Why we can’t have nice postseasons.

Gary Laney neatly distills why the four-team playoff format is toast, even before the first one has been set.

A season ago, neither Baylor nor Michigan State, champions of the Big 12 and Big Ten, respectively, would have made the tournament, College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock said.

Instead, both Alabama and Auburn would have made it out of the SEC, along with Florida State and Oregon.

When that happens in the future, it won’t be analogous to other postseason snubs like, say, the NCAA basketball tournament. The first team left out of that tournament is the 38th team in line, aside from the 31 conference champions that qualify automatically.

In this case, the selection committee will always leave out at least one major conference champion, even in years when it doesn’t pick two teams from one conference.  [Emphasis added.]

That is exactly why I’ve bitched about bracket creep for years.  The system they’ve built is unstable.  And it’s not predicated on settling it on the field, or having the best teams.  It’s about sharing the wealth.  Eventually, that’s why they’ve got to expand, because leaving a member of the Big Five out every year isn’t going to set well with the people running the game.

They’ll no doubt use us fans as an excuse, the first time there’s a selection controversy, because that will be convenient.  But the thing is, the move to eight, if it’s done as Laney describes – all major conference champions to get in, plus a few at-large berths – isn’t going to make things any more stable.  Because there will come a year when a major conference team that didn’t win its conference and is excluded from the playoff field is better than some teams that do qualify.  And there’s only one cure for that fever.

It won’t stop until there’s no more money being thrown at it.

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58 Comments

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58 responses to “Why we can’t have nice postseasons.

  1. Hogbody Spradlin

    Sooner or later Anheuser Busch and Viagra will max out their advertising budgets.

  2. sUGArdaddy

    Senator, you are so very right in many ways. The real fear is that I don’t think the guys running it are smart enough to figure out how to make it awesome in every way. I think Danielson’s 6-team deal is the smartest and best for college football, but I don’t think they’re smart enough to do it. I’d do a variation of his:

    6 teams (5 conference champions and 1 at-large). In 2012, that would have been Notre Dame. In 2013, it’s a toss-up between Ohio St. and Bama, mabye Oregon, but you’re at the mercy of the committee. This would absolutely ramp up the drama in every conference game. Regular season conference games and conference championship games would be insanely intense. They would mean everything. Moreover, scheduling could be the tipping point on that at-large.

    1 & 2 get first round byes. A team like FSU that goes undefeated gets a very handsome reward: one less game. It would be huge incentive to stay unbeaten and ramp up the excitement in games like FSU/Florida and UGA/GT. You’d have to win those games to keep the bye if you were in position to do so.

    6 plays at 3. 5 plays at 4. 3 & 4 must be conference champions. The at-large can be ranked no higher than 5 and cannot get a home game.

    Winner of 5/4 plays #1 in host site closest to #1. Winner of 6/3 plays #2 at other site. So…

    2013
    FSU & Auburn get bye
    Baylor @ Mich. St.
    Bama @ Stanford

    Bama/Stanford winner plays FSU in Sugar.
    Baylor/MSU winner plays Auburn in Rose
    Winners play in Dallas

    Doesn’t seem that difficult. You could even tweak it like the NFL and say that #1 plays the lowest team to advance, so if Baylor wins, they go play FSU, for example.

    • JCDAWG83

      I like that idea, but the regular season still needs to go back to 11 games. Also, that plan would result in very weak out of conference scheduling in order to avoid a loss and lose that seeding advantage. In that scenario, I think you would see the UGA/GT, SC/Clemson and FSU/UF matchups go away. There would be too much at risk to play a strong out of conference rivalry game.

      By making the “tournament” among conference champions, out of conference games could be exciting without risking tournament seeding.

      • sUGArdaddy

        Well, the easiest thing is just to set a rule among the power-5 that you have to play 10 games against each other. 9 conf and 1 OOC or 8 conf. and 2 OOC. That’d fix that.

      • PTC DAWG

        I think that you need an “at large” element…just to keep the need to schedule strong OOC games in play. But like others have said, no system is perfect.

      • ADs aren’t giving up the revenue from the 12th game especially a home game, period. I also see no way fans (or TV) will allow the big out of conference rivalry games go away. I think in South Carolina and Florida, it would literally take an act of the General Assembly to end those series. If it came to that in Georgia, I would support General Assembly action to make sure that Old Fashioned Hate doesn’t end.

    • Macallanlover

      Six would bd a great number if it didn’t require byes for two teams. Too big of an edge for those two versus adding two very good teams to balance things out.

