Size matters. Sometimes.

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.

9 Comments

Filed under BCS/Playoffs, College Football, The Blogosphere

9 responses to “Size matters. Sometimes.

  1. kckd

    There will never be a 32 or 64 team playoff. That is never gonna happen. Talking such is ridiculous and reminds me of a guy paranoid he’s gonna die of some strange virus any time someone sneezes.

    The four team playoff makes the most sense and unlike some, I don’t think you can necessarily say UGA wouldn’t have made it this year. The folks who voted in the polls, voted with the idea only two teams could play for the title. If some knew LSU would make it if they ranked them fourth, they probably would not have been so apt to place UGA behind them.

    Yes, there would have been a lot of arguing and fillerbustering this year, but this year is the one year in the past, I don’t know how long you could honestly say that about a four team playoff where you’d had three to four teams arguing with valid points they belong.

    I’m not in favor of limiting it to conference champs, though it would be better than what we have now.

    But we’ve had major problems with the BCS almost from it’s inception. 2001, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007 and counting.

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  2. Here’s what I want to be seriously addressed:

    All of these playoff theories are based on the assumption that the BCS conferences will be running the show. That is not a given.

    The Big 6 run the show now because the bowl system exists independently of the NCAA. If we were to have an official tournament, the NCAA would begin running the show. That means that we would be very likely to include conferences like the WAC and Mountain West as equal members, which would mean automatic berths for them. Then, what about Notre Dame?

    I don’t know how things would shake out if we ever get a playoff in D-1 (and I hope it never happens). But I do know that these dreamy scenarios posted all over the interwebs are pipe-dreams.

    I have a hard time imagining the lower conferences agreeing to a system where they are left out of the playoffs altogether. They would return to the permanent underclass they occupied before scholarship restrictions if that ever happened.

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  3. The Big 6 run the show now because the bowl system exists independently of the NCAA. If we were to have an official tournament, the NCAA would begin running the show.

    Not necessarily. Bernie Machen proposed creating a new LLC for the playoffs that the BCS schools would control outside of the NCAA’s reach.

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  4. There will never be a 32 or 64 team playoff. That is never gonna happen. Talking such is ridiculous…

    Funny, that’s what many said when they expanded the basketball tourney from eight to sixteen. 😉

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  5. Not necessarily. Bernie Machen proposed creating a new LLC for the playoffs that the BCS schools would control outside of the NCAA’s reach.
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    That may be possible in theory, but I just don’t see that ever happening. It would absolutely kill the lower conferences who wouldn’t have access. What would their recruiting sells be in a world without bowls? How would they build their programs?

    Even if the NCAA couldn’t stop it, I would imagine that an act like that would bring even more Congressional inquiry into the NCAA. I think there’d be enough people upset about that on Capital Hill to create some threats about the NCAA losing their tax exempt status.

    While Mecham’s idea may be sound in theory, I cannot see it actually materializing.

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  6. kckd

    What most people who don’t follow college basketball don’t realize is all those div. 1aa schools and many others who don’t even have a football team are DIV. 1 basketball schools.

    A 64 team field out of around 300 schools isn’t the same as a 64 team field out of 120.

    If you do a 32 team field you are gonna have to cut the season back to 10 games and possibly more if you have a conf. championship game. Good luck getting half the teams in Div. 1 to agree with that. Especially the mid major conferences who need that extra cash from those two games.

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  7. If you do a 32 team field you are gonna have to cut the season back to 10 games and possibly more if you have a conf. championship game.

    If you recall, 1-AA is on the way to a 24 team playoff (same number of rounds as a 32 team tourney) with no mention of cutting back regular season games. What do they know that you don’t? 😉

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  8. kckd

    Notice anything different about this schedule Senator?

    http://sports.yahoo.com/ncaaf/teams/ggh

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  9. What? That GSU only had five road games this year? 😉

    I presume you refer to the fact that 1-AA only schedules 11 games, and there’s no conference championship kicker, right?

    That’s still one game over your ten regular season game threshold for a five round tourney.

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