In for a penny, in for a pound.

I tell you what:  for someone like me who has a great fear of what an expanded playoff would do to the greatest regular season in organized American sports, the last couple of weeks’ discussion on the possible expansion of the NCAA basketball tourney has done nothing to allay my concerns.

The overriding constant in the discussion is how perfect and wonderful the current 65-team format is – never mind what that’s done to a regular season that I heard Erik Kuselias refer to yesterday as “dead”.

For some people, like the New York Times’ George Vecsey, that’s a feature, not a bug.

… Nobody wants to go back to the bad old days when only conference champions and outstanding independents could qualify for the tournament. In 1974, North Carolina State beat Maryland, the fourth-rated team in the country, in the final of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, which meant Maryland could not play in the nationals. The officials fixed that the next year by opening up the nationals.

Yep, the greatest basketball game of my lifetime (hey, don’t take my word for it) is part of the “bad old days”.  Never mind the fact that one of the reasons that game was so incredible was because of the winner-take-all aspect of it.

Impressively, and without a shred of self-awareness about his argument, Vecsey manages to stop on a dime and do a 180-degree turn in the very next paragraph.

Nowadays, we have bloated conferences, with tournaments that mean little in the big picture. The Big East tournament has lost much of its pizazz in the last quarter-century because all the really good teams are going to the nationals anyway.

Gee, I wonder how that could have happened.

And now, the NCAA ponders about going from 65 to 96.  Oh, look, here’s a familiar argument:

“There is no good basketball reason to expand, at least to expand dramatically,” countered Joe Lunardi, who projects the tournament field for ESPN and teaches an online course on the selection process. “This year’s number 66 is not going to be good enough to play for the national championship, so I would be hard-pressed to make a case for number 96. I don’t think the world would be any worse off if we don’t have 13 Big East teams in the tournament.”

So what?  I mean, seriously, why is that relevant?  For that matter, is this?

… Most fans and media members pan significant expansion because they feel it will cheapen the regular season, render many first-round NCAA tournament games unappealing and reward middling teams when they have little to no chance to win the national championship.

The coaches say no.

“Those fans are not from a school that was left out of the tournament last year,” said Maryland Coach Gary Williams, later adding, “You have teams in now that can’t win the tournament.”

That’s comforting.

But in any event, that’s not the most important consideration here.  This is:

“You’ve got a situation where the people who are responsible for the television future of the tournament have an obligation to explore every different option out there to determine what’s in the best interest of the NCAA,” said SEC commissioner Mike Slive. “It would be irresponsible, given the magnitude of this issue, not to explore every conceivable option.”

Yeah, that Mike Slive.  Is this starting to sink in yet?  The commissioners and presidents don’t care about what the fans want, at least as long as it doesn’t affect their pocketbooks.  And in the end, nobody is going to stop watching the Final Four because the NCAA adds another round of games to the tournament.  That should tell you all you need to know about what’s coming down the pike for March Madness.

But it should also tell you, at least if you’ve got an open mind about it, that the same sort of fate is probable for a D-1 football playoff.  It’ll be the same decision-makers faced with the same kind of decision.  To believe that there’s something unique about college football that would make it immune from expansion is both ironic – since it’s expansion that will adversely affect the game’s most significantly unique attribute, the regular season – and as crazy as Vecsey’s argument.  I think I’ll pass, thanks.


UPDATE: Michael Elkon shares some thoughts on more stupid media tricks.


Filed under BCS/Playoffs

22 responses to “In for a penny, in for a pound.

  1. keith

    Senator, as I sit here shaking my head at you, basketball ain’t football. They sometimes play 4 games in 4 days(conf tourney) in BB. They play multiple games in a week in BB’s march madness, therefore it can be compressed.
    Football, in a playoff format, a game every 7 days and that’s it. BB already plays about 30 games. Thats one reason the regular season is “dead”.
    Now do I believe that a 4 would turn into a 6 into an 8 into a 16. Yes. But thats it. There’s just not enough time for anything more than that.
    And another thing. A BB team that is a 9 seed could win march madness. Can’t happen in football. Upsets, sure. But to have a 9 seed in football win 4 or 5 games in a row. Nah.
    There is just nothing comparable in the two sports.

