As regular readers of this blog know, I’ve expressed concern about how a D-1 football playoff might negatively impact its greatest asset, the regular season.
In a sense, that’s already started to happen, as Ed Gunther cogently argues here.
… But doesn’t this negate my argument from above that thinking about who’s “best” is a bad thing? It would seem that way, but my point is that a healthy dose of discussion and controversy is fine – it’s when it becomes a cancerous growth that overshadows the rest of the sport, as it has recently, that it becomes a problem. The controversy used to be a side dish or dessert – the cranberry sauce on the Thanksgiving table that added a little kick. Now it’s become the turkey, and eating that much of it only makes you tired and cranky. When people are pissed off and focused more on “not winning a national championship” rather than being thrilled about their 12-1 or 13-0 season, there is a problem.
In other words, implicit in the attack on the current postseason format is the argument that the regular season is somehow delegitimized by it. I think that’s what’s most striking to me about the 2007 season. I honestly think it was the most exciting regular season of my lifetime. We saw an SEC East race go down to (literally) the last second. Georgia for the first time in my memory beat Alabama, Florida, Auburn and Georgia Tech in the same year and three of those four games were classic. And we cared about the outcome of a West Virginia-Pittsburgh game.
Yet, all I saw from the middle of the season onwards was piece after piece critical of the game. From all the grumbling, you’d have no idea how great the season was. Assholes like John Feinstein openly advocated a regular season train wreck – in whatever form that might take – so that everyone else would become as angry as he and a new postseason format would somehow miraculously arise from the ashes. There was no pleasure to be taken from how things unfolded, because in the end, without a playoff, it didn’t really mean anything.
It’s been more of the same this season. (Note to Chris Stephens: the NCAA has nothing to do with the BCS.) Regardless of which school wins the BCS title game, I expect to read over and over again about how the system has failed us.
The question that’s begged here is how much better would things be with a D-1 playoff. Once again, Ed steps forward with a timely post on the matter. (In case you can’t tell, Ed is my new hero.) After looking at how the BCS era would have played out under different tourney scenarios, here’s what he concludes:
The Plus-One w/ Bowl Results would’ve definitely helped in 2001, 2003, 2004, and may have helped in 2006 and 2007, but it would have completely screwed up 1999, 2002, and 2005 and it would’nt (sic) have done any good in 1998 and 2000.
The Plus-One Top 4 would have probably been better than the BCS in 2004. That’s it, one year out of ten. It’s not a good system.
Eight-Team Playoff w/ Conf Champs would have been solid only in 2002, but so was the BCS that year. In one other year (2000) you have three teams vying for two spots, so one is getting left out. In all other years, you have either 4 or 5 teams that would be worthy of an at-large, so you’re gonna be pissing off more people than you’re gonna be making happy. (And I’m not even including the uproar that would occur when a playoff round staged a rematch of a regular season game, which is pretty likely. Or the fact that the non-BCS conferences would demand a spot, thereby leaving just one at-large for those 3-5 worthy teams.)
Eight-Team Playoff w/ BCS Top 8 If you go this route, you’re always going to be leaving a BCS conference champion out – it would’ve happened to every single conference at least once during the last ten years. Most likely you’ll be leaving two out, as well as the random undefeated non-BCS conf champion.
I know you hate the BCS, but there’d be just as much controversy surrounding these setups as well. Somebody is always gonna get screwed – and there’s a good chance that someday it’ll be your team, if it hasn’t happened already. The BCS might be easier to live with if we just accept the reality that no system is even close to perfect every year. All of them would be controversial most of the time.
Personally, I don’t think Ed goes far enough. Once you go down the playoff road without satisfying folks, there’s only one likely outcome. And that’s to make the postseason tourney even bigger.
The more I ponder this, the more strongly I feel that the only acceptable playoff format would be an eight-team, conference-champ-only tournament. Yeah, there would have to be some tweaking of the conferences to level the quality of the participants, but you’d preserve the significance of the regular season and you’d also have a platform that would be harder to expand from. Otherwise, it looks like Ed has confirmed the old adage about the devil you know.