A horse of a different color

Michael Elkon asks a question that I’ve asked in one form or fashion many times:

How exactly does one sell the four-month college basketball regular season when the Final Four is comprised of: (1) the second-place team in the SEC East that went 2-6 on the road in KenPom’s sixth-placed conference; (2) the ninth-place team in the Big East that lost seven of its last 11 games (so much for that theory that you can watch games in February and figure out which teams are peaking); (3) a team that was at one point 6-5 in the Horizon League; and (4) the fourth-place team in the Colonial Athletic Association that finished on a four-game losing streak in that mighty conference?

The answer is that the best sale you can make is that it’s a delivery system for a postseason that many people are crazy about.  And I’m okay with that.  In fact, I’m beginning to think that it’s an appropriate arrangement for a sport that for a number of reasons enjoys a far greater degree of parity than others.

That’s why Elkon is right to reject March Madness as a template for college football.  There’s no one-and-done rule in football.  Football is a game where depth separates quality teams far more than it does in basketball.  The level of competitive balance between the two sports simply isn’t comparable.

If you want irony, check out this explanation for the rise of mid-majors in the basketball tourney:

… Mid-major teams are used to playing with one-and-done pressure as early as January and February, understanding that a stumble can kill their at-large tournament hope. If a Big East team has a major slump — like, say, Villanova — they know they’ll still make the tournament regardless.

“I think VCU and Butler played with a lot of pressure in January and February,” Stevens said.

“When you get into the tournament, that pressure may flip a little bit. We’re playing loose. We’re playing for the first time, in a lot of ways, in a couple months where you’ve already been playing, basically where you feel like you can’t lose. So you’re already used to that. The NCAA Tournament is a welcome.”

That’s the college football regular season experience, isn’t it?  Except it’s not just mid-major schools which face that pressure; it’s every single one from the SEC on down.

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22 Comments

Filed under BCS/Playoffs

22 responses to “A horse of a different color

  1. eethomaswfnc

    Senator, you hit the nail on the head on why an extended play-off is bad for college football. Why take the best regular season in sports and replace it with a 4-week period that will eventually kill the interest in the previous 14 weeks?

  2. D.N. Nation

    The answer is that the best sale you can make is that it’s a delivery system for a postseason that many people are crazy about. And I’m okay with that.

    I’m glad you added that last sentence. I don’t think the March Madness template works for college football at all, but that doesn’t mean this tournament hasn’t been terrific television.

    Also, the NCAA tournament should be a warning sign for those who think a football playoff will make everyone happy: ESPN almost imploded in commentator rage when VCU and UAB made the tournament over, say, Alabama and Colorado. So if you think there won’t be a gnashing of teeth over 8th vs. 9th in college football, just you wait.

    • Regular Guy

      Yep, you’re exactly right, which is why it would be extended to 12 teams eventually…..then so much uproar about 12/13 would lead to a 16 team field, which would grow to 24, which would grow to 32……

      I would buy into a 12 team playoff……..the 6 BCS Conf winners (unless they’re ranked outside the top 17 or so, not sure exactly where I’d draw that line, but there’d have to be a ranking cutoff so you don’t end up with last year’s ACC champion in the playoff over other far more deserving teams. I think 15 is too high of a ranking cutoff, but I think 20 is too low.), then the other 6 at large bids would just be the next 6 highest BCS ranked teams. So it would basically be NFL style, the top 4 teams get first round byes (so the top teams still have something to play for the last week of the regular season), then go from there. I would buy into this proposal if it could somehow be sent down as an official decree that under no circumstances would the field ever grow past 12 teams. But there’s no way that would ever happen, which is why I just can’t buy into a playoff.

  3. D.N. Nation

    Also, I’m not entirely sure I’m on board with the “mid-majors face more pressure in the regular season” argument, seeing how VCU lost to NorthEASTERN and Georgia STATE in the regular season, finished fourth in the CAA regular season standings (but made the CAA finals), and still made the NCAA tournament. And is still playing. A hot conference tournament week can erase a lot of things from the months prior.

