Growing the playoff

Year2 explains why the college basketball postseason model isn’t ideal for D-1 football.

… Football goes by a principle of scarcity. It is the only sport that truly does, and it has no choice given the brutality of it. College football in particular works this way, given that it has the shortest regular season and postseason tournament of the major American sports. Yes, you read that right. College football has a tournament; it’s just a two-team tournament.

College basketball works on a principle of abundance. The marginal value of any one regular season game, rivalries and the like aside, is much lower than the value of a college football regular season game. The sport makes up for that lower value in volume.

The trick is knowing whether you are operating from scarcity or abundance and playing to the strength of the format. If you’re going to mix the two, you want to have abundance in the regular season and scarcity in the postseason. The last thing you want is scarcity in the regular season and abundance in the postseason tournament, because it drops the value of the regular season games considerably.

Now I want to believe he’s on to something there, but then he goes on with this:

… That’s the main, and supremely valid, concern of those who are against expanding college football’s tournament beyond two teams. Can you do it without sacrificing scarcity?

Of course you can. Opening it up to a four-team playoff does the trick, and I could be persuaded to go up to about 10 teams like with Matt Hinton’s playoff plan. I would absolutely be against a 16-team monstrosity involving the champions of all 11 conferences. The trick is making sure that playoff creep doesn’t happen and expand the field too far, but if you can keep a playoff at two teams indefinitely, you can keep it at whatever number you want indefinitely.

And that’s where he loses me.  The reason D-1 football’s playoff has been locked in as it has at two is because the Delanys and Slives of the college football world are terrified about what might happen to the cash flow they control from the regular season in the wake of an expanded postseason.  Now I happen to agree with Year2 that a plus one format of some sort isn’t likely to threaten that, but I admit that’s an easy concession to make from someone who isn’t responsible for keeping the money flowing.

However, I don’t think the tipping point is nearly as far out as he believes it is.  Any postseason format which combines automatic berths for conference champs with entry based on subjective rankings opens itself up to regular complaints about deserving teams (or deserving conferences) being passed over with the inevitable pressure to expand to accommodate the whiners.

It’s worth remembering two things here.  First, despite the scarcity talk, don’t forget that D-1 football is the outlier here.  It’s the only game in town without a large playoff.  (College football’s lower divisions all have them.)  Not coincidently, D-1 football also happens to be the only game in town which hasn’t expanded its playoff.

Second, if you look at how the college basketball tourney has expanded, the pressure hasn’t come from the mid-majors.  It’s come from the big conferences which push for ways to get more of their members in the postseason.  That’s how you get eleven schools from Jim Boeheim’s conference playing in March.

I’m not smart enough to know exactly where the tipping point is.  But I am smart enough to appreciate that the same ruthless bastards who run college football are also the ones who have pushed the basketball tourney’s growth.  If they’re resistant to an enlarged D-1 football playoff, what does that tell you?

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13 Comments

Filed under BCS/Playoffs

13 responses to “Growing the playoff

  1. crapsandwich

    Great Editorial Senator. Yes te same B’s will be pushing for an expanded field immediately.

  2. Technically, D-1 football does have a playoff, which has expanded from 8 to 16 to 20.

    • It does, but I thought it was just 2.

      • Macallanlover

        It is a “sort of” playoff of two, but it is a bastard child arrived at by illegitimate actions. Thus, it produces a faux champion that has no acceptable birth certificate. The only thing it has produced at this point is a clear indication that any national title has to pass through the SEC champ.

        Year 2 is right, it can afford to be expanded slightly, it isn’t that complicated. Find the tipping point that is inclusive enough to satisfy the legit complaints and doesn’t endanger the regular season, then draw a firm line (perhaps require a 3/4 vote from all D1 schools to make any changes. Like Year 2 I think 16 is totally unacceptable, I can’t even see the 10 team field ever being necessary.

  3. Lawrence

    Senator:

    I really enjoy your posts about the playoffs.

    Don’t forget about why so many people love the basketball tournament: fairness. It’s an obsession of the media, higher education folks, and some fans. In their view, the tournament is fair because all the teams have an equal shot of winning as opposed to the unfairness of the BCS.

    It’s an interesting argument. The BCS is unfair because unqualified voters select two teams to play for the title. The tournament is fair because an unqualified selection committee picks 34 at-large teams and accordingly seeds the field.

    Now, is pod-seeding fair? Pod-seeding puts teams like Florida (I’m a Florida alumnus) in Tampa to sell more tickets. Is it fair to Duke, the co-champion of the ACC and the ACC tournament winner to be seeded out West in Anaheim? Is it fair to a champion of a mid-major league to be seeded lower than a mediocre team from a BCS conference?

    Now if the NCAA runs a football playoff, how fair can they make it? Is a plus-1 fair? Picking two teams for the BCS is already contentious enough, so why would asking the same voters to select two more teams be better? Ok, an 8 team playoff consisting of the six league champions and two at large teams? Just wait for when a 7-5 Big East champion is in but a 2007 UGA team gets left out. Is that fair? I use UGA in 2007 because that team while white hot at the end of the year wasn’t even a division champ. Some power league team will get left out and to be “fair” a playoff will have to go to 12 or 16.

