The perfect is the enemy of the good, or, be careful what you wish for.

As regular readers of this blog know, I’ve expressed concern about how a D-1 football playoff might negatively impact its greatest asset, the regular season.

In a sense, that’s already started to happen, as Ed Gunther cogently argues here.

… But doesn’t this negate my argument from above that thinking about who’s “best” is a bad thing? It would seem that way, but my point is that a healthy dose of discussion and controversy is fine – it’s when it becomes a cancerous growth that overshadows the rest of the sport, as it has recently, that it becomes a problem. The controversy used to be a side dish or dessert – the cranberry sauce on the Thanksgiving table that added a little kick. Now it’s become the turkey, and eating that much of it only makes you tired and cranky. When people are pissed off and focused more on “not winning a national championship” rather than being thrilled about their 12-1 or 13-0 season, there is a problem.

In other words, implicit in the attack on the current postseason format is the argument that the regular season is somehow delegitimized by it.  I think that’s what’s most striking to me about the 2007 season.  I honestly think it was the most exciting regular season of my lifetime.  We saw an SEC East race go down to (literally) the last second.  Georgia for the first time in my memory beat Alabama, Florida, Auburn and Georgia Tech in the same year and three of those four games were classic.  And we cared about the outcome of a West Virginia-Pittsburgh game.

Yet, all I saw from the middle of the season onwards was piece after piece critical of the game.  From all the grumbling, you’d have no idea how great the season was.  Assholes like John Feinstein openly advocated a regular season train wreck – in whatever form that might take – so that everyone else would become as angry as he and a new postseason format would somehow miraculously arise from the ashes.  There was no pleasure to be taken from how things unfolded, because in the end, without a playoff, it didn’t really mean anything.

It’s been more of the same this season. (Note to Chris Stephens:  the NCAA has nothing to do with the BCS.)  Regardless of which school wins the BCS title game, I expect to read over and over again about how the system has failed us.

The question that’s begged here is how much better would things be with a D-1 playoff.  Once again, Ed steps forward with a timely post on the matter.  (In case you can’t tell, Ed is my new hero.)  After looking at how the BCS era would have played out under different tourney scenarios, here’s what he concludes:

The Plus-One w/ Bowl Results would’ve definitely helped in 2001, 2003, 2004, and may have helped in 2006 and 2007, but it would have completely screwed up 1999, 2002, and 2005 and it would’nt (sic) have done any good in 1998 and 2000.

The Plus-One Top 4 would have probably been better than the BCS in 2004. That’s it, one year out of ten. It’s not a good system.

Eight-Team Playoff w/ Conf Champs would have been solid only in 2002, but so was the BCS that year. In one other year (2000) you have three teams vying for two spots, so one is getting left out. In all other years, you have either 4 or 5 teams that would be worthy of an at-large, so you’re gonna be pissing off more people than you’re gonna be making happy. (And I’m not even including the uproar that would occur when a playoff round staged a rematch of a regular season game, which is pretty likely. Or the fact that the non-BCS conferences would demand a spot, thereby leaving just one at-large for those 3-5 worthy teams.)

Eight-Team Playoff w/ BCS Top 8 If you go this route, you’re always going to be leaving a BCS conference champion out – it would’ve happened to every single conference at least once during the last ten years. Most likely you’ll be leaving two out, as well as the random undefeated non-BCS conf champion.

I know you hate the BCS, but there’d be just as much controversy surrounding these setups as well. Somebody is always gonna get screwed – and there’s a good chance that someday it’ll be your team, if it hasn’t happened already. The BCS might be easier to live with if we just accept the reality that no system is even close to perfect every year. All of them would be controversial most of the time.

Personally, I don’t think Ed goes far enough.  Once you go down the playoff road without satisfying folks, there’s only one likely outcome.  And that’s to make the postseason tourney even bigger.

The more I ponder this, the more strongly I feel that the only acceptable playoff format would be an eight-team, conference-champ-only tournament.  Yeah, there would have to be some tweaking of the conferences to level the quality of the participants, but you’d preserve the significance of the regular season and you’d also have a platform that would be harder to expand from.  Otherwise, it looks like Ed has confirmed the old adage about the devil you know.

