They keep pulling me back in.

I know some of you probably groan internally when you see another BCS post at GTP, but really, what am I supposed to do when I see this posted at EDSBS?


Gosh, Seth, when you put it that brilliantly, obviously I don’t get the spiritual fulfillment that comes from filling out brackets as so many other people like yourself do.

Then again, I suspect you don’t have a clue as to what drives folks all over the Southeast to fill college football stadiums with more people then you’ll see in any arena hosting the first round of the basketball tourney… to watch spring exhibition football scrimmages.  So we’re even on that score.

Don’t get me wrong here.  I enjoy March Madness – how could you not?  But I simply don’t understand the romanticism of football playoff proponents for it.

This past weekend gave me reason No. 1,394,020 to quit filling out brackets:  I love seeing the mid-majors win. Instead of cheering Northern Iowa, all I could think was this — I have Kansas winning it all! Many of you probably went through the same — indeed 42.7 percent of the 4.78 million brackets filled out on had Kansas as the national champion (including the bracket of President Barack “Chalk” Obama).

But is also reason No. 1,394,020 why the NCAA basketball tournament trumps what college football calls a postseason.

Anybody can win.

Aw, that’s so cute.  Wrong, but cute.  A number one seed has never lost in the first round.  A number two seed has lost only four times in the first round.  Here’s Wikipedia’s breakdown of how low seeds have done in the tournament since it expanded to 64 schools:

Lowest seeds to reach each round since expansion to 64 teams in 1985:

Notice that, aside from George Mason’s improbable run in 2006, the trend has clearly been running against the lower seeds showing up for the semifinals and the quarterfinals.  So, no, not everybody can win.  Cinderella gets to dance early, but she doesn’t get to stay for the main event.  Which is what you’d expect in a multi-round, single-elimination format tournament.  How’s that different from “any given Saturday” in college football?

… While I realize college basketball and college football are different sports, with different politics involved and a different way of doing business, it is still refreshing to see “non-BCS schools” beating the big boys. Especially with all the fighting teams like TCU and Boise St. have had to do to gain respect — and a seat at the table – in college football.

If the powers that be in college football had their way, those mid-majors would be locked out of any BCS/playoff system. They are embraced in college basketball and shunned in college football. The only way this would change in football, of course, is with a playoff that involves automatic bids for all 11 conferences. Right now, we have no way of knowing whether the Sun Belt champion could take down UF or Alabama. Nobody thought Northern Iowa would win, right?

Because of the playoff label.  (By the way, we do know whether the Sun Belt champ could take down Florida.  The Gators beat Troy by 50 last season.)

This is what the debate comes down to, in my opinion.  Does the Cinderella factor enhance the postseason experience such that it validates its winner to a greater extent than the BCS currently does?  A lot of people would say unquestionably that it does.

Matt Hinton, who makes no bones about being a playoff proponent, acknowledges that there’s more of a fine line that college football should walk.  Here’s his counter to Adelson’s Cinderella-love:

… With the thrill of the unexpected, though, comes the unavoidable tradeoff of a certain kind of justice for obviously superior teams — such as, say, Kansas, which defeated rival Kansas State three times en route to the Big 12’s regular season and tournament championships, only to watch the Wildcats move closer to the national championship because their inexplicable lapse against an inferior opponent came at a more convenient time in the season — whose otherwise brilliant campaigns can go up in a blink. (The classic football example is the 2007 Patriots, arguably the greatest team in NFL history, whose perfect season was extinguished by a six-loss team that not only lost to New England in the regular season but finished three full games behind the champion of its own division.) For all the BCS’ faults, producing an “unworthy” champion has never been one of them, as opposed to the occasional Villanova, N.C. State and Arizona in the basketball tournament; the Series’ sins have always been at the opposite end, of leaving obviously worthy contenders out of the mix rather than letting stragglers in. But the impulse to prevent a “hot” team from watering down the stakes in the regular season is the only valid argument the status quo has going for it.

I can’t argue too much with that, although I think maintaining the value of a conference championship is a worthy goal for whatever postseason format college football adopts.  I don’t disagree with this point, either:

There is a middle ground between those competing poles that recognizes that a playoff should be open enough to allow all worthy contenders, restrictive enough to exclude the riffraff, and designed with the goal of producing a champion that has inherently produced the best season by virtue of winning the playoff…

Sure ’nuff, but the devil’s in the details.  Matt saves that for another day, but I’ve got to say that his giving a nod to Dan Wetzel’s 16-team playoff proposal as a possible solution doesn’t convince me that he’s on the side of the angels with this.  If his standard is that middle ground, shouldn’t any realistic evaluation of the best postseason format start with a historical analysis of how many teams on average are worthy of being considered national title contenders at regular season’s end?  I’m not sure of too many things in this life, but I’ll bet the ranch that whatever that average number is, it’s a helluva lot less than sixteen.