    • I’m shaking my head back at’cha, Keith.😉

      1-AA football goes to a 20-school playoff format this season and expects to expand to 24 teams by the end of the decade.

      Never say “can’t happen” when enough money is involved.

      • Macallanlover

        Relentless, Senator, that you are. I used to just not care for basketball, now you are making me hate it as you continually use the, as Keith noted, irrelevant comparison of the two sports. BB and football ain’t comparable, and never were for either regular season, or potential post-season play. The only validity to this concern is the same NCAA imbeciles who keep expanding March Madness will have a say in CFB. Fortunately, the time required between games, and the logistics of moving huge numbers of fans will keep a lid on the crazy expansion we have seen in basketball. Yes, money will always make the whores look for more ways to expand, but the “just say no” campaign may have to be re-visited. I just wish we has a legit playoff to argue about expanding in CFB.

        • Mayor of Dawgtown

          FWIW, Senator your logic has pretty much persuaded me. I used to be for a 16-team D-IA playoff. Given what is going on (and has gone on in the past) with NCAA D-I BB I am very concerned with the “camel’s nose under the tent” syndrome happening to CFB. Maybe a “Plus 1” game is all that is really needed. Otherwise the moneygrubbers will have the top teams playing 20+ games before you know it and the best teams (when they know they have a playoff berth locked up) will play Colts on us and hold out their top players from the last 2 games of the season to avoid injury.

          • Mayor of Dawgtown

            P.S. If there had been a “Plus 1” game in 2007 UGA would have been the BCSNC that year.

        • Hackerdog


          You can certainly argue that basketball isn’t football, although for the purposes of a playoff, I think you’re missing the point. But what I find fascinating is your insistence that football (FCS, soon to have a 24-team playoff) isn’t football (FBS, which you argue could never, ever, possibly have a 24-team playoff).

          • Macallanlover

            I understand your “football” point, but I have watched Chattanooga host that game for years and never get more than 2000 fans from any of the teams playing for the title (unless they were Ga. Southern, or Appalachian fans who have some FB tradition and could drive there easily. Big difference when you have 30K+ fans from each school willing to go anywhere, purchase tickets, and need hotel rooms and flights. T Ball and MLB both use baseballs, but the complexity of putting on a game is worlds apart.

            Of course there will be pressure to expand, but there are some natural obstructions in CFB to prevent this from going the way of basketball, and FCS college football. Keeping it exclusive would actually enhance the regular season and the excitement of those 7 games might well make it more desirable to not expand beyond 8

            • With an expanded D-1 playoff, you just play more games on campus to reduce travel issues for the fan bases. It’s not going to be as complex as you’d like to make it.

              An expanded playoff is going to mean the death of the bowls anyway, so there’s no additional downside. And plenty of people will be able to tell us how that will help make the regular season more meaningful.😉

              • Macallanlover

                You are right about the increased home games being manageable, I got mired into thinking there would be more “bowl” type games on neutral sites would be a nightmare. As to the regular season being more meaningful, I get that expanding too far can take suspense from the regular season and that is why I have a “limit” to my support for a playoff. On the other hand, it does give a point/climax to the season, other than conference championships (which isn’t an issue.) Imagine the Olympics or World Cup with no medal round, just the prelims. You might know which team is best on a particular continent, but never who would win out when facing each other. I love CFb as much as everyone, it just seems incomplete to me and the solution is doable. I know those of you on the other side of this debate are passionate as well, I am just unable to see how you can not want the next step.

    • Hogbody Spradlin

      If basketball ain’t football, how much further does the NFL have to go before it is? The NFL began division play in 1967. Since then it has expanded its playoffs at least twice. Ditto baseball.

      The commissioners and presidents are indifferent not only to the fans, but (even worse) to the players. How long before their scholarships become charades because their seasons are so long? I’m not talking about the players who are there only to get to the pros. I’m talking about the substantial group who actually value a college diploma.

  2. Macallanlover

    Yes, sad the NFL has expanded so far. I won’t go as far as to say it has totally devalued the season yet, but there are usually only a handful of games every couple of years that don’t have some significance. It isn’t life of death, but the overwhelming majority mean enough that starters play the whole game and the team suffers something if they lose.

