Unfortunately, deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.

Matt Hinton is a level-headed playoff proponent.  So, leave it to him to nail what it is about extended playoffs that bother people like me so much.  Here’s what he says in reaction to the 9-7 regular season NFL Giants playing in the Super Bowl:

… they’re the fourth Super Bowl team in the last five years that got there by “getting hot” on the heels of a meh regular season, following the ’07 Giants, ’08 Cardinals and ’10 Packers — all of which made it to the championship round after finishing 10-6 or worse, and two of which wound up hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. It’s not an anomaly. It happens all the time. And every time, the regular season means a little bit less.

So when playoff opponents in college football chant “Every Game Counts,” this is what they mean: The 9-7 New York Giants (or their campus equivalent, in the event of an FBS playoff) have not advanced a legitimate claim on a championship, did not deserve the opportunity they have now taken advantage of and threaten to cheapen the concept of a championship season. To which I have to say, as an advocate of level playing fields and the virtues of competition: They’re right. It’s thoroughly frustrating to glorify teams for “getting hot” at the expense of superior outfits that have consistently outperformed them on the whole, effectively overturning three or four months of results in three or four weeks.

In the NFL, that may be inevitable. In college football, it is not. And I also have to say, as a playoff advocate in the college game: It can’t happen here…

Ah, that’s good.  Real good.  But it’s far from the whole story.  And that’s my problem.

First off, Matt goes on to assert that “it would be impossible for the college football equivalent of a 9-7 NFL team to make the cut in any logistically feasible bracket…”, but that simply ain’t true.  Ask Dan Wetzel, or anybody else who thinks a 16-team playoff in which all conference champions are eligible is a swell idea, about that.

But there’s a more underlying reason at the root of my disagreement.  Here’s his vision of what a D-1 postseason should aspire to:

… In other words, the format should be (and would be) structured so that there is no doubt that the winner of the playoff is the most accomplished team as a result of winning the playoff. That means (as opposed to the BCS) setting the bar low enough to allow every deserving candidate a legitimate opportunity, but also (as opposed to the NFL, or the NCAA basketball tournament) setting it high enough that only the deserving candidates can clear it. It means being inclusive to generate a legitimate, competitive field, and exclusive enough to avoid diminishing returns.

Who can argue with any of that?  Allow Judge Chamberlain Haller to retort.

The people who call the shots don’t care what the Matt Hintons of the world care about.  (Note that Matt cites the NCAA basketball tourney as an example to avoid.)  They’re in it for one primary purpose, to maximize a revenue stream for themselves.  The current floundering over what to do with the BCS and the bowls in the wake of recent declining numbers is all about the money.  So is conference expansion.  (Just ask Larry Templeton.)

Nobody’s going into this exercise trying to make sure that the undeserving are kept out.  Oh sure, that may happen.  But if it does, it’ll be nothing more than a happy accident.  In the short run, in the medium run and in the long run, there are two goals:  buck up the postseason numbers and don’t do anything to harm the regular season revenues.  And if whatever course they set in the next few months doesn’t do the trick down the road, they’ll be back at tweaking the deal again.  And again.

These are the people who were prepared to tell you what a great thing a 96-team basketball tournament would be.  Some of them probably even believe it.  To think they have different instincts about college football is foolish.  They know what playoffs are designed to do.

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23 Comments

Filed under BCS/Playoffs

23 responses to “Unfortunately, deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.

  1. TomReagan

    It’s like the NBA guys say: there are two seasons. There’s the regular season, and the tournament. But, the tournament is all that matters now.

    Conference championships used to matter in college basketball. Not anymore. They are becoming increasingly more meaningless to many in college football except as an autamatic BCS ticket.

    Pennants used to be a big deal in baseball. Then MLB went to playoffs to determine who went to the World Series.

    Winning Daytona, Talladega, Darlington, Bristol, Atlanta, etc. used to have value in and of themselves in NASCAR. Now drivers will take a conservative approach to guarantee a top 10 finish than try to win the race, all because the focus is on the Cup now more than ever.

    I happen to like living in a world where the Georgia v. Auburn/Florida/Tech/Clemson/Tennesee games are major events on my calendar whether each team is undefeated or 1 and 5 and not just stepping stones to a race for the national championship. There is no doubt in my mind that the obsession with a ‘true national champion’ in college football threatens that.

  2. paul

    Though I have little love for the BCS, I do believe you have framed the conversation correctly. You know what they say, when a situation doesn’t make sense, follow the money. That’s where you’ll find your answer. Unfortunately, college football seems hell bent on becoming the NFL without the payroll. Sad. I quit watching the NFL precisely because it eventually became about nothing more than the money.

  3. Dawgaholic

    Well said Senator.

    Instead of the multiple regular season cupcakes, college football should have a couple of bracketbuster weekends for the top teams – like the mid-majors do in basketball. Each team gets a home and road game. Set the games in late winter early spring based on random selection among top teams from the prior year and top teams from the past 4 years that are not in the prior year group. If you do this, the computers are more accurate and the voters can actually see how multiple teams from various conferences match up. This would allow the current system to continue yet produce much more consensus.