    • I’ve been a big fan of the Danielson proposal as well. I think the byes are something to play for at the end of the season like they are in the NFL. All the bye gives a team is a pass to New Year’s Day. The other 4 play in the week after the championship games on the higher seeded team’s campus. The winners advance to New Year’s and the losers get automatic berths into one of the remaining four “big” bowl games.

  3. JCDAWG83

    Having a selection committee is going to result in a situation worse than the BCS model. The committee will basically be figure skating judges picking which teams they “feel” deserve to play in the championship. Every year, there will be a handful of teams with a legitimate grievance who don’t get selected. Until there is an objective way to pick who gets to play for the championship, the problem will remain. The selections will become so political and tv driven, the whole thing will be a joke within five years.

    My solution would be an 8 team playoff in three rounds made up of conference champions. Regular season would be shortened back to 11 games. How the conference selected it’s champion would be up to the conference. If a team felt left out they could be told; “you should have won your conference”, end of discussion. Notre Dame would need to get in a conference or decide they didn’t want to participate in the championship tournament.

    • Cosmic Dawg

      +1, except the parts where you dissed feelings, figure skating, how you were insensitive to the hypothetical team that got left out, and how you made Notre Dame feel bad about themselves because they are differently cultured and conference-averse. Otherwise, great post.

    • This solution works if you blow up the current structure and start over from the ground up.
      1) 8 conference champions – you would have to realign the conferences to get balance from 8 conference champions. Right now, you are saying that the MWC, WAC, and American deserve a slot at the expense of the loser of the SEC championship game who would probably beat those 3 consistently. This would also be bad for rivalries and tradition.
      2) 11 game regular season – as I stated above, the ADs aren’t giving up the home game revenue from the 12th game
      3) Effect on ND – they aren’t entering a conference for football. Their relationship with the ACC is about as close as it will get. The TV people wouldn’t agree to a format that didn’t include them.

  4. Mayor

    The 4 team playoff only works if there are 4 superconferences each with 2 divisions. The conference champions then go on to the 4 team playoff. In effect, that is really an 8 team playoff. Solution: Get rid of 1 conference. Problem: Which conference is the one to disappear? (I favor waving bye-bye to the Big 12.)

    • This solution is the best for 4/8 team playoff. The only problem is the likely necessity for more conference realignment and not just for the conference that disappears. The superconferences would likely destroy traditional rivalries

  5. PTC DAWG

    Conference Champions would certainly settle it on the field..get it done. 5 Big Conference Champs and the highest rated 3 at large teams…fock the committee, go back to the BCS Poll that they used to use to find the highest ranking 3 non champions. REQUIRE a conference championship game for determining a champ.

    Play the first round at the home stadium of the highest ranking 4.

    • Mayor

      The Big 12 only has 10 teams and no divisions. Under NCAA rules they cannot have a conference championship game at present.

  6. Normaltown Mike

    Oh c’mon, you know that 5 versus 12 matchup has you salivating for an awesome “bracket buster”.

  7. Dog in Fla

    One can only hope that the humans on The Selection Committee put MTV in charge of bracket creep production

  8. Slaw Dawg

    It all brings me back again to my own lonely position: just go back to the bowl system. I’ve never understood exactly what the Hell it is they’re trying to “fix” with first the BCS and now the mini-tournament nonsense. College football was a blast for decades, with wonderful and ancient rivalry games juiced by pageantry and their own unique histories, a sport unlike any other in which each game could be, and often was, do or die; seats were full, parties were enjoyed, eyes on TV sets. A sport in which beating, say, Florida or Auburn might actually matter more than winning the conference.

    The whole problem with this other junk is that it makes it all about winning a “national championship,” something that most schools will never get to do, and the emphasis on which diminishes all those other things that make college football the wonderful, unique sport it had been. The whole current goal is to make college football more like other sports–such as the NFL. Why the Hell is that a good thing? We’ve already got one NFL, and second leagues never worked out well. What’s the point?

    Not being totally naive, I realize what’s really driving all this is TV and advertising money. What these short term, next quarter financial report driven dumbasses don’t get is that a big part of the reason for CFB’s fanatical following is all those things that make it unique. Keep taking those things away, and the fanatical following will also go away, and that will in turn chip away at viewership. It’ll certainly cost them mine.

    • PTC DAWG

      Not sure why having a national champion determined on the field does any harm to our big rivalry games. I know it doesn’t lesson them for me.

      • Gravidy

        It won’t lessen the importance of our rivalry games because we still have them – for now. A lot of traditional rivalries have gone by the wayside recently, all in the name of “improvement”.

