Argh. Just argh.

It’s the new college football playoff meme! We extended playoff doubters – we’re just a bunch of heartless bastards when we insist that we don’t want the best regular season in organized sports to be unduly diminished. Because our game really is to badmouth the college basketball regular season. Oh, the humanity.

Which gets me to this exercise in dishonesty.

It’s a trite cry from college football tradition-mongers – “You can’t put a playoff in; then the regular season will be meaningless, like college basketball.” The problem is, these people know nothing about basketball. There are plenty of reasons to like regular season NCAA hoops, just ask Eli Kaberon.

Eli, old pal, nobody is saying that the college basketball regular season is meaningless… just that it serves a different purpose than does the D-1 football regular season. And I know you understand that because in your own piece you admit it.

… Despite the differences in how they determine a champion, the games played in the regular season are important in both college basketball as well as football. The 25 or so contests that each school plays before March help their position in the tournament, both in terms of seed and location. Regular season action also prepares a team for the postseason schedule and the different styles of play they may see. And, of course, the regular season games give fans a better chance to understand a squad’s strengths and weaknesses – which helps us fill out our tournament brackets in March.

And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that. March Madness is a lot of fun. I just don’t want it as the model for D-1 football.

Here’s where the train really goes off the tracks:

… Because college basketball actually has a post-season that crowns the best team on the court – as opposed to the best teams in the polls – the regular season is used to organize and evaluate who the best teams are. This translates to the seeding for the tournament, as well as the location of the games played.

College basketball crowns the winner of a six game, single elimination tourney. Is that school “the best team on the court”? For the tourney, sure. For the season? Maybe, maybe not.

And as for that “best team in the polls” tripe, Eli, the NCAA is using subjective evaluation (polls, RPI, etc.) to determine seeding and locations, as you acknowledge. Don’t you think that has more than a little impact on a given school’s chances to succeed in the tournament? To torture an analogy here, you can’t be a little bit pregnant. Once you let subjective analysis have a part in deciding who gets in, where they play and who they play, you’ve reduced the argument to how wide you want to cast the net. Why is this approach acceptable for sixty four teams but not for two?

Again, the crux of the debate for me is how much are you willing to devalue the results of the regular season with a playoff.

If you don’t see a problem with a system like the NFL’s that could see a six loss team being crowned “the best” by upsetting an undefeated team going through an historic run (with a QB that’s just been put in a walking cast, by the way), fine. If a mediocrity like an 83 win St. Louis Cardinal team winning a World Series rings your bell, great. If momentary Cinderellas are more important to you than sustained excellence, enjoy March Madness.

Just admit there’s a tradeoff. And don’t tell me I’m the bad guy for pointing that out.

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UPDATE: More BS here. Does anybody notice how playoff proponents like to argue both sides of the money issue? Either there’s more money from a playoff or not – which is it, guys?

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12 Comments

Filed under BCS/Playoffs, Media Punditry/Foibles

12 responses to “Argh. Just argh.

  1. kckd

    In all of the major sports, the NFL’s regular season game per game is still by far the most important. But it has little to do with the playoffs or the amount of teams in it. That does factor in a little, but if that were the deciding factor, baseball’s regular season games would be far more important.

    The biggest reason why the NFL and college football’s regular season matter so much is because there are so FEW games. In baseball you get swept by your bitter rival in April and it doesn’t matter hardly a lick. In college football, that’s the only shot you’ve got and as we saw with UT, that makes it very important, playoffs be damned.

    Now I will agree, if we’re talking about anything beyond an 8 team playoff, you might sell me on this notion. But 8 teams or less and those regular season games are gonna be damned important. Maybe not if your are sitting at no. 1 or no. 2 or no. 3 with one game left, but unless you are there, and 117 teams or so won’t be, those games will mean something.

  2. “Because college basketball actually has a post-season that crowns the best team on the court”

    Florida won the 2006 Men’s Basketball National Championship after a fairly OK regular season. In the national semifinals, the Gators faced George Mason, whose clock was striking midnight. For the national championship, the Gators beat an offensively-challenged UCLA team.

    Florida played its first two rounds in Jacksonville.

    The #1 seed in its region was by far the weakest.

    At least the Gators actually played them, though. Florida never had to play Duke, who would have beat them, or UCONN, who, if they gave any effort, would have *destroyed* them.

    Best team on the court? Yeah, against a limited slate of competition. UGA being handed the national title after beating Hawai’i wouldn’t be far away from an apt comparison.

  3. I have an instinctive problem with a six loss team like New York getting a final crack at being considered the best, when it’s clear that the Patriots are exactly that this season. That, in my opinion, devalues what happens on the field during the regular season substantially, regardless of the total number of regular season games played.