    IMO, VCU and Butler made the Final Four because they are well-coached, have solid schemes, and play their tails off…contrasted with the “eh, this great recruiting class will surely mean an automatic win” style of Bill Self/Billy Donovan.

  4. GShock

    Can you at least admit that you are looking at a pretty small sample size for supporting your argument?

    I’m not here arguing for a college football playoff similar to March Madness; however, taking this year’s aberration of a tournament and acting like it’s the norm is unfair. There have been plenty of tournaments in the last few years where it’s mostly 1′s and 2′s in the Final Four.

    And just because you are a low seed – it doesn’t necessary make your victory any less meaningful. How do you classify a tournament run like Kentucky’s, who played in what I think was an underrated conference (in the harder division) and had a reasonable OOC schedule but stumbled a few times along the way, a fluke. The team is clearly peaking in the tournament and was better than Ohio State and UNC. I equate this situation to one where an untested team (say Ohio State in football) is undefeated or has one loss and gets hammered by an experienced team out of the SEC.

    It gets back to the biggest issue with the BCS vs. Playoff – is the champion supposed to be the team with the best season or should it be the best team at the end of the season who can get the job done in pressure situations. I prefer the second of those two systems (i.e. USC or UGA at the end of 2007 vs. Ohio State / LSU / all of the pretenders that last week of the season).

    • D.N. Nation

      There have been plenty of tournaments in the last few years where it’s mostly 1′s and 2′s in the Final Four.

      To back this up, this is the first ever Final Four without a 1 or a 2 seed, and only the third ever without a 1.

      On the other hand, there’s only been one all-1 Final Four.

    • You don’t think there’s more parity in college basketball than there is in D-1 football?

      • GShock

        I think that’s clearly the case – which is a major reason why higher seeds are often beat by lower seeds. I don’t understand how that fits into the argument here?

        You can’t have it both ways by acting like this tournament is a sham based on lower seeds making it to the championship and then talk about the sport’s parity. The parity makes the seeds less meaningful.

        I think it’s clear that when a sport has more parity – there is a better justification for a larger playoff. I don’t deny this. And I concede that parity is stronger in basketball – meaning it should be a smaller format.

        My major point is that this tournament was / is legit and regular season matters in college basketball to those that are actual fans of it. Butler was able to work on the kinks after their losing streak and are a better team for it. The Green Bay Packers were able to work through their issues and get their players healthy – Super Bowl is their prize. These Championships are more legit because you have the time to work out your problems but at the same time UGA’s basketball games were packed throughout the season irregardless of the Tournament (i.e. it didn’t dilute the regular season to have the Tourney bid at the end).

        • GShock

          I meant to say:

          I think it’s clear that when a sport has more parity – there is a better justification for a larger playoff. I don’t deny this. And I concede that parity is stronger in basketball – meaning it should be a larger format.

        • You can’t have it both ways by acting like this tournament is a sham based on lower seeds making it to the championship and then talk about the sport’s parity.

          I’m not saying the tournament is a sham. Quite the opposite – I’m coming to the conclusion that with as much parity in basketball as we’re seeing, a larger format is appropriate.

          That’s not the case with football, though.

          • Mayor of Dawgtown

            While I appreciate the logic behind what you are saying Senator, nevertheless the application seems unfair. Let’s take Duke, for example.They play all season, have the best record in the best BB conference in America and what does it get them? A ticket to a “playoff” as one of 65 teams. Sure they get seeded so that in the first round they play a walkover team but after that they have to play good team after good team. Then look what happened–they got upset. That is why the 4 best teams never make it to the Final Four. The upset factor is too great when you play that many games in a single elimination format. What happened this year took it to the absurd level. The tournament should have 16 teams, max. FWIW I agree with you that any football playoff should have fewer teams than BB–8 max, preferably 4 (Plus-One Game format).