        • PTC DAWG

          That was more conference alignment than most anything else. Neb/OU and TEX/A&M….the latter case is just two schools that want to bicker…

          • Gravidy

            I know, but his post was about going back to the days of the bowl system. It seems to me that he’s lamenting more than just the advent of the playoff. Am I misinterpreting you, Slaw Dawg?

            • Slaw Dawg

              You are not, Gravidy. The focus on “naming” a national champion will surely accelerate, and that’s what the season will become about. Gradually, each Saturday will become–already is becoming–less special, because it matters less.

              And PTC Dawg, with all respect my friend, why do you think conference realignment is even happening? It’s largely driven by desire to make the “post season,” meaning first the BCS games and now the alleged playoff. It’s much more than the Huskers/Sooners and the Texas Shootout–also gone or to be gone are Missouri/Kansas, the Backyard Brawl, Irish v Wolverines. When a WV fan has to travel hundreds of miles just to get to the closest away game, we are diminishing a significant part of the regional flavor of CFB. When there’s significant advocacy among ranks of SEC coaches to do away with all permanent cross-division rivalries, I infer that there’s a broadening belief that ancient rivals are less important than something else. Such as what? Probably an easier season–and that’s to make it easier for a team to get to the post season. All of that ties back to the focus on crowning a national champion.

              I can remember when folks defended the whole idea of a playoff because it would supposedly make the sport purer, less corrupt in some way. “Let’s settle it on the field” right? I’d like someone to explain to me how much purer, less corrupt, etc the game is in an era in which CFB is more nakedly focused on maximizing revenue than it’s ever been.

              I get that to some people, it should all be about figuring out who the best is, and crowning a champion. That’s fine–such folks should be please with how things are going, and I doff my hat to them. But it’s not what I want and I’d rather start spending my fall Saturdays hiking in the North Georgia mountains or tooling around on a sturdy 1000cc than watching a season groan by through increasingly meaningless games as we figure out which 16 or 32 teams will get into the playoffs.

              • Mayor

                There is certainly evidence supporting what you are saying, SD. Just look at NCAA basketball and the diminution in value of regular season games. Now nobody pays much attention until March Madness. At best the conference tournaments still mean something but, to some, those are only the qualifying method to get into the NCAA Tournament. I’d hate to see CFB end up like that.

                • Slaw Dawg

                  Exactly right, Mr. M. I know that in my own lifetime, I’ve pretty dropped regular viewing of regular season NFL and MLB games. What’s the point? Most of the ones that count will be in the post season anyway. There was something breathtakingly special about a great pennant race–your team would be in or be out, no second chances, no “wild card” to fall back on to bail their asses out. There’s no way that playing for home team advantage holds the same promise of “agony and ecstasy,” as ABC sports used to say (and would have much less need to say nowadays).

              • Macallanlover

                For the record, as a long time playoff proponent (we will get there one day), it is not, and could never be, about finding the “best”. That is an impossible task in my mind so it us just about having a champion for once. Anyone who thinks the argument of who is best will be settled by a playoff will always be unhappy with any system brought forward. Does anyone ever think the Super Bowl, or World Series, or NCAA Basketball guarantees that the best team will emerge from the jumble of an over crowded playoff field? You just know who won the playoff and deserves the title of “champs” because they got it done, at that time of the year, against those judged best to test them. Just that, nothing more. And on proposal, past or future, will change that.

    • Charles

      “The whole problem with this other junk is that it makes it all about winning a ‘national championship,’ something that most schools will never get to do, and the emphasis on which diminishes all those other things that make college football the wonderful, unique sport it had been. ”

      This is truer than true. Well done.

      • Gravidy

        Yes, I agree. I know a lot of people think I’m a loser because I don’t think winning a national championship is the sole determiner of the worth of a season. If I was only happy when UGA won a national championship, I’d have given up my fandom due to misery decades ago.

        • PTC DAWG

          I totally agree with this..

        • Dog in Fla

          “I know a lot of people think I’m a loser”

          Don’t be so hard on yourself but the only way that could have been any better is if you hadn’t left out the “so why don’t you kill me” part

    • RocketDawg

      I totally agree with you Slaw Dawg. Go back to the old days of SEC winner to the Sugar Bowl, ACC winner to the Orange Bowl, Big 10/Pac 12 Rose Bowl, and Big 12 Fiesta Bowl. Done. Everyone can sit around and argue about who was better after the season.

      If the pay for play and 8-10-12-16 team playoffs come to fruition I see myself having a lot more free time on Saturdays in the fall. College Football has the greatest regular season out there where every game counts and every game matters. I would hate to see a day where losing to Florida or Auburn (or Tech…eventually it has to happen with the law of averages) doesn’t matter because “we made the playoffs”.

