Bowls and playoffs, apples and oranges

The debate surrounding the contemplated expansion of March Madness to 96 teams has produced lame and questionable reasoning by the bushel.  One of my favorite arguments raised in support of adding 32 schools to the mix is that on a percentage basis, the basketball postseason isn’t nearly as diluted as football’s.  You know, like this:

Currently, 18 percent of the Division 1 teams get into the NCAA Tournament and another 9 percent receive invites to the NIT. That’s way below the number of teams that get postseason berths in football: 68 of Division 1-A’s 120 teams go to bowls, or 56 percent.

Is it really necessary to point out that only two college football teams play for a (mythical) national title in the postseason, while 65 basketball teams enter the tourney with a shot at the championship?  If you want to analogize the bowls to the NIT, that’s certainly more reasonable, but if you’re seriously comparing the size of the two postseasons as a whole, either you’re making the bowl games more significant than they are for the most part, or you’re admitting that the first round of March Madness is little more than a glorified exhibition

Since the inception of the 64-team tournament in 1985, each seed-pairing has played a total of 100 first-round games.

  1. The #1 seed has beaten the #16 seed all 100 times (100%).
  2. The #2 seed has beaten the #15 seed 96 times (96%).
  3. The #3 seed has beaten the #14 seed 85 times (85%).
  4. The #4 seed has beaten the #13 seed 79 times (79%).
  5. The #5 seed has beaten the #12 seed 66 times (66%).
  6. The #6 seed has beaten the #11 seed 69 times (69%).
  7. The #7 seed has beaten the #10 seed 61 times (61%).
  8. The #8 seed has beaten the #9 seed 46 times (46%).

… which may explain this comment from Billy Donovan.

“If you ever got an eight-team playoff in college football, there would be some people still saying that the bowl system was the best,” said Florida coach Billy Donovan. “People would argue that the regular season in college basketball would be diminished by expanding the tournament field, but I’d like to see more kids get a chance to experience the NCAA Tournament.”

Of course, you could just say screw it to any attempt at logic and go someplace totally off the wall with this.

One of the beauties of the tournament is the select field that participates in it every season. Unlike the bowl system, which rewards mediocrity, only those teams that excel qualify for the tournament.

Excel? I can’t believe it bears repeating, but it’s March Madness that allows teams with losing regular season records to compete for a national championship.  How ’bout those 1999 Rattlers!

28 Comments

Filed under BCS/Playoffs

28 responses to “Bowls and playoffs, apples and oranges

  1. kckd

    Senator, there are more bad teams who make bowl games than bad basketball teams who make the tournament.

    There is more parity in basketball where a podunk school who is well coached could knock off a major player.

    You are not accounting for the fact that 64 teams out of I think around 300 make the tournament. In football it’s about 60 some odd teams out of 120 or so who get bowls. Remember, NCAA basketball does not have a I-AA or whatever NCAA football calls it now.

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    • Senator, there are more bad teams who make bowl games than bad basketball teams who make the tournament.

      Again, so what? Bowl games, outside of the BCS title game, are glorified exhibitions. They’re not meant to settle a championship.

      No 6-6 team gets a chance to play for a national football title; a 10-19 team did have a chance to play for a national basketball title. To argue that there’s some equivalence between the two is sophistry.

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      • kckd

        I think we all know that a 10-19 team that wins their conference tourney is playing for the National Championship about the same way that women’s hockey team the Canadians beat 18-0 the other night is playing for a gold medal.

        They’re just happy to be there and compete, nothing more and less. And that’s not very different from a 6-6 team who barely got a bowl game.

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        • Then you agree with the position that the first round of March Madness is little more than a glorified exhibition slate. So why have it at all?

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          • kckd

            I think you hit the nail on the head with apples and oranges. Basketball is a sport you can play two to three times a week with no problem. Ranks in a ton of money doing that. The first round is a glorified expansion for some depending on your seeding. For all the hubub raised over it though, you see far less “how the hell did that happen” national champs in basketball than many people who complain about the 64 teams will admit. The only really low seed winners that come to mind right off are Villanova and Kansas and the truth is that both of those teams were far better than their seeding. They played a brutal schedule and their conferences were a juggernaut the year they won. Evidenced by the fact that both beat teams from their own conference to win it all.

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        • Puffdawg

          What about the 9-7 Cardinals being one miraculous Steelers pitch and catch away from winning the Super Bowl a few years ago? Inevitably, playoffs grow. And once they do, teams with lesser “deeds” have the opportunity to win a few fluky games to be called the best rather than taking into account how they performed over the regular season.

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    • masivatack

      College basketball does and will always have more parity than football. There is a reason for that. These are two entirely different sports that present two distinctly different challenges to an Athletic Department of a particular school. There is a reason why there are 347 Division I basketball teams, 265 teams in Division II, 325 teams in Division III and 259 teams in NAIA.

      BECAUSE IT IS MUCH EASIER (psst… and less expensive) TO ORGANIZE AND MAINTAIN BASKETBALL PROGRAM THAN A FOOTBALL PROGRAM. It is also much easier to compete with the “Big Boys” when quality depth means having 6-10 good basketball players as compared to 60.

