There’s a post up at College Football Resource where he makes the point that
… it’s possible there’s a link between a postseason tournament in a sport and its regular season being treated as nothing more than seeding? Maybe that’s why college football’s the only sport with a truly compelling regular season, hmmmm ???
Groo is skeptical about CFR’s argument.
… If the positioning and jockeying for a spot in the BCS and national title game isn’t what drives the regular season, what does? How would that be diminished by a playoff?
… In the end, I think what makes the college football regular season so compelling is that the drama and meaning of 162 baseball games, 82 NBA games, or even 30+ college basketball games is reduced down to 12 football games over just three months. One loss to a baseball team isn’t even noise. One loss – especially a conference loss – to a college football team is a serious blow. I really don’t believe that the format of the postseason would change that.
I think I’m gonna have to split the baby on this one.
The biggest problem with this whole “regular season vs. playoff” debate is that with regard to D-1 college football, we don’t know what sort of playoff format we have to analyze. Thus, if we’re limited to comparing the D-1 regular season to real world playoff structures, such as March Madness and those in the professional world, I find it hard to quibble with CFR’s argument. On the other hand, if D-1 were to adopt a four team playoff format, or even an eight team format where only conference champions were eligible, then Groo stands on much firmer ground.
Here’s why. College football is unique among the major sports (football, basketball, baseball and let’s consider hockey for yucks) in that it alone culminates in one single elimination postseason game. Baseball, hockey and pro basketball each have postseason series – several series, as a matter of fact. College basketball has a six round single elimination tourney for which the regular season sets the stage. For those sports, the primary goal of the regular season is to do well enough to get to the next level, where there’s a whole ‘nother layer of games to go through to get to a champ.
So I think Groo has it wrong when he suggests that it’s the size of the regular season that contributes to the importance of each individual regular season game. It’s the size of the postseason that matters far more.
Again, the best illustration I can make for this is the SEC East. Georgia and Florida have long been rivals, but traditionally Tennessee was not a rival to either school until the advent of the modern 12 team SEC, when it became necessary for all three schools to claw over each other to go on to the conference championship. Ask yourself how intense the Georgia-Tennessee rivalry or the Florida-Tennessee would remain in the wake of a sixteen team playoff that had room for, say, eight or ten at large berths for schools. Not convinced? How about a 32 or 64 team playoff?
A small playoff, or a playoff that is comprised only of conference winners, is far more likely to preserve the intensity of the regular season. But therein lies the rub. My quibbling over playoffs has been largely derived from a concern that historically any time a sport has adopted a playoff format, it’s never failed to enlarge the size of the postseason field. That’s one tradition I’d hate to see D-1 football follow.
By the way, I’m also not sure I agree with Groo when he asks “If the positioning and jockeying for a spot in the BCS and national title game isn’t what drives the regular season, what does?” What about conference championships and traditional rivalries, both of which matter to a far greater extent in D-1 football than in any other major sport? And, again, I think we have to ask ourselves what effect a large postseason tournament format would have on those matters.