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20 Comments

Filed under BCS/Playoffs, The Blogosphere

20 responses to “The perfect is the enemy of the good, or, be careful what you wish for.

  1. peacedog

    Super conferences ahoy!

  2. sUGArdaddy

    I used to be a “no playoff” guy all the way, but I’ve started to change. There are huge problems now in the sport that have to be addressed. Coaches are receiving too much pressure to go win a national title, and we can all agree that if UGA doesn’t win one in the next 5 years or so even Richt will feel the heat, but it is almost entirely out of his control. Even winning all your games doesn’t guaruntee anything and he’s done exactly what Urban and Miles have done, he just did it in the wrong year. Coaches are going to start putting more pressure on ADs and Presidents to give themselves a better shot at winning one.

    The other problem is that, more than ever, the conferences are apples and oranges. In 2002, we weren’t undefeated. We went 12-1 in the SEC and played Fla., Bama, Auburn, Arkansas, SC, UT and the other usual suspects. Ohio St. went 12-0 and 8-0 in the Big 10, but didn’t not play Iowa, who also went 8-0 in the Big 10. Miami went 12-0 in the Big East. Is 12-1 equal to 12-0 in the Big East & Big 10. Probably, but we’ll never now. USC is being punished now for playing in the sorry Pac 10, but they may very well be the best team in the nation. Records across conference lines don’t compute anymore, and in the BCS, simply the best 2 records from the best 2 conferences end up playing for the title. And that’s simply not right. We learned in 2006 that SEC 12-1>Big 10 12-0 and we learned in 2007 that SEC 11-2>Big 10 11-1.

    Just simply saying that undefeated team A and one loss team B should go to The Game over one loss team C and two loss team D doesn’t work anymore because of the dramatic differences in schedules and conferences.

    I’d like to see a 4-team playoff w/ #1 & #2 getting home semifinal games in mid December. Winning your conference wouldn’t be enough. You’d have to win your conference and be elite, and winning big out of conference games would be huge. You couldn’t afford to lose to an out of conference rival late in the season so you could rest your starters. Moreover, there would be HUGE incentive to go undefeated, which would almost assure you of a home playoff game. Now, the Texas/OU/TT problem from this year is one I simply don’t know how to fix. The biggest thing w/ this system is that they’d have to figure out a consolation BCS bowl for the losers of the semis. If you’re that good, you deserve a bowl even if you lose in the semis. I’m sure Jerry Jones would gladly offer up his new facility.

  3. Ben

    Michael Wilbon (yes, a dreaded sportswriter) had a good column about this recently.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/02/AR2009010200840.html

    I think the gist of the article is that he thinks the old Bowl Alliance and Bowl Coalition was better than what we have now b/c of the uncertainty surrounding it all. Would the Cotton Bowl (’84, I think?) where it was determined it would always be 10-9 in Texas be so historic today? No, b/c it would never happen. Watching the Rose Bowl was once enjoyable because it impacted the whole system instead of being a shoddy exhibition like it is now.

    While I would love for things to be settled on the field as much as the next guy, I’m still angry at baseball for the three divisions and the wild card teams. In other words, I preferred the devil we knew instead of the one that we’ve got.

    And if we’ve got to stick with the BCS system, why can’t the non-BCS bowls do away with the conference tie-ins? If they are just glorified exhibitions, let’s mix it up so the SEC east #2 isn’t always in Tampa or Orlando. Let’s see some games we’d never see otherwise.

    Alright, I’ll stop the incoherent rambling now.

  4. sUGArdaddy

    Well, the conferences are going to want their locked in money for the non-BCS bowls, but I think they should pick a bowl partner to fix the problem. The Gator & Capitol One, for instance could be partners, that means that each year the SEC, Big 12, Big 10 and ACC would be tied to those bowls. We’d know we were getting 1 slot in 1 of those bowls. One year, it’s SEC/Big 12 in the Gator, the next SEC/ACC in the Capit0l One, the next SEC/Big 10 in the Capitol One. The Sun Bowl & Alamo Bowl, the Outback & the Chick-fil-a, the Motor City & the International. That way you’d have more options and not play the same conference year after year. It’s a darn shame the SEC can’t send a team to the Gator Bowl.