      I love football and I watch the NFL and play fantasy football but there just isn’t the passion that is there for the college game. I fear we are on the downside of losing all that makes the college game special.

      • Cojones

        Getting right down to it, the “we made the playoffs” mentality is in full bloom. That takes the form of …”even though we lost one , we are still in the running for SEC East or the SECCG”.

        • OK ,I only tune in periodically, but isn’t this entire theme about bracket creep. what the Senator has been warning everybody about since this playoff crap started….and yes that is a rhetorical question. If I wanted playoffs I’d watch the NFL.
          Conti Rice and her panel will screw up the bracket , the bracket will expand and we will get to say I told you so BUT I’d rather not have to say that. We are watching the killing of the goose that lays the golden egg.
          It really is kind of fun to argue about who was best even after the season is over. How great is it to listen to Colorado and GT argue about who had the best team in America in 1991 because everyone who watched knew it was neither one of those two.

          • Slaw Dawg

            Dang, you just summed up much of what I was trying to say, but with fewer words: “We are watching the killing of the goose that lays the golden egg.” And such a goose it was!

    • Well done, sir – you aren’t as alone as you think you are. I love the college football regular season. It’s fun to watch, and it meant everything. I’m afraid the “brave new world” is going to bring some unintended consequences with it that could be very bad for the sport.

  9. uglydawg

    .Each of 6conferences makes a deal with another top conference.

    Game 11 of the season (scheduled games..not counting conference championship game; conf champions already determined)…. Con.A champs plays Con. B runner-up. and B Champs plays A runner up.
    Then the winners play each other in game 12.

    With 6 conferences this leaves 3 teams.

    Meanwhile, four teams are picked from independents and lesser conferences and paired to play the same formula. (four should be enough to get all the bitchers in)

    This is the fourth team.

    (What happens to the regular scheduled opponents for game 11? They play each other instead).

    I threw this together kind of quickly so it’s probably going to be easy to pick holes in it. But there’s GOT to be a better way than what we’re going to see.
    .

  10. Derek

    We’ll see what happens but my strong suspicion is that the best four champs will get in unless the fourth best conference champ has 2 or more losses. An 11-1 runner up is not getting in over an 11-1 champ even if no one on the planet thinks they are a better team. Chances are the one of the five won’t be good enough to complain. If they stay away from picking two teams from one conference unless it’s unavoidable that’s how they will keep it stable IMHO. I think that the intention all along was to keep 2 sec teams from playing for a natty. They can say whatever they like but “deserve” will be the buzz word when all is said and done.

    • PTC DAWG

      Under the current system, what you say is the truth, no doubt. I think that is why they took over “seeding” of about 3 more bowls that are not in the playoff rotation in any current year. To appease and acknowledge the teams that “almost” made the 4 team cut.

  11. Rick

    Senator, help me out here.

    You are worried that the playoff is unstable because it isn’t big enough to include all worthy contenders. Is that correct? If that’s the case, isn’t the two-team playoff we’ve had for the last 15 years even worse, and therefore more unstable? It would seem so, since it has been replaced! So when you say this:

    “That is exactly why I’ve bitched about bracket creep for years. The system they’ve built is unstable”

    What system are you proposing to build that IS stable? It’s obviously not the two-team playoff, so what is it? You seem to be arguing that 8 teams isn’t stable, and 12 teams won’t be, and 16, 32 and so on. In other words, that NOTHING is stable. So should we just end college football altogether?

    At some point, you have to accept that there isn’t a perfect solution, and that the best we will ever be able to do is find the point where there are enough slots that if a ‘worthy’ candidate doesn’t make the field, it’s their own damned fault (for example, not having a system where undefeated major conference champions can’t make the field, because that is unstable as fuck). My guess is that 8 teams gets us that. If you still see evidence for further creep, bitch about it then, but I just don’t see the point of all your agonizing on the way there except to say ‘I told you so’ 6 years from now.

    • I was okay with the BCS format, and don’t really have a problem with a four-team playoff. I’m worried that they’re setting up a system where too many unqualified teams appear. That’s what makes it unstable.

      Best option to avoid instability, we’d have four power conferences of 16 teams each, set up in two divisions. Eight-team playoff would start with the conference championship games and go from there. No subjective picks.

      • Rick

        Well….ok, that was a pretty good answer.

        But one criteria I evaluate any system on is this: is there a reasonable chance that the #1 or #2 team in the nation subjectively be cut out of postseason? In your system, yes, that could easily happen. 2011 Alabama, which was the best team in the country by a mile, would not have sniffed your playoffs. That’s a problem.