    I think SMQ had it right when he argued that this year’s Super Bowl pairing doesn’t make a case to oppose a playoff on its face, but it does mean that the sport’s organizers should set the parameters more selectively than that.

    The problem is that pro sports are set up to generate money as their primary purpose. Everything – including the determination of an ultimate winner – is subordinate to that. College sports aren’t designed quite like that (keep the cynicism down, please).

    kckd, I do agree with your point on the eight school format. To me, that ought to be the outer limit on the size of a D-1 playoff.

  4. kckd

    Going by what you’re saying about the Giants, should anyone have gotten a shot at the Patriots?

    Should they have had to play a five or six loss team in the first round?

    Shouldn’t they have just called the playoffs off and given them the trophy now?

    The truth is college football has a better reason for having a playoff than the NFL. There are 120 teams and most are locked into schedules which make it almost impossible to call it fair and balanced. Does anyone really think LSU played the second best team in the country this year? Obviously not.

  5. Going by what you’re saying about the Giants, should anyone have gotten a shot at the Patriots?

    Are you saying there weren’t any teams in the playoffs with less than six losses?

  6. kckd

    No, but I’m saying most are gonna say the Patriots are far and away the best team even if they don’t win the whole thing.

    Even if the Pats were to somehow lose to whomever they played in the Superbowl (Packers, Cowboys, etc) you could match them up 5 more times and the Pats would win four or maybe all of them.

    Football is not a series sport and never has been. It’s one and done.

    And as I said, college football has a much better argument for a playoff than the NFL or any professional sport does for that matter. You seldom see teams from opposing BCS conferences matchup against each other unless there is already a rivalry.

  7. NM

    Ideally… I don’t think the Patriots should have had to play another game after going 16-0 (while playing every good team in the league except Green Bay). Normally, that doesn’t happen — there’s lots of teams in the 2,3,4-loss neighborhood. But this year, no teams other than NE had fewer than 3 losses… really, GB, Dallas or Indy should have had to beat NE three times to be champions.

    Similarly, in this year’s college season, it might have been nice to have 4-6 teams in some sort of playoff, since nobody really stood out. But other years, no more than 1 or 2 teams might have a legitimate claim, and the BCS does a great job dealing with that.

    Unfortunately, the real world demands we set parameters for playoffs before the season, so there I agree with the Senator — college football’s great regular season would be diminished by an extended playoff, and once the door is open to 8, it will only grow.

  8. And as I said, college football has a much better argument for a playoff than the NFL or any professional sport does for that matter. You seldom see teams from opposing BCS conferences matchup against each other unless there is already a rivalry.

    That’s not the issue here. I’m not arguing against a playoff. I’m arguing against an extended playoff.

    Here’s another way to look at my argument about the NFL’s watered down postseason. The Giants qualified for the playoffs with a 10-6 record. The closest equivalent to that over a twelve game season is 8-4. (Actually, it’s slightly worse, but I’ll round up for argument’s sake.)

    So ask yourself this: how large a tournament field would D-1 football have to establish to justify the inclusion of a at-large school with an 8-4 record? Judging from the last polls of the regular season, you’d need a field of no less than 24.

  9. kckd

    Ok, Senator. But who the hell is arguing that we need to include the same types of teams that make the NFL playoffs. You’re jumping ship again.

    The NFL occasionally gets it right, despite upsets and college football occasionally gets it right as well.

    But explain me this, what’s the difference between a NY Giant team with six losses playing their way in to the SB by beating the two best teams in their conference and an Ohio State team being ranked no. 1 going into the BCS national championship when they’ve only played one ranked team all year and lost to that team at home.

    How can anyone say Ohio State was more deserving of playing for their sports championship than the Giants are of playing for theirs?

    The bottom line is that this BCS mess isn’t doing any better job year per year of giving us a good championship matchup than the NFL.

    And I’ll say this for the Giants, they will have run the gauntlet if they do win it all. It’s not like they backed their way in and got lucky.

  10. Ok, Senator. But who the hell is arguing that we need to include the same types of teams that make the NFL playoffs. You’re jumping ship again.

    No, I’m not.

    The debate is about extended playoffs. The larger the pool, the greater the number of weaker teams and the less the regular season matters. Seems pretty straightforward to me.

    It doesn’t matter if Ohio State was more deserving of playing in the title game than the Giants. The issue is were they more deserving of making the playoffs in the first place. I don’t think there’s any doubt of that.

  11. kckd

    I haven’t read the full article, but I don’t see anything in those excerpts that talk about extended playoffs. That’s where you jump ship, you bring it up.

    The guy is just arguing that a playoff is better than what we have now, not extended playoffs.

  12. Gosh, I guess it’s just a coincidence that the playoff he admires is a six round, sixty four school tourney.