      I mean, I certainly commend the Boise States and Utahs of the football world for what they achieved, but for them it has been a long time coming and they have been devoted to creating quality football programs for many years. And no, I do not believe that they have deserved a spot in championship game yet. Not until they show that they can beat a marginally respectable level of competition.

      To believe that opening the Football National Championship up to a field of 32-64 teams is going to provide some sort of instant ability for teams to recruit better, put fans in the seats and compete against the best quality opposition is being more than a tad bit presumptuous.

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  2. Prov

    But, but, it’s settled on the field! Heaven forbid someone be left out.

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  3. hailtogeorgia

    Senator, there are two things that I think are interesting here. First, just looking at the numbers for how often the lower seeded team pulled the upset in March Madness, I think it’s interesting that the 5-12 matchup is the outlier in the pecking order of the upsets. I know when filling out my bracket, if there’s one upset I’m more likely to pick based simply upon seeding, it’s the 12 over the 5…pretty funny to see that it actually works out that way. I know this isn’t a college basketball blog, but is there something to that? I think I remember someone telling me before that the 12 seed is normally the highest spot some of the smaller conference tournament winners are slotted…but not sure if there’s truth to that.

    Second, I think it’s funny that the same people who talked a couple of years ago about how the 2008 Georgia team “stole” someone’s spot in the Dance are now advocating increasing the size of the tournament…is this so no one else’s spot will be “stolen” away by an undeserving team? And how is March Madness any more legitimate of a tournament than the SEC tournament? Did George Mason steal a team’s spot in the elite eight a few years ago?

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  4. Senator, I couldn’t agree more with the idea on “rewarding mediocrity”. Folks argue that with bowls while they want to give 96 teams a shot at a title. Most seasons in college football you’d be hard pressed to find 4-5 teams “worth a title shot” let alone 8 or 16.

    Anyone out there think Central Michigan, ECU deserve an automatic bid to a college football tournament? Buehler? Anyone?

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  5. Bob

    Until a #16 actually wins one (actually more than one but for the sake of argument) you can’t tell me a WORSE team needs to make the tourney.
    But I have to say… The numbers go a long way to validate the job the committee is doing in seeding. Statisically what you’d expect. Pretty good job considering all the crap they get.

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  6. I agree it is apples to oranges, but “you’re making the bowl games more significant than they are for the most part” rings a bit hollow.

    If it were not for the existence of bowl games, we would have a playoff. That makes the bowls pretty dadgum significant.

    As for the inevitability of football playoff expansion, wouldn’t that mean it was successful?

    I mean, if we had an eight team playoff and everyone agreed that “wrong” teams were winning, wouldn’t they reverse course and put it back in the hands of pollsters and computers?

    I understand this is the wrong forum to pose such a rhetorical question. Many of your readers want to take to the ballot boxes and strip the Saints of their title. 😉

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  7. Mike

    I disagree with the premise that basketball play-offs are inherently flawed because a team with a losing record is allowed to compete, as long as they win their conference tournament. That is a tactical flaw rather than a structural flaw. You fix the requirement that allows conferences to use conference tournaments to compete in the NCAA and you fix that tactical flaw.

    Rare is the team with an overall losing record that wins the regular season conference title.

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    • That decision is up to the conference. Most, but not all conferences award their automatic bid to their tourney champ.

      Never the less, some people will always think opinion should be valued more than deed.

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      • Mike

        The decision is up to the individual conferences because the NCAA allows it to be so.

        But no matter, that decision is a tactical problem with a basketball playoff, not a structural problem with the concept of a play-off

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        • That’s all fine, but March Madness is played in reality, not conceptually. It’s structured the way it is because that’s the way the schools and conferences want it.

          And those are the same folks who would design a D-1 football playoff. That’s why I’m skeptical.

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          • Mike

            Fair point. I am not sure the perfect solution exists for either a football playoff or a basketball playoff. But I think we are inexorably moving toward more of a football play-off system then we now have.

            One reason I think this is the current system is closer to a play-off system than the one we employed prior to the BCS.

            We seem to be moving in the direction.

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    • I’m not saying they’re flawed. Heck, who doesn’t love March Madness?

      The point I keep trying to make – and that playoff proponents for the most part refuse to accept – is that an extended playoff changes the nature of the sport because it diminishes the import of the regular season. I think that’s college football’s greatest asset and what makes it so unique among other organized sports.

      I don’t mind the argument that disagrees with that point of view. It’s the people who insist that an extended playoff wouldn’t impact college football in that way who keep me coming back to this.

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      • Puffdawg

        Point of clarification here for SB. A diminished regular season does not mean people will stop going to the games (which seems to be a common misconception on the part of playoff proponents). It just means that wins and losses become less important. The reg season becomes a seeding exercise for something to come rather than the central focus of the football season.

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        • Actually, I’m not sure I agree with that completely.

          Look at how TV values the regular season and postseason contracts relative to each other for college football and basketball. That’s money paid based on viewership. That’s based on fan interest.

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          • Puffdawg

            Touche. I obviously agree with your sentiment that overall interest in the reg season would be down (which would be reflected in TV numbers), based on what we see from all other sports with playoffs. I was just saying there is a differnce between meaningless and less meaning. The regular season would not be completely devoid of interest, as some playoff proponents (can we shorten that to “playpros?”) would have you believe we support.

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          • Mike

            Fan Interest for sure, but certainly number of games played is a large factor also

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