“How many regular season losses is too many?”

Sunday Morning Quarterback is an impassioned proponent of D-1 playoffs, and he has a snarky (but I mean that in a good way) post up about why JoePa is worth defending against those who stand opposed to a playoff.

He scores some effective points against Stoops’ and Alvarez’ defense of the status quo and notes that the argument has begun to narrow down:

It’s the same old things, mostly: notice the old “academics” defense is such a fluffy light canard it’s not even put up to be blown down. Nobody has ever bought that. We’ve moved on to actual issues of competition, for the most part. And it’ll be the same old things over and over again, right up to that point that, as Chris Peterson says, “pressure from the fans and people on the outside” pushes through a “compromise”…

But he’s got a couple of substantive arguments that are worth responses.

First, he makes a strong point based on extensive research about the number of one, two and three loss teams from BCS conferences and where they finished in the final AP polls.

… Every single year of the BCS’ existence has produced between 10 and 16 BCS conference teams with two or fewer losses, excluding Tulanes, Utahs, Boise States and Hawaiis. [Emphasis added.] So, bearing in mind the record of the most recent BCS champion, how many regular season losses is too many?

If you don’t want to parse how such teams achieved their final won-loss marks (and I can see the validity to that approach, believe it or not), that’s an excellent question. And to me, the obvious conclusion to draw from it is that a four team playoff would be as inadequate a solution to the problem as the BCS currently is.

I disagree strongly with SMQ when he writes

… Michigan and Ohio State have met with undefeated records twice in the last 40 years: 1973 and 2006. Since the formation of the BCS, OSU-Michigan in ’06 and OSU-Texas the same year are the only regular season games between #1 and #2 in the AP; Nebraska-Oklahoma was a 2-3 game in 2000 and a 3-2 game in 2001; OU-Texas was 2-3 in 2002. Florida-Florida State was 1-2 in 1996, before the BCS. Most of these are annual rivalry games that would become far more meaningful with a playoff at stake in years both teams are “merely” in the top 10 or 12, which is the case about five times as often as when both teams are at the top of the polls. I’ll take the slightly reduced national impact of the exceedingly rare Armageddon game for the increased importance of a half dozen other big games every year. Elementary: the more teams that are eligible for the championship late in the season, the more meaningful all of those games will be.

Not to put too fine a line on it, but that’s stretching things. To say that rivalry games will become more meaningful because a playoff berth is on the line only makes sense if (a) one or both of the participants are fighting for a spot in the tourney and (b) in ordinary (i.e., non-playoffs) circumstances, these teams would have nothing to play for other than pride.

But if the playoff field is too big (so that the teams qualify regardless of the outcome of the rivalry game) or too small (so that there isn’t a realistic chance of making the postseason for either), it’s hard to see where more meaning is being brought to the table.  And do we really believe that the people that will restructure the brave new postseason are going to hit that sweet spot where they have the size of the field just right?

Again, I’ll ask the question that puts this in context (for me, at least): how much more meaningful can the troika of Florida-Georgia-Tennessee regular season games each year possibly be?

… And why should it matter if Michigan loses to Ohio State if it doesn’t matter when LSU loses to Arkansas, or Kentucky, or Ohio State loses to Illiois, or Florida loses to Auburn, or Oklahoma loses to Kansas State, or Nebraska gets waxed by Colorado, or Florida State loses to N.C. State, etc.? If “every game counts,” then three of the last five BCS championships should be vacated for the unsightly stain(s) on its winner’s ledger.

I understand that he’s responding to Stoops’ ineptly phrased argument with that quote, but he’s wrong here. LSU’s loss to Arky did matter. It’s just that West Virginia’s loss to Pitt mattered as well. None of those losses he mentions occurred in a vacuum. And it’s disingenuous to compare two (hypothetically) undefeated teams facing off in a season ending game to the outcome of a season when none of the contenders were able to emerge unscathed.

Again, I get the fairness argument that those in favor of a playoff raise. What I don’t get is the argument that there’s something inherently superior to the tension a playoff brings to the process of deciding a champion. I won’t argue it’s different that what we have now. I will argue about whether it’s an improvement.

Any way you look at it, there’s a winnowing out process involved.  The issue is what sort of role we want the regular season to play in that process.  If we’re heading towards some sort of “throw all the two loss or better teams out there and let a playoff sort ‘em out” approach, that’s an awfully wide net to cast and I don’t see how the regular season won’t suffer as a result.

7 Comments

Filed under BCS/Playoffs, The Blogosphere

7 responses to ““How many regular season losses is too many?”

  1. scdawg

    I would argue LSU’s loss to ARK mattered a heck of a lot, at least until Pitt found a way to beat WV. LSU was out of the MNC race until the Wanstache somehow managed to beat a pretty good team.

    WV’s loss mattered more.

  2. Hobnail_Boot

    ..and I would argue that LSU’s loss to Arkansas was utterly and completely meaningless.

    The way last season shook out, one of the teams in the BCS Championship game was going to have a loss that didn’t matter.. if it did, they wouldn’t be in the title game in the first place.

    You know how I can prove that the LSU-Arky game didn’t mean squat? 2 ways:

    1) Had the opposite outcome occured, LSU still would have played and beaten UT for the SEC Championship and then played and beaten tOSU for the big one.

    2) If that performance didn’t win Darren McFadden the Heisman Trophy, nothing was going to.

    It didn’t matter as far as conference play goes, it didn’t save Houston Nutt his job, it didn’t prevent LSU from playing for and winning the national title, and it didn’t win McFadden the Heisman.

    It was truly a game that meant nothing (yes, because Pitt beat WVU).

  3. Hobnail, the problem I have with this whole line of reasoning is that it’s hindsight-based.

    Say what you will, but in the time that elapsed between LSU’s loss and West Virginia’s loss, I doubt you (or anyone else) were making the same point.

  4. Hobnail_Boot

    Of course I wasn’t. It looked like the national title game would be Buckeyes-Mountaineers.

    What sucks is that what should be remembered as a soul-crushing loss for LSU and McFadden’s final springboard into the NFL instead won’t be remembered at all. The game meant absolutely nothing.

    You’re right in that this is all hindsight-based, but I don’t see how that devalues the point.

  5. Andrew

    Senator, can you really say that Pitt didn’t have WVU’s national championship aspirations used as a point to pump up the team before the game? Do you really think if WVU had lost two more games going into that game that Pitt still would have won?

  6. Andrew

    Oh, and I looked back at the cocktail party celebration thread, and it looked like a gator fan named ‘Andrew’ posted something. I am not a gator fan and I will never insult a person that goes out of his way to write a blog just to give people of similar interest something to read.

  7. Andrew, Pitt-West Virginia is a longstanding, nasty rivalry. From ESPN:

    West Virginia and Pittsburgh have staged the Backyard Brawl since 1895, though Pitt’s attention during much of that time was divided between the Mountaineers and Penn State. Once that longtime rivalry was discontinued by Penn State’s entry into the Big Ten in 1993, the Brawl became the unquestioned grudge match for both teams. Although West Virginia won the first three games in the series, two of them via shutout, Pitt holds a decisive advantage, helped by a stretch from 1924 to 1951 when it won 23 of 25 meetings. Perhaps the most thrilling game in the series came in 1997, when Pitt won 41-38 in triple overtime.

    Do I think WVU’s national championship hopes added some spice? Sure, but that game is usually intense.

    Besides, I think Pat White’s injury had more to do with the outcome than did the Mountaineers’ record.