    Like you Senator, that’s my fear. I equally invest my time and money to Gator football and basketball. The two seasons aren’t even close when it comes to value and enjoyment. I love Gator basketball. I passionately love Gator football and college football. The tensions on Saturdays are the best. I wish that college basketball would eliminate at-large bids. The tournament should consist of the regular season champions. But the conference tournaments are easy money and will never go away. The regular season winners could get a bye in the tournament. The other teams in the league could play in a tournament for the other bid. Imagine if Duke-UNC wasn’t for seeding, but for a tournament bid. That’s the difference between basketball and football. When we play you guys in Jacksonville, the winner knocks out the loser for the SEC East. Or Ohio St.-Michigan for the Rose Bowl. What was better? Boise-Nevada this year or the Final 4? How about the Iron Bowl the last two years? Both Bama and Auburn staged great comebacks to keep their title hopes alive. I was a freshman at Florida when we beat FSU in 1997 and knocked them out of the national title hunt. That’s still more satisfying 14 years later than winning back to back titles in basketball. That’s why the regular season is so important in college football and why so many of us fear the dilution of the regular season with an extended playoff.

    I really enjoy the blog despite the UGA affiliation :). Keep up the good work! You should organize a BYOC (bring your own cocktail party) in Jacksonville (another issue we are of like mind). There a lot of us out there that are quite happy with college football warts and all.

    • I equally invest my time and money to Gator football and basketball. The two seasons aren’t even close when it comes to value and enjoyment. I love Gator basketball. I passionately love Gator football and college football. The tensions on Saturdays are the best.

      There’s nothing about college football playoff proponents that puzzles me more than their willingness to ignore this. The number of must see regular season basketball games has dwindled steadily over the last three decades – as the tourney has expanded – to the point where you can count a season’s worth on one hand. Hell, there are weeks in the football regular season where there are more must see games than that.

      As somebody who once was as passionate about college basketball as football (maybe more so, given that I based my college choice in part on wanting to watch ACC basketball up close), that saddens me. I don’t want to see football go down the same path.

      Thanks very much for the blog praise.

    • Russ

      Excellent post. And from a Gator, at that. Who’d a thunk it?
      ;)

  4. ConnGator

    I, too, appreciate the posts against a playoff. Anything other than a +1 would be horrible. And the chance that a +1 could go to 8 teams makes me stand against even a +1.

  5. Cojones

    What’s wrong about considering 8 teams AFTER the major handful of bowl games to be played by Jan 2 ? The NC game would then be played before Feb. . Seed the 8 and the NC team will rise to the top. Increase the major BCS bowls to 5. Continue to let one major bowl be between the top two schools with eligibility for the top 8 possibly remaining for the loser(or not). I don’t think it dilutes the importance of what is now the NC game. It could then be used for seeding. Sorta like having your cake and….. .

    While care would have to be exercised for selecting the next 3 teams from the other bowl winners, it at least provides a foundation that can more objectively select teams. The contracts with the Capitol One, Outback, Peach, etc. would be reviewed as to overweighting toward SEC, Big 10, etc. . Conference championship games would be excluded from consideration if all conferences don’t play a championship game. That way the loser doesn’t pay a big conference penalty for being more competitive(i.e., the top teams for the SEC could both easily be ranked in the top10. The loser of that game should still be in consideration.)

    • What’s wrong about considering 8 teams AFTER the major handful of bowl games to be played by Jan 2 ?

      Because 8 would beget 16 would beget 32 would beget 64, so on and so forth. Generally speaking, I think most of us here aren’t against the idea of a limited playoff. The problem is that the people that would be entrusted to set up such a system are the same idiots that have given us the bastardization that is now the basketball tournament. Do you really trust those folks to prevent playoff creep from happening?

      To compare apples to apples, keep in mind that the FCS (formerly D1-AA) playoffs began in 1978 as a four team playoff, expanded to eight in 1981, to 12 in 1982, to 16 in 1986, and finally to 20 last year. I’m willing to deal with all the bitching and arguing about the “fairness” of the bowl system if it prevents 20 teams from playing in a tournament where half of them are at-large bids in 30 years.

      • Do you really trust those folks to prevent playoff creep from happening?

        How can we, when they don’t trust themselves.

      • Macallanlover

        With that level of thinking we should have stopped the Henry Ford and the Wright Brothers because some fools would abuse their inventions. Why didn’t we stop little Tommy Edison after seeing electricity kill some people. Or the people who take the whole bottle of aspirin when a few alleviated the pain just fine. Deal with the abuse, don’t let it fear of progress stop us from improving life.

        The “playoff expansion” scare tactics are as bad as the “regular season is doomed” fanatics. One assumes we are hopelessly self-destructive, the other is actually an erroneous argument all together. Year2’s position recognizes the need for a playoff, and accepts the responsibility that it doesn’t take a lot of teams to provide one ane satisfy all the concerns.

        • Macallanlover

          Clarification, the 8 after the bowls is not an option I am supportive of, just saying expansion is necessary and….controllable.