Doc Saturday’s road to hell

Matt Hinton’s been one of the most rational playoff proponents in the college football blogosphere, so I was hopeful that there would be plenty to like about his postseason plan (or at least those parts worth stealing to make a better one).  Alas, such is not the case.

He’s constructed a ten-team format, with byes and home field advantages, in pursuit of three goals:

Creating an opportunity for every team with a plausible claim on a shot at the championship.
Valuing the regular season with automatic bids for major conference champions and incentives (first-round byes, home games) based on the final BCS standings.
Setting a high bar to filter fringe riffraff that threaten to water down the field and/or give ammunition to critics who like to argue (ridiculously, I think) that a playoff jeopardizes the importance of the regular season.

The problem I see is that there’s an inherent conflict between the first and third of those.  And his own historical review of how things would have gone had his system been in place over the past few seasons goes to illustrate that.

… out of 50 teams here, only three finished the regular season with more than two losses: Wake Forest in 2006 (10-3), Virginia Tech in 2008 (10-3) and UConn last year (8-4), all major conference champions. All three would have also been forced to win a first-round game to get into the round of eight…

Well, yeah, but that simply begs the question of why three- and four-loss teams are deserving of a crack at that in the first place.  And that’s the risk inherent in allowing a field as big as Hinton does.  As Brian Cook, who’s also a playoff proponent, notes,

… DocSat’s still grasps the three-point tao of a college football playoff:

  • Reward in-season success more heavily than most playoffs do by having byes and allow teams to play at home.
  • Restrict the size of the field so 9-3 teams are told to GTFO.
  • Create a system that guarantees the last team standing also has the best resume.

The more I think about that last one the more I think it would be hard to create a playoff that didn’t do this as long as you kept the field relatively small, but the byes and home games aid greatly.

I think that’s right.

The other problem I have with this is that Hinton is far too dismissive of those of us who worry about the impact of an expanded playoff on the regular season.  The reason I say this is because it seems inevitable to me that a ten-team format is an invitation to grow, not just because it lets in those three- and four-game losers, but also because it’s easy to structure a twelve-team format (the top four teams get byes, which is justified by the increased size of the total field and a need to differentiate between the very best and the rest).  That feeds in to a more games means more money and more opportunities for coaches to look good attitude that generates even more postseason expansion.  Basically, we’re off to the races at that point.

Given D-1’s current structure, I still haven’t seen a playoff format I like better than this one.

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18 Comments

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18 responses to “Doc Saturday’s road to hell

  1. TimRankine

    I like reading Hinton but saw the uh-oh in his proposal when he dismissed his playoffs-water-down-the-regular-season critics as ridiculous. DOA.

    • Macallanlover

      That is actually the strongest point in his case. A properly done playoff would actually enhance the regular season, not diminish it. Having said that, his system of 10 teams, with byes involved, is not one I would favor. Finding the right balance between inclusiveness and the current system is the critical issue, and it seems impossible to move the needle. I feel the 4 Super Conferences structure is the only way we get to a true NC in the foreseeable future. Last year’s realignment brought us very close but Texas’ decision to stay put has shelved this likelihood for the near term.

      • Hackerdog

        You’ve argued that playoffs increase the value of the regular season before.

        You’re still wrong.

        • Macallanlover

          So because you have a different opinion I should bow down? If you can espouse an incorrectg opinion, why can’t I challenge it. I find the regular season diminished argument ludicrous in a limited playoff environment. Not taking two aspirin because it may lead to taking the whole bottle is pretty silly to me, but that is what your side is proclaiming as logic in this case.

          • If you listen to the Bill Hancock interview I linked to today, he thinks that a Plus-One wouldn’t diminish the regular season. It’s just that what the Plus One would eventually spawn would.

            • Macallanlover

              I feel the Plus 1 is an obvious improvement, but still too exclusive and would require expansion to gain validity. I don’t accept the Plus 1 simply because it is an admission that we don’t have a good solution yet. Unfortunately, the Plus 1 is a true “half assed” approach. Why not fix it all the way to include all viable candidates by having the major conference winners, and the top mid-majors in a play-in, plus the highest Wildcard? It really can be done logistically with eight teams, and fit the time frame, while enhancing the regular season games. I understand the “entitlement crowd” will want to push for expansion to ridiculous levels, but football isn’t as susceptible to that pressure as other sports are. 16 and 32 game formats are unworkable at the D1 level, and they would truly diminish the regular season.

  2. I was a playoff proponent once — or someone you could at least describe as playoff-sympathetic — but this is the time of year that always reminds me just how big a monster a CFB playoff could turn into.

    We came very close to ending up with a 96-team NCAA tournament this year. As it is, we’ve ended up with three new play-in games that, according to my informal research, have added nothing to the experience as far as the typical fan is concerned.

    Install a playoff system in CFB, and it doesn’t matter whether you start with 10 teams, eight teams or only four, the Cash Rules Everything Around Me crowd is eventually going to try to expand the field so that they can rake in more TV money. So far nobody, not even the ones who’ve approached this issue with as much thought as Doc Saturday, has made a remotely convincing case this won’t/can’t happen. And the more you expand the field, the more undeserving teams you’ll be letting in, until you end up with a regular season that’s just as meaningless as college basketball’s. Call me crazy, but that’d be a much bigger detriment to college football in the long run than a split title every few years.