  5. ArchDawg

    Just go back to the old bowl system. The sport survived decades with it. Like Paul and Ed said, playoffs will still leave someone out (until its March Madness size, which would be atrocious), which is the problem everyone has with the BCS anyway–in addition, there are problems with logistics in terms of class time (not a joke…right now these bowls mostly take place during intermission at most schools), fan travel, where these games would take place…Seriously, I wish people would think this through before they jump to a “playoffs would be better because such-and-such is left out” conclusion.

  6. sUGArdaddy

    ArchDawg, you’re completely right. The fan travel is the biggest issue. Classes are over soon enough to have semifinal games. The season ended on Dec. 6 this year. You could have the ‘home’ semifinal games on Dec. 2o or 27 to kick-off the bowl season.

    The home games are crucial. You have to play for something during the regular season, and even the most rabid fans (me included) can’t afford to travel to Miami then Pasadena. If the Giants played the Eagles in New Orleans this week no one would come.

    The old system was fun, but we used to not fire coaches for not winning National Titles. Now we do, and they will continually put pressure on AD’s to at least give them a realistic shot. Utah @ Oklahoma and USC @ Florida on Dec. 27 sure would have been fun this Christmas. Losers play on Jan. 3 in the Orange Bowl. Winners play on Jan. 8 in the BCS Title game.

  7. Richt-Flair

    Class time? What about basketball, baseball, gymnastics, etc.? And fans would travel in a playoff like they travel for the NCAA tournament. Not having a valid method of determining a national champion because it would taint the regular season or cut into a student’s class time are typical excuses that get away from what the bowl system is — a money grab. I love college football but absolutely abhor the way the champion is determined. It’s ridiculous. Create a playoff — now.

  8. sUGArdaddy

    Not so fast on the fan travel issue Richt-Flair. Check out the first round of the NCAA tourney. They’re played in front half-empty arenas and are made-for-TV events. Even the Sweet 16 games aren’t always full, and they’re pulling from 4 fan bases and trying to fill 25,000-40,000 seat arenas, not 80,000 seat stadiums.

    I spent a lot of money going to the Sugar Bowl last year. I’d have been hard pressed to follow that up 2 weeks later with a trip to Tempe or Pasadena, and I’ve been to 35 straight UGA games. I probably would have skipped the semi in hopes we made the final.

    Neutral site playoff games totally render the regular season useless. The Titans earned never leaving Nashville this year by their play on the field. Home playoff games would be in front of full stadiums and keep #1 & #2 playing hard till the final whistle the whole season.

  9. Bob

    I’m becoming more and more of a fan of the top 8 BCS playoff. Just as many have argued that the conferences are not of equal strength, I don’t see that winning say the Big East makes you better than the second best team of one of the other conferences if the second best team played lights out and only had one loss. With that, take the top 8 give the top teams an off week or home field, whatever, but get it done.

    You are right that there will always be someone left feeling that they were left out, but isn’t it better that that team be the perceived 9th best team in the land and not the 3rd? There are good arguments for both sides, but I’m just a ‘know you got it right’ kind of person and we don’t know under the current BCS.

  10. sUGArdaddy

    Bob, good points, but that will never happen. The conferences will never sign off on it. The NCAA basketball tourney was created to pit conference champions against each other. And that system does not take into account the brutalness of some conferences.

    Plus, IMHO, it seems that there are rarely, if ever, 8 teams that can say that they legitimately should have a shot at the title. When there are more teams in a tournament than deserve a chance for a championship, the regular season has been watered down. 4 teams and the chase would still be on for 12-13 weeks. Just my thoughts.

  11. Tom

    Yeah, I’d have to say a top 8 might work about as well as anything at determining a true champion – if we have to have a playoff, that would be the fairest way to do it. But that’s not gonna happen because the conference commissioners aren’t going to sign off on a playoff which their conference champ might get excluded from. Won’t happen.

  12. Rob

    16 team playoff is the only one that makes sense, to me.

    11 conference champs, 5 at large.

