A playoff, for the wrong reason

Joe Posnanski is a college football playoff proponent.  And while I think he’s not completely right about the last BCS title game, I do think he’s on to something here:

… Many people around America legitimately did not care. The game drew its lowest ratings in a few years. Bowl games in general drew significantly lower ratings — the lowest since the BCS began…

… What happened after the game? The predictable. College football people began to panic. Bad ratings? Bad game? No hype? We all know 2011 was a terrible year for college football for many reasons — suddenly college football does not seem quite as invulnerable. And voila, like magic, Big 10 Commission Jim Delany, who had widely been viewed as a leader of the anti-playoff forces, said that he wanted to have have the playoff “conversation.” NCAA President Mark Emmert came out in favor of a four-team playoff. Reports emerged saying there is now “momentum” for a playoff.

I think a four-team playoff is inevitable at this point.  They’re just debating the details.  And I do agree it’s a reaction because some panic has set in over the ratings drop.  What I differ with Posnanski about is the root cause.  He thinks the rematch, combined with it being a bad game, is to blame.  But BCS title games tend to be lopsided affairs.  That hasn’t mattered too much, until now.  That’s because moving college football’s showcase game to pay TV is more to blame for the numbers falling.

And that’s not going away with a playoff.  Which gives Posnanski’s prediction an air of inevitability.

Yes, there will be a playoff. It will begin as a four-team playoff. Get ready for it — and get ready for the people in charge insisting that it will always be a four-team playoff (a Football Final Four, if you will). Yes, they will say that four teams is the perfect number, and that any more than four would be unseemly, poisonous to the academic institutions, unfair to the players and all those other things they have been saying the last few years about NO playoff.

It will stay a four-team playoff right up to the point that the ratings drop, and the hype drops, the games are lousy and people stop caring. Then it could become an eight-team playoff. A 16-team playoff. And so on. In the real world, the story always ends with “and so on.”

I have this sinking feeling that the war is over.  And I got my ass kicked.

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39 Comments

Filed under BCS/Playoffs, ESPN Is The Devil

39 responses to “A playoff, for the wrong reason

  1. TennesseeDawg

    The game drew lower ratings because of a number of reasons: a rematch game between conference foes which hurts ratings outside the southern states, it was on pay tv, and frankly they wait too damn long to play the game by ending the season on 1/9. There can only be so much hype until people get tired of hearing it.

      • gastr1

        Exactly, plus the original match was not exactly the kind of football that excites hearts and minds (for better or worse).

    • mp

      I lay a lot of blame on the date relative to the NFL playoffs. The Broncos/Steelers game was the night before, and that was all ESPN (on all its platforms) could talk about on Monday. That doesn’t help get the casual viewer interested.

  2. JasonC

    Wonder how Posnanski feels about 9-7 NYG beating 15-1 GB and if the best teams will actually be in the Super Bowl.

    • Biggus Rickus

      The sad thing is the Giants are actually good enough to win the Super Bowl when Manning plays well. But expanded playoffs won’t diminish the regular season because we had a rematch this year, or so I’ve been told.

    • CoachSpurlock

      There in lies the problem I have with the “diminish the regular season” argument. The system as it exists now does not account for teams getting better (like the Giants) or getting worse (like Green Bay). Playoff systems allow for teams to progress (2010 Green Bay Packers) or regress (2010 Atlanta Falcons). Do you think ANYONE wanted a piece of the Dawgs at the end of 2007 after a slow start? If we had a playoff then, we very well could have been National Champions. I’ve also never liked the idea that one single hiccup virtually knocks you out NC contention. I don’t understand why playoffs exist and are expected in every other sport imaginable, except the highest level of college football.

      • I don’t understand why playoffs exist and are expected in every other sport imaginable, except the highest level of college football.

        Because the major schools haven’t needed the money.

        • Darrron Rovelll

          And they do not want to cede control of the college football post-season to the full membership of the NCAA. Notice the language that is being used “plus one” vs playoff.

          If they automatically move to a full blown playoff there will be a full scale revolt & power/money grab amongst the rank and file membership of the NCAA.

          My guess is that the BCS conferences believe that they can get a “plus one” up and running without to much fuss. It will allow to continue to control the purse strings in college football without disrupting the other revenue generator – the Men’s basketball tournament.

  3. Biggus Rickus

    I wanted to watch it but couldn’t because of the ESPN thing. I’m still amazed ABC didn’t air it. As for playoffs, I’ve always thought they were inevitable. I didn’t expect it to happen so quickly though. I was hoping we could at least get to the ’20s before the plus one kicked in, pushing the inevitable expansion down the road further.

  4. Hogbody Spradlin

    I speculate that bowl ratings were down generally because we’ve hit saturation. If so, then rational economics would suggest some contraction by losing some of the minor bowls.

    I imagine the BCSCG ratings were down because 2 teams from the same TV market played, and a lot of college football fans elsewhere tuned out.