  4. Chuck

    +1 for the clip of one of my favorite My Cousin Vinny moments.

  5. There is a flaw in Hinton’s logic. He stats that the NY Giants are undeserving because of their overall record, but they are the champions of their division. If we have a playoff where only the conference champions are included, then some teams who are “deserving” in the since that they are a champion of a league (ie Clemson) will be included. While teams who are not conference champions, like Alabama, cannot participate. The results of the BCS championship only serve to muddy the waters.

  6. Big Shock

    If a UGA team starts 0-2 and then gets hot and runs the table through the playoffs for a National Championship, is that such a bad thing? It seems to me that teams from the SEC are the biggest beneficiary of a playoff because we play more conference games against teams capable of beating us than the Bouise States and the TCUs. I don’t know or really care if a playoff is going to cheapen the regualr season. When the BCS championship game is a rematch from November, that cheapen the regular season. At the end of the day, I just want to see more football with better teams completing. I’m still going to go to Jacksonville and Auburn to see UGA play and to me, it wll matter. What if UGA goes to Oregon in September now b/c they can risk a loss and risk being flat the following week after all that travel? Sure beats waiting for New Mexico State to come to town. I don’t want to get to the point where we sit someone against Tech because we’ve locked up our spot in the playoff, but if a playoff means that I can watch UGA vs Clemson or Southern Cal or Texas or Michigan rather than UGA vs Lousianna Monroe or Utah State or GA Southern, then I’m all for a playoff.

    • That’s all good and well, but the guys that will implement a playoff don’t give two shits about what you or I care about. All they care about is maximizing revenue streams and if they feel they can do that without scheduling these OOC marquee games, then they won’t. We all need to step back and realize that none of this change is driven by pressure from the fans/media/donors to the universities or what we want. It is completely driven by the all-mighty dollar and will cause the same idiots that have completely ruined college basketball to make the same short sighted decisions when it comes to football because they’re worried about revenue streams declining 10% over the next 3 years even though everybody is already making eleventy billion dollars per year. They’re not thinking of these things as “100 year decisions” as the Texas A&M AD would say.

      • Darrron Rovelll

        Really – the media is not driving this? BS … this is purely media driven. The broadcast media who sell sponsorships and revenue undertstand that the evolution of the BCS has diminished the brand velocity of nearly every bowl game outside the Bowl Championships Series.

        Heck nearly all of the numbers were down across the board including the championship game. The business end of the media are really good a forecasting and see the downward trend. They want/need to reverse it now before contracts with sponsors and advertisers come due so they can renew/increase the terms in a tough economy. In today’s world, you cannot have declining revenue streams because partners and stockholders do not stand for it. If you are not growing, you are not going to be employed for long.

        This is not happening in a vacuum and the decisions are not short-sighted. College basketball did not get ruined because the tournament expanded to beyond 64 teams. College basketball began to suffer because 2-3 generations of basketball’s best players never matriculated on a college campus. Even after limiting the NBA early entry policy, the best players stay just one year – so the best talent is not even showing a moderst interest in the game. College basketball has suffered because rather than limit the supply of available basketball, the season has expanded from mid-November to early April. In an effort to fulfill the programming needs of its television partners and try to expand a mid-major conference broadcasting footprint, college basketball games saturate broadcast and cable television. After the end of the NFL & college football seasons, games litter the tv during the prime time viewing hours M-F and you can watch from 12 straight hours beginning at Noon on Saturday and Sunday.

        Yest – these are things that college football needs to be concerned about – but I would say that the adopting a more NFL approach to the availability of the regular season product and some adaptation of an NFL style playoff would be a better long-term business plan than maintaining the status quo. A full-scale 16 team playoff would probably kill of the bowl system as we know it. It probably would force the reconfiguration of Div. 1-A football that would force conferences and members to make hard decisions. Schools like Vandy & Duke & NW and others like them who struggle to compete at the D1-A level year in and year out right now, may ask or be asked to move on to D1-AA. Entire conferences may disappear from D1-A. The pressure on coaches will ramp up even more as schools that used to consider a 8-4 bowl team as a successful season will now see a 10-2 playoff less season a disappointment.

        But they have research numbers that show fan interest in a playoff and fan support of a playoff. They have modeling that indicates how much more money they can make from their broadcasting partners and sponsors.

        You have to have a mixture of the near term and long term decisions. If you think of only in the 100 year decisions, then you can end up predicament of other popular sports of years gone by. At the turn of the 20th century, the three most popular sports in th US were horse racing, boxing, and professional baseball. As recently as the 1950’s, those sports still considered 1, 2, & 3 in some order. Sixty years later, horse racing barely makes a blip on the sports radar and boxing is in steady decline. Baseball survives as a top 3 sport for variety of reasons like anti-trust exemptions, expansion as a global game, etc. But the long term projections for key factors point to a continue declilne in the overall popularity of the game.

