“We are a playoff nation.”

This is really, really good.

We, as American sports fans, like endings. I think that speaks a little bit to who we are. We tend to think of September baseball games being more important than April games. We tend to think of sports heroics in the fourth quarter being more meaningful than heroics in the second. We tend to put more stock into great Sunday finishes in golf than great Thursday opening rounds. I think the vast majority of us believe in the fairness of playoffs over the fairness of extended excellence, the value of single elimination games over the value of many weeks of consistent winning. Like I say: I think that speaks a little to who we are.

Posnanski delves into the history of the NFL playoffs, notes that teams with bye weeks have become less successful, acknowledges that makes the efforts during the regular season less meaningful and yet doesn’t see a problem with that.

… Is this good for pro football? I would say largely that it is. I love the NFL playoffs. I love the randomness of it. The NFL is built around that Any Given Sunday credo, and the game thrives largely because of that. You really don’t know what’s going to happen. But the question I think about, the question I want to ask here: WHY do we love that sort of randomness?

To me, that gets to the heart of what’s different about the NFL game and the college game.  The pros really are about structuring parity above everything else.  You’ve got salary caps, the draft and scheduling reinforcing the attempt to level the playing field for all the teams.  That doesn’t mean that every team finishes 8-8 every season, but it does make it harder to sustain excellence over time (or to stay crappy over time, unless you’re a member of the Smith family).  And that’s good business for the NFL.

But that’s not what college football is about.  First off, it’s not a monolith.  Its conferences compete with each other in the market place as well as on the field.  And it’s not structured to promote parity.  There’s no draft; instead, teams fight and claw with each other for recruits, regardless of the previous season’s records.  There’s a limited salary cap in the sense that there is a limit on the number of players who can receive scholarships, but that just encourages schools to spend moneys on infrastructure and coaches’ salaries.

So in any given season, it’s far more likely that you have a bigger pool of relatively equal talent, team-wise, entering the NFL postseason than you do at the end of the college football regular season.  The point of inviting the Sun Belt champ to a sixteen-school playoff isn’t that such a team has a legitimate shot of surviving a four-round tourney and winning a national title.  It’s to introduce a Cinderella factor into the postseason process.

Posnanski asks if that’s more fair.  Eye of the beholder, I suppose, although what I’d really argue is that it’s more entertaining for the people whom he describes in the first paragraph of his piece.   Maybe it’s just me, but that’s not what I want the guiding principle behind a college football postseason to be.

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20 Comments

Filed under BCS/Playoffs, College Football

20 responses to ““We are a playoff nation.”

  1. Macallanlover

    I don’t agree with his idea of a large CFB playoff, and I don’t like the NFL, or it’s playoffs, but he is right: we do like finishes. CFB is like sex without the orgasm…..pretty damn good but we are missing the best part.

  2. JudgeDawg

    I’ll bet the Auburn fans had orgasms last Monday night.

    • Macallanlover

      Is that what was dripping off that tree at Toomer’s Corner? There is always a team that likes the status quo the year they win. Not so sure the 2004 season satisfied them. 2010 Co-Champs TCU knows how that feels.

  3. Dante

    Maybe it’s my upbringing, but I really don’t care about “fair.” Trying to invoke fairness is just an attempt to get someone to concede a position they otherwise wouldn’t. It’s a rationalization, not a reason. Like my mother always told me when I complained that something wasn’t fair: “You know what else isn’t fair? Life.”

    I respect NFL’s playoff structure for not pretending to be fair. It unapologetically gave a 7-9 Seahawks team a home playoff game. It made the Rams play the Saints two games in a row in 2000. It gave the Giants another shot at the Pats. No, it’s not fair, but it’s a solid product.

    The BCS isn’t fair either. TCU gets shut out of a title game while Auburn gets to play with their star player who served no penalty for a direct violation of NCAA rules. Ohio State got to start five players who should be suspended in their BCS bowl and those five players made a huge impact on the game’s outcome. Two of Georgia’s three BCS Bowl appearances have been against pathetic match-ups in Florida State and Hawaii. But the BCS is a solid product, too.