    The older I get the stupider I get, but if I’m even half right, the proposed solution to saturation seems to be more saturation, and they’re drawing the wrong conclusions from the championship game ratings.

  5. Spence

    Perhaps the ratings sucked because every media outlet in America spent a month bashing how lame the game was going to be before it was even announced.

  6. It’ll stay at 4, until other conferences get upset they’re being left out. Then it’ll go to 8 to guarantee at least one of every conference gets their cut to bring home to daddy.

    And if it’s 4, they have to exclude any conference getting 3, if not getting 2, so that the pie can be spread around. I’d say top 3 conference champion teams, +1 wild card (guaranteed to be Notre Dame if they’re top 5).

  7. Scorpio Jones, III

    I understand the feeling Senator, there is no rational reason for any of this, other than making a lame attempt to keep the money flowing.

    When newspaper profits began to fall (from avg. 40 percent to like 34 percent) owners began to panic, cut staff and dilute the product in order to “right the ship”….we all know how that worked out.

    For the playoff proponents this appears to be a win, for the saner of us it feels like something is slipping away…and it is.

    I fear college football is the next newspaper success story.

  8. DawgGoneIt

    I didn’t watch and could have cared less. I already knew an SEC team would win and neither team was my team. ESPN got the game they wanted. They had a hardon for the rematch since the first game. They could have talked bammer out of the game if they had wanted. So the ratings were bad? Cry me a river and I’ll float on down to the bayou.

  9. Connor

    I’m resigned to it myself at this point. It’ll be a badly managed, over-exposed, subjective disaster that no one is happy with it. That’s guaranteed when the field is only 4. That won’t bother me as much as the cries from the playoff proponents that the only solution at that point is to expand.
    It reminds me of a Simpson’s episode when Homer and co. find themselves at the bottom of a well they’ve dug with no means of getting out. The solution? “We’ll dig our way out!” Mark Emmert will be Chief Wiggum reminding us “No, no, dig UP, stupid.”
    You fought the good fight, Senator. In the end you’ll be right, but no one will admit it because for most the flaw in the playoffs will ever be the execution, not the idea. It we just expand it a little more…

    • Always Someone Else's Fault

      Playoffs are a drug. Always need a little more until it’s clear that the system has ODed.

  10. Always Someone Else's Fault

    Show me a dip in regular season ratings, or a strong correlation between post-season ratings in Y1 to regular season ratings in Y2, and perhaps I could buy JP’s argument. But as it stands, he’s arguing that some conference commissioners, with a cumulative media package that generates about $22 mill per school, are panicked over some bowl numbers. Specifically, he’s suggesting that Delany’s and Scott’s constituencies (P12 and B1g Presidents) have changed their minds about a Plus 1 over the ratings/buzz of an SEC Rematch NC game.

    The ratings/buzz had nothing to do with it. ESPN/Fox are promising much bigger bowl pay-outs for a Plus 1. Simple as that.

    • That promise has been there before.

      • Always Someone Else's Fault

        I think the promise escalated with realignment, giving ESPN/Fox more assurance of sexy match-ups. And I think the premise plus promise became more attractive to the fence-sitters when a majority of human voters picked Alabama #2 over contenders from the B12 and P12. And I think once Delany realized he was the last one standing, he would have more influence over post-season discussions as an insider rather than lonesome nay-sayer.

        I think those 3 reasons rank far and away more significantly than ratings/buzz for the MNC game or the consortium of BCS bowls for 2011.

        We agree that the system will continue to drift off course as it continues to let media executives chart the course with dollar signs. Media executives make Wall Street bankers look patient. A more myopic business cannot be found.

  11. Dante

    I didn’t care about the national title game. I thought I did but when it came time to watch the game, I had forgotten it was on. I FORGOT a college football game was on. That’s how much I really didn’t give a shit.

    As far as the general BCS drop in ratings go, maybe they should first look at the product.

    -Rose and Fiesta looked same as it ever was.
    -The Sugar Bowl had not an SEC team in sight. The Sugar Bowl means a lot more to an SEC school than anyone else. To Michigan and VT, it was a high stature BCS Bowl but doesn’t have the same gravitas as Michigan playing in the Rose or VT playing in the Orange.
    -The 2008 Sugar Bowl lost its spot as the biggest joke in the history of college football this year when #23 played #15 in the Orange Bowl. Clemson got in by kicking VT in the nuts. WVU got in by being the only member of the Big East who fielded a football team in 2011. How did its ratings compare against bowls with similarly ranked teams? I’d wager it was slightly above par with those.
    -The national championship game was a rematch of two teams that were not only in the same conference but also in the same division. If you missed it, don’t worry. You’ll see it again next year… and the next… and the next…

  12. I don’t understand the outcry of a 9-7 NY Giant team beating a 15- GB team…at their house…in the playoffs….doesn’t matter the records. On that day, NY was the better team. GB didn’t rise up to the challenge.