    The 16 game schedule and the high percentage of teams that qualify certainly lend credence to the argument about how playofs can be expanded too far. I am not a proponent of this level of expansion.

  3. Bob

    One of the main reasons I’m for a playoff is the I know Ga will not get the benefit of a tie. yes it’s selfish but We are not even lucky enough to get a break on a field goal (fl/sc) or a last second Edwards catch. We have never been dominate so we will be left arguing our tougher schedule while others get to go to the big game…if we ever do get the lucky break. Go back and listen to the talking heads three years ago and tell me we won’t be “Auburned”.

    • Hackerdog

      The year Auburn went undefeated, but was excluded from the championship game, they had the weakest strength of schedule of the three undefeated teams.

      • Macallanlover

        See, I don’t buy that, and don’t think there is any validity to that observation. There has NEVER been an SEC team since the 12 team expansion that has to apologize for its strength of schedule. To say the PAC 10 champ or Big 12 champ played a tougher schedule than any SEC champ that has played 9 conference games based on OOC schedules is bull dung. And that BS is why there will never be a NC to me until there is a playoff including all major conference champs and 2 other legit contenders. SOS is a joke whether it is determined by computers or over-served sports writers, few of whom ever played athletics at a serious level.

        • Hackerdog

          Since I lack your absolute certainty, regardless of the evidence, I looked it up.

          Excluding the bowl game, Southern Cal played 3 teams (Virginia Tech, California, and Arizona St) that finished in the top 25, and played Oregon St, which received votes in the final poll, but was unranked. The final SOS rankings for USC were #7 (Sagarin), and #25 (Congrove).

          Excluding the bowl game, Oklahoma played 2 teams (TX Tech & Texas) that finished in the top 25, and 3 teams that finished unranked, but received votes in the final poll. The final SOS rankings for OU were #13 (Sagarin) and #6 (Congrove).

          Excluding the bowl game, Auburn played 3 teams (LSU, Tennessee (twice), and UGA) that finished in the top 25. They didn’t play any teams that finished unranked, but received votes. The final SOS rankings for Auburn were #60 (Sagarin) and #46 (Congrove). This is in part due to their playing Louisiana-Monroe, The Citadel, and Louisiana Tech as their OOC games.

          I left out Utah, which finished undefeated, because their schedule was even weaker than Auburn’s. Normally, I believe that SEC schedules are tougher than other conferences’. But I’m willing to believe that there can be exceptions.

          • Macallanlover

            I obviously didn’t make my point well, I am not “absolutley certain” of ANYONE’S SOS, but there is no way anyone else can determine it either. My opinion is just that, but so is Sagarin and Cosgrove’s as well. In fact, while Sagarin is oft quoted as a source, his is as biased as any I see. You have been around long enough to know 9 SEC games is a substantial test, and it doesn’t matter about the year. OOC games are a pathetic way to base a ranking. Florida in the past few years has proven you can play crap OOC games and still compete against those considered among the best. Undefeated SEC teams are contenders, and it doesn’t matter what SOS rankings indicate.

            Polls are purely speculative and often political so using rankings as a criteria is also baseless. You are using one subjective measure to validate another subjective rating. That is why playing it off is the only way to say everyone deserving gets a shot. Auburn has the best and strongest case I have ever seen in CFB over the past 20 years about getting screwed by the system. Would they have won a playoff? I don’t know, but USC has no valid claim without haven beaten AU that season. We may never agree, but that is what justifies the need for a better system.

            • Hackerdog

              I was talking about your certainty that Auburn deserved one of the spots in the championship game because it is an SEC team. I’m a pro-SEC guy too. I just allow for the possibility that, if two other teams play a harder schedule and go undefeated, then those two teams deserve to play for the championship.

              In 9 out of 10 years, going undefeated in the SEC, even with a joke of an OOC schedule, gets you a spot in the title game. Auburn just got unlucky in the timing.