    This year, there were 9 teams with a legit argument pre-bowls, 9 doesnt fit into a 8 team playoff.

  13. Richt-Flair

    An eight-team playoff will make money and the fans will travel for it. It’s a win-win for the NCAA and America.

  14. sUGArdaddy

    Richt-Flair, explain to me, exactly, which sport has 40,000 fans for each team travel to multiple neutral site playoff games.

    USC stands to win the Pac 10 every year. Do you think 30,000-40,000 USC fans are going to travel to New Orleans & Miami for quarterfinal and semifinal games year in, year out?

    Almost no bowls sellout and their usually a little regionally based. How in the world are fans going to afford traveling to 3 ultra-far-away games. It would ruin the unique nature of college football in front of packed houses. The first few years would be cool, then the stadiums would look like those NCAA tourney early rounds…empty. Just my opinion. I think it would be detrimental. No football playoff on any level (H.S., 1-AA, or NFL) has neutral site playoff games.

  15. All this talk about fan travel for playoffs. I wish I could just afford to go to a home game.

  16. sUGArdaddy

    Exactly, PWD, exactly.

  17. Coastal dawg

    The top 8 BCS is a joke.

    1. Teams load up playing weak conference and out of conference schedules while others beat the hell out of each other all year long.

    2. You can’t control your ratings. As we discussed earlier concerning Texas, style points, prime time TV games play too much of a role in this.

    3. If you can’t win your conference, you should not be the national champion. Period, end of discussion.

  18. The current system doesn’t make the regular season any better. It makes it worse. It is more depressing to suffer a loss, as it often feels like your season is instantly over.

    Winning your conference is what makes the regular season exciting, not the absolute pile of crap that is the BCS.

    And the importance of that is actually enhanced, not diminished, by an 8 team playoff with conference champs automatically in the mix.

    -Michael
    Muckbeast – Game Design and Online Worlds
    http://www.muckbeast.com

  19. MJ

    sUGArdaddy raises an interesting point in his original post. The pressure to win among coaches has increased, almost to the point of absurdity. This is one of three reasons cited by the 1988 NCAA subcommittee when they decided against a playoff in Resolution no. 72 (Sandbrook, Division 1-A Postseason Football History and Status, 2004, p. 11 available at http://knightcommission.org/images/pdfs/sandbrook_2004.pdf ).

    The reasons cited in Resolution 72 were:

    1. “The interference of such a championship, regardless of format, with the academic interests of student-athletes of the institutions involved in such a championship;
    2. “The increase in pressure on coaches and student-athletes that would result by the addition of such a championship to the postseason opportunities for competition currently available for football teams in Division I-A institutions; and
    3. “The lack of convincing evidence that such a championship would contribute significantly to the image and welfare of football in Division I-A or of intercollegiate athletics in general.”

    Any entity (whether the NCAA or another) that tries to establish a playoff and hold first-round games in December will face lawsuits from the Bowl games for the same trade restraint reasons that led the NIT to sue the NCAA. In that suit, the NCAA settled by purchasing the NIT. There is no way any entity has the financial clout to settle a lawsuit from the Bowls in the same manner.

    Sandbrook writes (pp.12-13) of the subcommittee formed several years later:

    “At the ad hoc committee’s meeting of February 21-22, 1994, Mr. Gangwere (NCAA legal counsel) offered the opinion that the antitrust concerns cited in his 1986 and 1987 opinions regarding restraint of trade would not be applicable to a post-January 1 postseason structure involving a NCAA-administered championship but he also urged that ‘the least disruption of the current bowl system is desirable in any format.’”

    The money and prestige associated with the BCS has definitely brought more pressure upon coaches and athletes. A playoff, in my view, would bring the same or more. Responsible people saw this coming 20 years ago (or longer, if you count the original study in 1975).

    The BCS has not contributed to the image or welfare of intercollegiate athletics. It has stirred controversy among fans and non-fans (i.e. faculty and non-sports journalists) for entirely different reasons. If we are to believe Jim Delany (Big Ten Commish), then playoff revenues would “dwarf” that of the BCS. Yet, in any format, none of this has anything to do with the core mission of the nation’s universities no matter how much we enjoy watching the games.