I’m beginning to wonder if one day we’re going to look back on this year’s BCS title game, aka The Rematch, as sort of college football’s Bush v. Gore equivalent. Check out this comment from Andy Staples:
This season’s Alabama-LSU national title game was the tipping point for the anti-playoff crowd. Several leagues were already leaning in the direction of a four-team playoff — strategically called a “plus-one” so dim bulbs won’t realize it’s actually a playoff — but when voters passed over Oklahoma State for an all-SEC rematch, the momentum finally swung in the direction of a bracketed tournament, even if it is a small one… [Emphasis added.]
If there is some form of SEC backlash involved in the playoff movement – and I’m not saying Staples is wrong to suggest there is – boy, are some people going to be disappointed when the SEC puts three schools in a plus-one tourney. (Unless, of course, they limit the number of schools one conference can place in a plus-one, which would speak volumes about Andy’s point.)
Then there’s this from playoff proponent Matt Hinton.
… For the sake of argument, let’s say Alabama beats LSU in another generally competitive game, by a margin of anywhere from one point to two touchdowns. In that case, the Crimson Tide will finish the year 12-1 with two or three wins over teams ranked in the final polls (give or take Penn State). LSU will finish 13-1 with four or five wins over teams ranked in the final polls (give or take West Virginia). They’d be be 1-1 against one another, with LSU’s win coming at Alabama. LSU will still be the SEC champion.
Under the circumstances, that’s a formula for a split championship, at worst. (The Coaches’ Poll is contractually obligated to vote the winner of the BCS title game No. 1; as LSU fans are well aware, the Associated Press poll is not.) That wouldn’t be the case if the rematch came as a result of the Tigers and Tide eliminating the competition head-to-head, on the field, leaving no questions and no alternatives. If there happens to be a rematch at the end of a playoff, it’s between two teams who have decisively earned it in a way that Alabama, in the current system, has not. [Emphasis added.]
Don’t you just love that? It’s not the rematch that’s bad; it’s the system which delivered it that’s bad. Nifty bit of circular reasoning there.
Of course the real problem this season isn’t that there’s a rematch in the title game. As Matt backhandedly acknowledges, the real problem is that there’s a debate over which team is the second best.
… That’s not to suggest that Oklahoma State or anyone else has earned a stronger claim on a second chance, either. But as long as that opportunity exists for some teams at the expense of others, the current system belongs in the scrapheap.
And because we can’t decide that issue (and because, let’s not forget, the schools want that TV/BCS money), the solution is to make the clear number one team in the country play more games so that we can all feel better about which school is the runner-up. We’re supposed to take an illogical situation and make it even more illogical.
You can see the slippery slope coming a mile away once this rationale is sanctioned, can’t you? This time it’s about #2 vs. #3. With the plus-one, the next debate will come when the argument is over which team is the nation’s fourth-best and the pressure will return to expand again to solve that debate (even if, say, it comes in a season à la 2005, when there was a clear consensus on the top two teams in the country). In other words, a playoff won’t solve this particular concern any better than what we’ve got now.
My point here isn’t to argue against a plus-one format (even though I expect most to question me on that). I’m okay with one that’s constructed with an eye towards being resistant to further expansion. There’s a convincing case to be made that there should be a better way to deal with the way the 2003 and 2004 seasons played out. But those were situations where the debate centered on more than two teams with a legitimate claim to being considered the best going into the postseason. Now we’re being urged to replace that standard with one that merely asks which teams deserve to show up in a postseason tourney, and that’s a very different animal.
Which means that if this season truly and finally provides the impetus for a D-1 playoff, either the movers and shakers embrace a new, flawed metric for inclusion, or (what I suspect) give it to us with a nudge and a wink that while it’s about what happened in 2011, the facts are unique and they promise with all their hearts that it will never, ever be a factor again. We can believe them, right?
Hey, if you can’t trust the folks who were pushing to expand the basketball tourney to 96 schools until they couldn’t find a broadcast partner willing to pay for the privilege, whom can you trust?