    Also, ESPN isn’t really pay TV anymore. Any satellite TV package or cable package includes basic ESPN. The ratings are down because the match-ups suck. I watched the title game only. And our game of course.

    • Also, ESPN isn’t really pay TV anymore. Any satellite TV package or cable package includes basic ESPN.

      Who gets satellite or cable TV for free?

      • Didn’t say that. Everybody pays for TV service, even your local channels, whether it be cable or satellite. I have DirecTV and just looked it up. The cheapest package you can get includes ESPN. . I also believe that Charter and Comcast have ESPN on their cheapest packages according to friends. How many people actually have rabbit ears on their TVs anymore anyway? Therefore, if you are getting TV service, you are getting ESPN. Not for free, but you are paying for ALL channels.

        • But you didn’t have to pay for ABC if you didn’t want to. That’s free TV.

          • You are wrong. Yes you do have to pay for ABC,NBC and FOX and CBS.. Unless you have an antenna on your house and receive fuzzy channels 2,5,,11 and 17, sometimes 69 and 46 if the weather is okay, then you are paying for TV service. Face it, how many people in the good all USA aren’t paying for TV service, whether, Charter,Comcast or some other local cable company, or DirecTV or Dish Network or ATT&T uverse. I would love to know the percentage of it. Like I said, DirecTV’s CHEAPEST package includes local channels and ESPN& ESPN 2. Therefore, you are paying for ABC.

            • If you have a digital box for your TV (the government gave those away a few years ago, remember?), you don’t need an antenna or cable. That’s what my brother has. It works fine, unless he wants to watch ESPN. ;)

              • Sorry senator, I forgot about the free government handout. But I bet the percentages of those households like your brothers’ are miniscule. I stand by my statement that the huge majority of our country are paying for ABC also.

                • CoastToCoast

                  Apparently 39% of Americans aren’t cable subscribers. http://www.arbitron.com/downloads/cabletvstudy.pdf

                  Gov’t provided (COMMIES!) converter boxes are only required for older analog TVs anyhow – I built a custom HD antenna for my attic and it picks up a higher quality image than what you’re paying for from Comcast. I can stream ESPN and Netflix off a gaming system, too, so my cable/TV bill is only about $25/mo. For those inclined to put a little effort in, it saves a ton of money.

            • Dante

              Welcome to now. Channels generally aren’t fuzzy anymore since the digital conversion. On top of that, any channel you pick up over the air will be of higher quality than a satellite feed thanks to the compression DirecTV and Dish use to fit as many channels on them as possible. Also, cable companies are generally required as a condition of their municipal monopolies to offer a “basic” package that only includes broadcast channels. Last I had that, it was through Comcast and ran about $13/month. Similarly, though they don’t advertise it, Dish and DirecTV also have broadcast-only options. They generally won’t mention them until you call to cancel. So no, not everyone pays for TV and even those who do are not guaranteed to pick up ESPN. The number of people who aren’t paying for TV may be small that number is growing.

  13. Oh, and any 4 team playoff is going to have a rule that you MUST win your conference title to be in it. Guarantee that the PAC 12 , Big 12 and the Legends and Losers conference will mandate that. There is NO WAY they will allow the opportunity for an all SEC final. You can take that to the bank.

  14. Macallanlover

    The reason expansion will be inevitable (and I agree, there will be a 4 team (sort of) “playoff” very soon, is because it is a half assed solution. Better than what we have, but too exclusive and will have to be expanded. If they went to 8 immediately, there would be no legit criticism. Whining yes, but nothing that would be taken seriously by anyone other than a couple of fan bases who would feel entitled every year. Four is better than two, but don’t blame a change after that to “inevitable expansion”, it will be due to not solving the issue the first time.

    • Mac, your faith is touching. ;)

    • Connor

      8 won’t solve it any better. The criticism will be as “legitimate” as any now or any at 4. As long as there is a chance for a conference champion to be excluded while a non-champion is included there will be “legitimate” complaints.

      • Macallanlover

        Take the 5/6 conference champions and the 3/2 next highest teams regardless of size/geography and you have included every significant conference champion with room for the best mid-major/independent, and runners-up. Perfect? No, but it reduces the chatter to a point there is no significance. Cut it at 4, and the ACC, or Big 12, SEC, PAC 12, or Big 10/11/12 has to be eliminated and that opens up a geography that feels unrepresented. Why allow that?

  15. Pingback: Post #44: A Playoff, For Any Reason « sugarfalling

  16. There is a reason after years of talking about fixing college football, we are still talking about fixing college football.

    http://famillerlife.blogspot.com/2012/01/college-football-is-messed-up-sound.html

  17. Chopdawg

    Face it, fans–FBS college football is the only organized American sport that plays its exhibition season AFTER its regular season.