  5. Macallanlover

    I think everyone I have ever spoken with is against an “extended playoff” so why keep beating that drum? Regular season should count for something, that isn’t the issue either. It is all about finding the balance, and that is very doable.
    Sure, there are extremists on each end of the discussion, but like both political parties in this country, they frame what the majority want while adding only confusion and misinformation.

    • I think everyone I have ever spoken with is against an “extended playoff” so why keep beating that drum?

      I don’t know who you’ve spoken with, but unless they’re coaches, network suits and/or school presidents, their opinions don’t count for much.

      My feeling from what I see on the ‘Net, read in the papers and hear on TV/radio is that the largest bloc of folks who want a playoff favor one that’s 12-16 schools in size. I don’t think the decision makers have any interest in a postseason format that large, but I have no doubt if one were adopted, it wouldn’t stay at that level for too long.

      • Macallanlover

        True, I don’t have dialogues with the decision makers. Also true that many of the fans do favor a larger number of teams in the playoff than I would ever support. But I also don’t feel “average fans” have the wisdom to understand the pure logistics of a 12-16 team playoff and why that simply will not work without a complete overhaul of the CFB structure/season. It would have to “dictated” by a group who recognizes 12 is too many, and 2-4 isn’t enough to satisfy the objective. That may sound “elitist”, but it is simply true if we ever want to get this solved. I prefer that to just throwing up our hands and saying “let’s just leave what is unsatisfactory to most alone” rather than attacking the issue and finding a solution. (Four would be enough, imo, if we had gotten the four 16 team Super Conference structure we came close to last summer. That is why I still favor 8 as the optimal number.)

        My point was, using college basketball is not a fair example because that would not only be “mission impossible”, it is only favored by the extreme fringe and takes the discussion to absurd levels. That is what I mean when I say no one that I talk with. Are there folks who say 16, 32, or more teams? Yes, and many people believe the moon landing was staged in Arizona, and OJ was innocent too.

        • Mac, believe me, if yours was the sole point of view re: D-1 football playoff, I wouldn’t post so much about it. ;)

          • Macallanlover

            Of course not, I don’t think that highly of myself. You do realize my replies are only to represent what I consider a rational playoff point of view in the face of insulting comments that playoff proponents are all fools who wish to denigrate the product, not improve it. Lord knows there are enough posters on this site willing to tear into any playoff plan.

            I have never thought this site was populated by the “average” CFB fan, but I must confess I am very surprised, and disappointed, at the mix on this issue. Almost forces me to respond simply to refute the over statements I see. Yes, I know many of these are picked up from dimwits on other blogs/articles. This particular story is an example, the linkage of a CFB playoff to March madness is not really a serious idea at the implementation level; only in that a season should have a definitive conclusion.

            • This particular story is an example, the linkage of a CFB playoff to March madness is not really a serious idea at the implementation level…

              It may not be serious, but it sure is commonplace.

              • Macallanlover

                I think because it is the most visible, well known of the NCAA playoff competitions. Truthfullly, I cannot think of another sport that compares to CFB in the necessary time between games, and logistical complexity of moving tens of thousands fans to distant venues. I feel is used for illustrative purposes only, but I am sure a few do support such an idea simply because of the inclusiveness mentality. After all, many support a trophy for each team that competes in children sports and a diploma for every student in HS.

      • 69Dawg

        +1 Dan Patrick is saying that the new TV format of broadcasting all of the games will put pressure on the NCAA to expand the tournament even to 96 teams to get more games for the expanded coverage and to by extension more MONEY. Money talks and the TV networks have it.

  6. I doubt whether a 96 team tournament will create significant increase in viewership especially if smaller markets gets involved. TV will likely lose some money eventually. Even at the current BCS form, Orange bowl losses money.

  7. Cojones

    Dang! Senator, when I read your title for this article I thought it was about new uniforms for Boise St.!