Getting there is half the fun.

I realize that the recently considered (and rejected) plus-one proposal only called for four schools to participate. But I also know that there are many out there, plus-one rejection or not, that would prefer to see a larger playoff field than four. In some cases, much larger.

I don’t want to explore the depths of Rep. Abercrombie’s folly here. Instead, I thought I’d point out one apparent by-product of an extended playoff, namely, that if you are a school whose football team is ranked #1 or #2 in the preseason, in terms of making the playoffs, history says your team’s regular season would be pretty much a mere formality.

Stassen keeps track of the most overrated and underrated teams in college football. You can go here to find the lists of schools that were ranked #1 and #2 in the preseason and how each school finished for the 1989 through 2007 seasons. That’s nineteen seasons and thirty eight teams. Care to guess how many of them finished outside of the top ten over that period? Two. Notre Dame started out at #1 in 2006 and finished #17. Before that, you have to go all the way back to 1993, when preseason #2 Michigan wound up at #21 when the dust settled.

So a postseason tourney with anything larger than an eight school field seems virtually guaranteed to have the participation of the preseason #1 and #2 teams, regardless of how stellar each school’s regular season might have been. The fix is in!

Even if you were to limit the postseason to an eight team subjective tourney, the historical data doesn’t lessen the odds very much. Only one additional team out of that whole bunch, Tennessee in 1999, finished out of the top eight when starting as a preseason #1 or #2.

But, you say, the plus-one is only four teams. Lately, even that scenario doesn’t swim against the tide. Since 2001, the preseason #1 and #2 teams have both finished in the top four in five of the seven years. So much for increasing parity in D-1 football.

Selfishly speaking, that looks like a very good trend for your school to follow if you’re a Georgia fan. But unless we’re going to abolish preseason polls (ha!), there’s not so much drama for us college football fans in the context of a D-1 regular season followed by a playoff.

History would indicate that some tricking out of the playoffs might be necessary to maintain interest and to keep the very top teams motivated during the regular season by having something at stake. That could take the form of byes for the top two schools, first round home games for the top teams (as opposed to neutral site games) or having a large enough tourney field so that a high seed would be meaningful in terms of drawing a clearly lesser opponent in the first round.

Any of which, of course, would be a fairly radical departure from the current norm.

Before you brush this analysis off as irrelevant you might want to check that ’08 preseason list again and see who shows up at #2. Now that doesn’t bother me in the slightest, but the Buckeyes have been the whipping boy of a large number of college football fans lately – for more than one reason, ironically. If you’re one of those folks, maybe you should think about what that would mean in a D-1 playoff.

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Getting there is half the fun.

  1. Andrew

    What about Tennessee in 2005? Were they not in the top two?

  2. Tennessee was a preseason #3 in ’05. Texas was #2.