a playoff system for D-1 football, that is. After all, 1-AA has one, D-1 basketball has one and the NFL has one. What’s the big deal? Don’t Neanderthals like me want to see the season settled on the field, instead of being left in the hands of pencil-necked geeks with their computer programs?
Well… let me put it this way: while there are a few fans of a playoff who are honest about the fact that they just prefer a March Madness setup, like korey who posted a comment here a few days ago, there are a lot of folks who argue for a playoff by asserting that the present BCS set up is so compromised that a playoff system is superior by default.
The problem I have with the latter group is that they seem to take everything as a matter of faith about a playoff system being a good thing. It’s almost like listening to a religious fundamentalist talk about creationism.
I’m just not convinced. If things are so horribly broken under the BCS, why does there continue to be so much interest in the sport? And if a playoff is so easy to institute, why hasn’t it already happened?
Rather than approaching this by arguing about what’s wrong with the BCS, what I’d like to hear about is how the obvious flaws that I see with a playoff system could be addressed. Set up a playoff scheme that fixes these problems, and you can sign me up.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but let’s start by making some headway with these:
1. Mission creep. Most proponents of a playoff talk about a small scale proposal – usually, anywhere from four to eight teams. The virtues of this approach are that it does the least amount of harm to the results of the regular season, minimizes extra travel and keeps the extension of the season to as short a period as possible. What nobody talks about is how things would stay compressed. I like to point to the history of NCAA men’s basketball as an illustration of what occurs over time. When the NCAA started the tourney in 1939, there were only eight participants. Today, the field is over eight times that size. Because of that, the regular season has been reduced dramatically in its meaningfulness. How do you propose to prevent that from happening in football?
2. Overkill. Again, most of the fury about the BCS stems from a third or fourth team being shortchanged by the selection process. If that’s the case, why is it necessary to formulate a playoff system that involves more than the controversy? As an example, look at this year: Florida and Michigan. Why should Ohio State have to play another game because there’s a dispute over #2? Yet that’s what would have to happen with a four or eight team playoff. That seems counterproductive. And don’t forget, no matter where you place the cutoff, there’s always going to be someone angry about not being invited to the big dance.
3. Money. A common assumption I see made is that simply by slapping a “playoff” label on a college game, the revenue made available by the event will significantly increase from what is currently generated. Yet I never see any proof of that assertion. And, believe me, that needs to be the case, because once the NCAA becomes the delivery system, as would be the case with a playoff, the distribution of revenue becomes radically restructured. Every D-1 team becomes entitled to a piece of the pie. How do you propose to keep everybody happy? This leads to the next special problem, namely…
4. Notre Dame. AKA She Who Must Be Obeyed. The Irish have their own friggin’ TV contract, for God’s sake. When ND goes to a BCS game, with its $15-20 million payout, it doesn’t share the money with anyone else. There’s a national fan base that buys tickets anytime, anywhere. Yet, it’s amazing to see the number of people who blithely suggest that ND will have to join a conference or else face being excluded from the brave new world of the NCAA playoffs. Yeah, right. First of all, none of the powers that be are going to want to cut off that revenue stream of Irish support. Second, even if they were that suicidal, what do you think happens if they do carry out that threat? About fifteen minutes later, ND sues the NCAA’s ass for antitrust violations. And wins. Then ND owns the NCAA. You want that? I sure don’t. So give me a realistic suggestion on how to deal with the Irish.
5. The little guy. Even with an eight team playoff, you’re asking fans of a college to travel to at least one more post season game than they currently do. Expand out to sixteen, twenty-four, thirty-two, sixty-four… well, you get the picture. Congratulations, you’ve just contributed to the corporatization of attendance at college football games (anyone who’s been to Turner Field for the Braves over the last ten years knows what I’m talking about). That is a very, very bad thing for the sport.
6. The regular season (and conference championships). Forget about the latter – and there goes another big source of revenue, by the way. Just to give you an example, Kentucky in 2004, a school that didn’t go to the SECCG or participate in a bowl game, received a distribution of approximately $2.5 million from the conference. And you can also kiss the 12th game goodbye, which is a shame, as that’s been the best recent development in the college game as far as opening up some great new matchups during the regular season. Those are what you’d lose with an eight game playoff; think about how much more would be cut if the playoffs were increased beyond that. Can you really argue with a straight face that the end result wouldn’t shrink the significance of the regular season?
So there you have it. Wave your magic wands and fix these issues. Like I said, it’s so easy…