              SOS is a big part of how you determine who qualifies for a playoff. It doesn’t matter if the field is 2 teams or 96 teams. Even your beloved basketball tournament uses RPI rankings. You can bitch about strength of schedule all you want, but the only way to remove it from the equation is to let everybody into the playoff. I know you say you don’t want that, but you keep railing against all the things that exclude more than 2 teams from playing for the championship. And your arguments can easily be expanded to criticizing an 8-team, or 16-team, or 24-team tournament as being too exclusive.

            • Hackerdog

              And you’re wrong about obviously needing a better system. You’re simply not happy with the current system, so you want to impose your personal preference as the obviously superior choice. While that’s human nature, I like to think that the anti-playoff crowd is a bit more logical and honest about the warts of the current system, and of any possible alternative.

              There is a degree of arbitrariness in the current system. But arbitrariness is a necessary component of any, workable, post season system. Arguing that a playoff would eliminate arbitrariness is a lazy, and false, argument.

              Arguing that an undefeated team should always play for a championship is equally lazy and false. Ditto for the champion of your favorite conference.

              Each year is an independent trial in college football. One year, a 2-loss team could be recognized as the champion. And the next, an undefeated team could have little argument for getting the chance to play for the title. Them’s the breaks.

              • Macallanlover

                You continually misstate my position either deliberately or because you find it easier to refute those points you have an easy answer to.
                1. It isn’t my beloved basketball tourney, I don’t even watch college basketball. But the champion earns their title against enough worthy opponents to be reognized as National Champions.
                2. In football, any decision about who is the best will ALWAYS be arbitrary and subjective. The champion of all NCAA sports is just that, the champions, not necessarily the BEST team. The difference is inclusiveness. In football, 2 teams isn’t inclusive enough. More people would accept the title of National Champions if they had earned it in a competition against all worthy contenders. Conference champions are legit because they win against all comers, faux NC titles lack that credibility. It is hard to argue having more conference champions included wouldn’t improve the legitimacy issue, even if it doesn’t mean there is one supreme team.
                3. My point about Auburn isn’t that they would have won, no one will ever know, but I do know that anyone claiming a title in a competition which excluded an unbeaten team from a conference that is universally considered the best, or one of the two best, has a diminished claim. To some degree, that happens every year, I just think 2004 was the worst case of someone being excluded with impeccable credentials.
                4. Over 60 million people vote in our Presidential elections. That doesn’t mean we get the best person in office, we could probably do as well/better with 1000 selected representatives from all walks of life picking the President. But the office is more respected because it is an open competition with access from all. Taking the six BCS conference winners, allowing the two highest rated conference champs to have a play-in game, and taking one wild card from anywhere else is certainly going to minimize the grumbling. I submit 98% of the public would agree that was fair going in that way. Regardless of whomever wins out of that 8 team tourney is more deserving than the current process. That is a heck of a lot better than any champion we have crowned so far, but that is far different from saying who is the best. we don’t get that in MLB, NFL, or The Masters, but we do get a person who beat all comers.

                So what is wrong with improving it? Because that is improving it. You may feel it isn’t worth it because of time away from classes, length of the season, damage to bowls, or any of several cases I have heard, but it would make it more legit than two teams chosen abitrarily while excluding some that may be more worthy. I am fine with just staying with conferene champions, but someone claiming a faux title is irksome.

                • Hackerdog

                  It’s not a faux title. Just because you disagree with the championship doesn’t mean it’s illegitimate.

                  And your bug is my feature. You want college football to be like all the other sports. I think the fact that it’s not like all the other sports is a good thing. I think the champion should be the best, or at least as close as we can reasonably come to deciding upon the best.

                  Any system, like an extended playoff, that moves away from deciding on the best team in the direction of simply playing more games to satisfy your particular fetish would debase my favorite sport, not improve it.

                  • Macallanlover

                    It is “faux” because it is awarded, not earned. It is a BCS title and considered a MNC by most everyone, not a NC.

                    I see no way an eight team playoff would debase college football, none. Your right to your opinion, but I simply don’t see why we should avoid making the sport better if we can do it without giving up something significant. I cannot think of a playoff that guarantees the “best” will always prevail, but this winner will be respected as the champ.

  4. Dboy

    That’s a mouthfull