but rather what they bring in now as opposed to what they brought in previously (adjusted for inflation). The fact college football today brings in more than college basketball is not the argument you are trying to make. Your argument is that a college basketball playoff today hurts college basketball compared to when you were a rabid fan in the 70’s. Once again if you have some evidence of this I wish you would share it with me as I can not find any proof for this theory.

    I also like how you simply throw out the term “this is a means to an end argument”. You offer no insight or support of this statement, but simply throw it out to dismiss any point I might be making without having to actually address or support your position. Not to mention many would argue it does not matter how many eggs you had to crack as long as the cake turns out good. Those people would not see a counter point to your statement. I do not throw these examples out as a means to an end argument, but rather as evidence that playoffs do not hurt a regular season. What you should be saying is my argument renders the regular season as a means to an end. That statement would be correct. The end I see is the crowning of a true national champion. The other sports examples I offer support my position that the regular season is not hurt by being treated as a means to an end. This in no way diminishes my argument as it is the entire premises, which I am supporting with facts.

    “Look, I don’t want the regular season to be reduced to being nothing more than a delivery system for the postseason. It’s been more than good enough to stand on its own for a very long time.”

    See this is what I think your argument should be. You are a traditionalist. You simply want things to stay the same as they were in the good ole days. There is nothing wrong with that, but the world does not remain static. Land marks that were in Athens when you were in school were not there when I was in school. This is just like the land marks that wre mine are gone for those now at UGA. This is simply how the world works. You claim you do not object to a playoff, but yet offer nothing as to a solution of the current system and instead simply sit back and snipe at others solutions. Don’t get me wrong this can be successful as it is the platform for the Democratic party and keeps working (some how).

    Based on your responses and well run site I am assuming you are simply trying to keep a lively blog discussion going and do not truly believe the position you are stating. If my assumption is incorrect I apologize and would welcome you either re-framing your argument or providing some evidence to support your current position that a playoff is “going to screw up what is already great”.

  15. I can only assume I’m doing a poor job of explaining my position here, reipar. I apologize for that. Let me take one last stab at this.

    1. I never said I was no longer a college basketball fan. I still am – it’s just that my viewing habits and interests have changed dramatically. The regular season means little; my real interest doesn’t get kindled until CBS cranks up the selection show. Judging from the TV ratings and revenue that college basketball generates during the regular season and the tournament, I’m far from alone on this.

    2. I don’t see how you can debate the popularity of college football’s regular season vis-à-vis college basketball’s. The patterns of revenue generation are a clear indication of this.

    3. I don’t understand your response to my point that yours is a “means to an end” argument. You seem to both contradict me and agree with me on that. I would point out that you tell me I’m comparing apples and oranges when I point to college basketball, but you seem to have no problem with the fruit basket when you bring World Cup soccer into the mix.

    4. I don’t argue that to some extent I am a traditionalist on this point, but as you note, I don’t object to a playoff per se. Indeed, that’s what the BCS title game is, like it or not. I am puzzled why you think it’s my responsibility to provide a solution, though. It’s not like anyone out there in a position of authority will be listening and acting on what I might say. In any event, I’ve said that I don’t have a problem with a plus one seeded format and I also like the possibility of an eight team conference champions only playoff (if the current conferences can be tweaked).

    But enough about me. What I’ve noticed that you haven’t responded to is the basic premise that SMQ addressed (and see Fiutak’s piece that I’ve added as an update): what’s the point of having a postseason that is set up to trash what has to be one of the greatest regular season performances in organized sports history?

    When you can answer that question, we can have a real debate about this. My problem isn’t with a playoff. It’s with an extended playoff. If you can’t see the difference between the two and the problem the latter creates, that doesn’t make you a stupid person. It simply means that you really like what a playoff brings to the table. And that’s OK. Just don’t try to tell me that all the facts are on your side when you take that position.