        Even the current juggernauts of professional and college football are not safe as long-term forecasts point to a more urban population, a more diversified multi-cultural population, a population even more segmented for entertainment and leisure activities. Smart forward thinking athletic departments should begin planning now in order to succeed over the next 20-50 years.

        • Schools like Vandy & Duke & NW and others like them who struggle to compete at the D1-A level year in and year out right now, may ask or be asked to move on to D1-AA.

          Because?

          Organized sports with playoffs are littered with long-running crappy teams.

  7. Faulkner

    I am getting tired of Hinton and others bitching about the “rematch”.
    At the end of the year, only 2 teams had a shot to play LSU.
    That would be Bama and OSU. Had OSU taken care of their business, they would have been in no questions asked. They didn’t and I think the better team got their shot and it just happened to be a rematch.

    If we open the door to a playoff, it will eventually include way more than 4 teams. It WILL change the regular season for the worse. I want all games from September-November to mean something. If teams start sitting players for rivalry games because they have things “locked up” for the post season, then we lose what makes CFB so great.

    If I wanted an NFL type season, then I’d watch the damn NFL. As it stands, I watch the Falcons and the postseason. Everything else is meaningless to me.

  8. Always Someone Else's Fault

    The playoff talk is a bone to ESPN and the Big Bowl Committees. It’s nothing more than two bowls getting a “semi-final” buzz boost on a rotating basis, plus freedom from the whole AQ nonsense, when you really look at it from the perspective of their business model. In terms of inventory and logistics, nothing’s changed at all. Same number of BCS bowls, same sites, same number of cameras, same number of commercials, etc. The Plus 1 enhances match-ups and dampens criticism, but I doubt that it substantially alters the post-season financial equation much. I doubt, for example, that ESPN or Fox are going to double BCS rights fees in a bidding war over a Plus 1.

    As for going BEYOND a Plus 1…

    I do not think people appreciate just how much distaste the big conference commissioners and ADs view the basketball model conceptually. It leaves a significant number of fan bases with a sour taste in their mouth heading into the off-season. It essentially funds/motivates numerous competitive programs at smaller schools, which in effect increases coaching turnover at far too many BCS schools – a huge and ongoing expense when you look at it from a conference standpoint. Creative scheduling, in order to boost the NCAA tournament resume, also drives up costs.

    Finally, throw in the fact that they cannot sell the regular season to save their lives. Most college home basketball games feature a surprising number of empty seats, until the post-season starts to come into focus and people start doing the “win and we’re in” thing as the middle 6 teams in the conference start jockeying for 2 or 3 spots in the tournament.

    In other words, I do think the administrators are very much driven by market factors, but I wonder if those market variables will really push post-season CFB expansion as much as people fear. So long as the deciding votes on that issue remain inside the current BCS leagues, I don’t see much enthusiasm for an 8 or 16 team playoff. All of that energy is outside the SEC/ACC/P12/B1G/B12, looking in. And I cannot see the players outside of that consortium ever gaining control of the sport or its post-season.

  9. Will Trane

    Sheriff of Big Whiskey

  10. Cojones

    This doesn’t sound like a debate about playoffs, rather, it is a political game of oneupmanship as to who can conceive the best reason not to have one . Any fan who might like to see a playoff is headed off at the pass by convincing us it is all media driven. Several months ago there was give and take about our drothers on gtp, but now if you are a college fan and would like to see a playoff you are a dumbass tool for ever considering it because the media has convinced you so that they can make mo’ money.

    Hell, I thought the media was against the playoffs because they would realize less value for regular season games and reduce what they pay us (SEC) for televising these boring meaningless games. Wait a minute! That would make us the culprits because we want more money in our greedy little conference and playoffs would downgrade the value of us whipping the shit out of FU, Aub, Tech, SC, Ark, LSU, Ala, etc. Yessir, if we have college football playoffs we would no longer get the “Bend Over” satisfaction that some wins give us when rival schools go at it. And if we beat every team in sight so as to have no doubt who is NC and not manipulated or appointed to play the game for the NC as is done now, we just wouldn’t get any pleasure.

    Some friggin’ debate.

    • Always Someone Else's Fault

      I don’t think it’s as complicated as that. I think the “debate” was driven almost exclusively by people’s hate of the BCS for a long time – and who’s going to argue with hating the BCS?

      But once the Plus-1/playoff became a “given” (and I’m not saying it is – vague promises from conference commissioners, warm buckets of spit, and all that) people started focusing on what they liked/loved about CFB.

      Personally, I think it’s easy to go from 4 to 8 if it comes to that, but it’s much tougher to go the other direction — and I see better arguments for 4 right now than 8. Those argument could all prove to be nonsense, and then we’ll go to 6, or 8, or whatever. We’ll just have to see.

  11. chad

    Remember that taste in your mouth after the last two bowl losses. Imagine that every year from now on. Remember that feeling you had after the Sugar Bowl vs Hawaii, forget it. It will never happen again except about once every 40 yrs or so. Thirty two college teams and fan bases went into this offseason on a victory and are psyched about next yr. Not just Alabama.