If you were Boise State or the Mountain West Conference and hired a bunch of lawyers/lobbyists who didn’t know jack shit about college athletics to draft a report proving that a 16-team playoff would enhance D-1 football’s regular season, this is pretty much what you’d get.
Despite the dramatic tone, it’s unlikely to win many new hearts and minds on either side of the debate. Here are a few things I found less than convincing:
- Saying that the regular season is meaningful isn’t the same thing as saying that every game in the regular season is meaningful. The latter is a functional impossibility. I’m not sure why it’s so hard to understand the difference between a meeting of North Texas and Louisiana-Lafayette and the 2007 West Virginia-Pittsburgh game that knocked the Mountaineers out of their shot at a national title game.
- On the flip side, you’ve got to love the logic of arguing that a playoff will make the regular season more relevant because more teams are involved in the playoff hunt. Taking that to its logical conclusion would mean that a postseason composed of every team in Division 1 would create the most valuable regular season possible. (Notice that the authors are silent about bracket creep, though.)
- Nor is there any explanation about how a playoff format that grants an AQ slot to the Sun Belt winner, yet denies any place at all to the third best team in the SEC (and at least one second place team from a BCS conference) enhances the value of the regular season.
- “Even a cursory analysis would tell you that a college football playoff would not be similar to the college basketball tournament with respect to impact on the regular season.” Implicit in that argument is the acknowledgement that March Madness has a negative effect on the basketball regular season.
- The authors ignore the fact that the pool of eligible basketball programs is roughly three times the size of the D-1 football pool, making a 16-team football tourney the rough equivalent of a 48-team basketball playoff. Yes, that’s a smaller number than the current size of the tournament, but how many of those teams seeded twelfth or lower have any realistic expectation of making the Final Four anyway? (For that matter, how many teams seeded eighth or lower do?)
- The Playoff Money Fairy makes an appearance: “With these universities receiving far more revenue under a playoff (as they generally will share the revenues earned by other teams from their conference who reach the playoffs), they will have even more money to ensure that they can continue to, in effect, subsidize such bowls.” No mention is made of what impact an extended postseason will have on regular season broadcast revenues. If you are a member of the Big Ten or the SEC, that’s kind of a big concern. (Of course, if you’re a client of Arent Fox, that’s not exactly the case.)
Like I said, it’s none too compelling. I can think of three reasons to support an extended football postseason: (1) you like upsets; (2) you like brackets; (3) you support a program that doesn’t make enough money from regular season college football. (I think we know where Arent Fox falls among those.) Notice I didn’t include making the regular season more meaningful there.