    When it comes down to it, the two aren’t really all that different. They both have finality. They both do some pretty unfair things. They both get a lot of viewers. And I still firmly believe that most college football playoff advocates would be happy with a bowl system plus better out-of-conference regular season games. Not all of them, but you’d peel away enough detractors to make it a non-issue (not that it isn’t already).

  4. JeromefromDecatur

    At the end of the day no matter how it is sliced, it still bothers me that a team like TCU can run the table, go undefeated, do everything required, and it’s prize be an iPod shuffle and other Rose Bowl swag.

    “The Cinderella factor” is not so much the driving force behind a playoff as injustices like that.

    • Depends on the size of the playoff. Four teams, you’re right. Sixteen, not so much.

    • Connor

      The Giants and Bucs both went 10-6 and beat the 7-9 Seahawks, but were not given a chance at the postseason. The Seahawks however were. Is that not just as unjust?
      I don’t see how a college football playoff actually solves any of these problems any more than the BCS solved the problem of 1 & 2 not playing 15 years ago. Everyone still hates it.

    • Macallanlover

      Yes, the Cinderella factor is for March Madness and then more for the media to get viewers in early games. I don’t think it plays any role whatsoever in CFB, nor will it ever if we keep the number of contestants in check. If the playoffs get large in CFB, they will fail and hurt the sport.

  5. sUGArdaddy

    College football has something that no other sport has, though, and it’s sooooooo tricky to try and figure out how to protect it for the long haul.

    On Sept. 3, everything will be on the table in the GA Dome. We will be 0-0 with new hope (after all, we worked the hardest we’ve ever worked in the weight room this offseason, right ;)). Boise will be 0-0 and looking to prove the Nevada loss was a fluke. No matter how far fetched our dreams are, when you’re 0-0, you still have your sights on a National Title. And neither of us can win the MNC if we lose that game, which will make the pressure under that room reach the boiling point. An 8-team playoff erases all of that for Georgia. A 16-team playoff erases that for Boise. You think you’d care about the game as much, but you wouldn’t. Because the bottom line is it wouldn’t matter as much. But right now it matters immensely.

    I believe a 4 team playoff could protect the sacredness of those games because getting in that pool would still be so small and winning your conference still wouldn’t gaurantee you a spot. The problem is that I just do’t think it would stay at 4, as no playoff formate has been able to withstand bracket creep. And I, personally, am happier to remain where we’re at than risk that. Also, I just think there is something so magical and special about running the table.

    What I really can’t understand is why any of us SEC fans would want a playoff. It’s almost a lock to go to the big game if go 12-1 or 13-0 in the SEC, then you only have to win 1 game, instead of 2-3 more.

  6. 69Dawg

    Don’t look now but college football will in the end do whatever the World Wide Leader wants. It’s all about the money. IF the WWL can get a better bottom line with a playoff we will have one.

    • Hackerdog

      Not necessarily. It’s also about how the money is distributed. Right now, the BCS conferences get most of a big pie. If a playoff will make the pie bigger (which isn’t proven), but the BCS conferences get a smaller piece, and therefore end up with less money in the end, then they will not go along with a playoff.

  7. Biggus Rickus

    Maybe I think differently than other people, but the first quarter, the opening round, first inning, whatever, is every bit as important as the finish. Take one of my favorite Super Bowls, the ’87 matchup between Washington and Denver (I went through a front-runner phase where I was a Redskins fan. In my defense, the Falcons were awful.) That game was decided in the 2nd quarter. The 4th was largely irrelevant.

  8. Wolfman

    I like watching the Braves in April, but I generally stop watching baseball altogether by September.

  9. FisheriesDawg

    Screw Cinderella. I hope Steve Detweiler’s thumb aches every morning when he wakes up for the rest of his life.