    So I’m sticking by my old-fart solution — go back to the pre-Coalition days when the BCS didn’t exist and the bowls could invite whomever they wanted. Have a plus-one after the bowls to determine a final, undisputed champion if you must. Anything more complicated than that and you’ve kick-started a process that’ll result in much of what is unique and interesting about college football getting scoured away.

    • Install a playoff system in CFB, and it doesn’t matter whether you start with 10 teams, eight teams or only four, the Cash Rules Everything Around Me crowd is eventually going to try to expand the field so that they can rake in more TV money.

      Why is this so hard for playoff proponents to understand? I wish they would just quit trying to argue reasons why the BCS is bad that everybody already knows (if you read Death to the BCS you know what I’m talking about) and just admit that you like brackets and Cinderella stories. I agree with you Doug, and instead of explaining to me why this eventual playoff creep (as the Senator calls it) can’t/won’t happen, playoff advocates tend to resort to petty namecalling (i.e. if it’s good enough for grandpa it must be good enough for you/you’re stuck in the 1950s/et al). I just don’t want to see the most unique and captivating regular season of all sports get ruined because people feel like “fairness” should trump “bestness”. In many playoff situations the team holding the trophy at the end of the tournament wasn’t the best team for the entire season. They were just better on four days.

    • “So far nobody, not even the ones who’ve approached this issue with as much thought as Doc Saturday, has made a remotely convincing case this won’t/can’t happen.” That’s because it will absolutely happen, and everybody knows it. I hate that this is the case, but it is.

      I’ve always thought that either a Plus One or a 16-team, all-conference-champs-and-a-few-others playoff is the way to go. In the middle, the selection criteria get too mushy. A 16-teamer would open the door to the dreaded 3-loss champion, but it would also add importance back to conference titles, which I like. Regardless, the problem isn’t how either type of playoff would take play out at the beginning … it’s that, 10 years later, the Plus One would be a Plus Three, and the 16-teamer would be a 24-teamer.

      • Puffdawg

        The only objective way to select team for the playoffs is to have conference champs only. However, in my opinion, that type of system STILL would not determine the best overall team for the year because of the imbalance of power of conferences. A team like Boise, who has coasted all year, really only needs to get lucky and beat one SEC team as opposed to 8 or nine. Or worse, a team like VT, who already lost to Boise AND a 1-AA school, runs the table in the ACC (what an indictment on that league!) and has another shot at Boise for all the marbles. Meanwhile, (insert SEC champ here), only needs one off game in the tournament and their impressive run in the best league in CFB is shot.

    • Playoff Supporter

      The reason you haven’t been convinced that an expanded playoff wouldn’t be on the horizon is because you’re not begging the question like the rest of us.

      Follow my logic.
      1. CFB playoffs will always stay small.
      2. Given #1, we don’t have to worry about expanded playoffs.

      It’s that easy! Why can’t you anti-playoffs grumps just get on board?

    • Connor

      I think this is dead on. The expansion will be all about the money, but it’ll be sold as an effort to redress the obvious grievences that will arise in any system that tries to design a “fair” playoff from a field of 120 teams that all only play 12 games. If the NCAA basketball field was 16 teams, nobody with any real beef would be left out. It’s just so easy to expand, once you’ve gotten to a certain point. They added 4 teams to the basketball postseason over the last few years and it’s a shrug of the shoulder for the average fan. I don’t know how you can say it’s a great postseason if you’re indifferent to increasing the size. That just means it’s already too big for anyone to care.

  3. heyberto

    My big issues is the inherent conflict between giving Conference Champions automatic bids, while holding on to the rankings as a basis as well. Rely on one or the other as the basis for a playoff, and I think I’d prefer the rankings. If we do go to a playoff, I want the best teams, not the ones who get to and manage to win a conference championship, when they drop key games in their non conference slate (while they didn’t win the championship, see Tennessee in 2007).

  4. dean

    Wait, I thought you were anti-playoffs. :-)

  5. Mayor of Dawgtown

    The true “Plus-One” game is the ticket. Use the BCS poll. #1 plays #4 in the Sugar. #2 plays #3 in the Fiesta. Both games are on new Year’s day. One week later the 2 winners play each other in the BCSNC game.

    • I always have believed that the best team in the nation was one of the top 4 vote getters at the end of the season ( not the top 2 but the top 4). Any more than a 4 team playoff is redundant & unnecessary.
      I actually like the bowl sysyem but I would like to see the plus 1 format added. The MNC system we now have is seriously flawed but a 4 team playoff would settle the issue for me.

  6. Nate

    The format I’ve always favored is similar to the one the Senator referenced at the end of this post. The only difference is that I would use the BCS rankings to determine the top 4 conference champs, then add 4 at large teams also based on BCS rankings. I don’t especially care about bowl tie-ins, but I suppose you could use the BCS bowls as semi-finals. Maybe the first round on campus and the second round at the bowls, I don’t know. I really don’t have too much of a problem with the system we have now. I don’t think anyone could argue the last 4 or 5 MNCs we’ve had haven’t been the legitimate number 1 team in the country.

    • Macallanlover

      Eight team playoff is the sweet-spot. Less is too exclusive to satisfy major contingencies; more is both unnecessary, and logistically problematic. Different ways to arrive at the eight, but the timing/locales in your post is what I think would work best (4 games at stadiums of highest rated teams in mid-December, semi-finals at BCS sites, and finals mid-January in a centrally located dome. Home field advantage for the Top 4 would insure everyone fights to the end.