        See, in the game of football we are cursed by small sample size. The game is so physically taxing that it’s only played once a week. It has the variance of a normal sport, so the best team can easily lose a single game and, because the season is so stupendously short, never be able to make up lost ground.

        Wild cards don’t really work in the system you proposed (in fact, there isn’t even room for them), so we NEED subjective, at-large teams. I think your system would do OK in most years, but in years like 2011 it would be an absolute joke, worse than the postseason of any sport that I am familiar with.

        • But there’s a simple answer to that in the context of an objective format: next time, win your division.

          • Rick

            Well, I can’t argue that the answer isn’t simple!

            It’s also profoundly unfulfilling. ‘Objective’ criteria are fantastic when paired with reasonable sample size, and degrade as sample size decreases. In CFB, they can be absolute shit. You may want to see inferior teams that ‘settled it on the field’ pillow fight while the better teams play in lesser bowls, but it’s not so appetizing to me.

            • Mayor

              Following your logic, does anyone out there think that ND deserved to play in that 2012 BCSNCG against Bama? Using pregame “objective criteria,” yes. After watching the game, however, hell no. We’ve had that problem all along in football. But teams don’t get to play each other 3 times in football in one season or in a 7 game series like baseball. LSU lucked out beating Bama the first time in 2011, IMHO. But the Bengals did beat ‘em and earned the right to play in the BCSNCG by doing so. Really, Bama probably shouldn’t have been in the BCSNC game because they had their chance and lost in the regular season. THAT is what diminishes the regular season IMHO–to lose the qualifier and still get to play in the championship game.

      • Cojones

        There are other ways as well that could avoid leaving out the “Boise States”. Loved the last three words, Senator.

      • Rick

        One more point: your scheme heavily stacks the deck against SEC teams. Unless you have a mechanism for ensuring some non-insane level of parity between the conferences and divisions, you are basically guaranteeing SEC teams a crapshoot year-in and year-out as they destroy each other, and guaranteeing teams like USC, FSU, Texas, Miami, Michigan and Ohio State automatic playoff bids every year they can competently exploit their recruiting advantage. That does not sound like fun to this SEC fan.

        • Since one of the Power Five would be cannibalized and its membership redistributed, it’s hard to make that kind of prediction until we know how it would be sorted out.

          • Rick

            Is it really that hard to predict? Would your conferences be organized geographically, and perhaps even around traditional rivalries (which I know is a big deal for you, for good reason)? If so, it’s hard to imagine that the bids in the southeasterly part of the country wouldn’t be at least twice as difficult to secure.

  12. Cojones

    “Playoff” = 8 teams. It can end there because it be representin’. “Bracket creep” in football is an invention to intimidate the final forming of a true “Playoff”. Reasoning is finally coming into the CFB playoff.

    The next excuse is “too many games”. It isn’t too many games in HS, Div II, or the NFL playoffs. There are many ways to lessen games (11-team schedule, combining Bowl Games to count in the playoff, etc.), all we have to do is account for the need of playing only a magic number of games.

    Some people have sincerely envisioned a CFB Playoff from way back and we aren’t pushing “Mo money” , rather we are just trying to settle who’s the best.
    .

  13. I think 8 teams is the magic number as it gives a better representation without making the season too much longer. 4 just isn’t gonna work.

  14. AusDawg85

    Less than 2 weeks to kick-off, yet expanding playoff formats and pay-for-play are prominent discussions. This ship (CFB, not GTP) is headed in the wrong direction.

    #getoffmylawn

  15. kckd

    So you used to like it the way it was, now you’re worried about teams being left out? To me, you’ve always argued out of both sides on this one.

    • Nice try, hoss.

      I’m not worried about teams being left out. The number of years when there are more than four teams deserving of a shot at a national title are exceedingly rare.

      A subjective/objective hybrid, such as the one Laney suggests (and a format that I think is quite likely if they expand to an eight-team field) is a bad format, because it will inevitably lead to years when obviously inferior teams garner an invite.

      Put it this way. Will I be upset if the sixth-best team in the country is shut out of the playoffs? Hells, no. Will the sixth-best team in the country be upset if it’s shut out of the playoffs while the sixteenth-best is let in? Of course… and that will lead to calls for the only way to fix that. That’s what I’ll be upset about.

      • Thing is, once you include 8 to get every conference champion and a couple at larges (with probably one promised with special exceptions to the best non major to satisfy any outcry from them) how much more creep can there be?

        Not to say there can’t be more bracket creep after 8, but at that point I think it’d require a larger landscape shift including the bowl system and creating a hybrid where the lesser bowls simply become the round of 16, or 24, or 32 depending on size of the tournament. And it might also require a shorter regular season which could lead to further alterations of the currently changing environment of college football.