UPDATE: Elkon combines disassembling the “anybody can win” talk with some choice Mandel smack.  What’s not to like?


UPDATE #2: Year2 adds some kinder, gentler, don’t-go-there thoughts.


Filed under BCS/Playoffs

39 responses to “They keep pulling me back in.

  1. The Realist

    To: College basketball fans From: Confused college football fan

    Can we compare the pros and cons of college basketball and football or not? It seems whenever someone points out the cons of the college basketball tournament that someone is told that you can’t compare the two sports because they are soooo different. But then, when the glories and majesty of the pro of the tournament is upon us, the two sports were twins, separated at birth. So, which is it?


  2. jermaine's dye

    I think they like it because the system deciding a national champion is transparent and contains a clear momentum after each round of games.

    Unlike a series of corporate sponsored end of the year exhibition games.

    I think they like it because the level of competition in tournament games rises and often creates compelling great games.

    Unlike a series of corporate sponsored end of the year exhibition games.


  3. C. Thomas

    When it comes to BCS vs. Playoff agenda, you are the ESPN of bloggers. Give it a rest already.


  4. RusDawg

    To: College Basketball From: College Football

    I bet people don’t plan their weddings and other significant life events around you. Life’s a B ain’t it. Have fun playing second fiddle.


  5. Framing the debate about a football playoff with filling out brackets and Cinderella stories is dis-ingenious, and you know it.

    It is not the Cinderellas that validate the champion, it is the tourney itself.

    Before anyone says it, two teams does not a tourney make.

    Just once I wish you would focus your competent, critical eye on the flaws of our existing system.

    A four game tournament involving 16 of 120 teams is not going to devalue a 12 game regular season.


    • Why do we need a 16-team tourney?


    • RusDawg

      16 teams? That would be way too many, and it would devalue the regular season. Lord. Notre Dame would end up in the tourny most years, just because they are Notre Dame.

      A playoff would just keep expanding is the big problem I have with it. Would a 4 team or even 8 team playoff work? Probably, but people would want to expand it eventually, and that would devalue the regular season.

      I think an apt comparison might be MLB baseball. The World Series used to be the biggest sporting event in all of sports. But the playoffs have been expanded and expanded. You used to have to have the best record in the league, then in the division, now none of that matters.

      You can’t tell me those early 90s pennant races for the Braves didn’t give you chills….

      The air of uncertainty is what makes College Football so nerve-wrackingingly enjoyable….


  6. sUGArdaddy

    MikeinValdosta, do you honestly not think that a 16 team tourney will devalue the regular season? Can you really not see the detrimental effect that would have on non-conference games. You’d end up w/ all the conference champions and a few at-large bids. If UGA or UF have their division wrapped up, why on earth would they play their starters against Tech or FSU? Why would they want to end up like Purdue, losing their star player right before the tourney begins.

    Do you not see that the SEC championship game this year would have meant absolutely little more than seeding, as UF and Bama would have both been awarded a spot in the tourney. See Kansas & K-State for how that worked out. It would crush the regular season because everything would be about getting to the tournament, and it would be a lot easier to get into the tournament than it is the championship game is now. I’m in favor of a 4 team playoff of the top 4 conference champions, but anything beyond four teams will deeply disrupt the passion of the regular season.


    • I really do not teams laying down against their end of year rivals.

      I could not disagree more, the SEC Championship would still be the SEC Championship. I don’t care what John Calipari said about his basketball team.

      Again, I think 8 would be better, but all of the inevitable expansion talk forces me to argue the max.

      I need look no further than last year. We were out of it, so was Auburn, but there was as much passion in that game, on both sides, as the LSU game.

      When I am only guaranteed 12 opportunities to watch the Dawgs, 6 or 7 at home, nothing is going to “disrupt” my passion.


      • sUGArdaddy

        You don’t watch much NFL do you, Mike? Indianapolis & N.O. both sacrificed the season because the end goal of the S.B. was more important. The first coach that loses a starting QB in an end of the year rivalry game will be the last.

        The passion of lesser teams won’t be affected, but the importance of games will lose luster. And Calipari is right, like it or not. The tourney is what matters. Everything will become about making the tourney. If you don’t get how that will damage the passion of two 12-0 teams matching up, then you just don’t get it. Or two 8-0 teams matching up in Jax, then you just don’t get it. Wouldn’t you hate to beat Fla. in Jax only to lose to them in the national championship game? Is that what we want college football to become?


        • Yes I do.

          First of all, the NFL has balanced conferences with league scheduling. The tournament is seeded according to regular season performance.

          Second, the NFL does not limit player’s eligibility to 4 years. That is a significant difference between the two games. The 4 year window and the school affiliation are tremendous emotion enhancers.

          Third, there are only 32 teams in the NFL as compared with 120 in college. Is find it ridiculous to think that we can count on voting and computers to determine which 2 of 120 are worthy of playing for a championship. I would much prefer to allow an unworthy participant into the tourney, than to exclude a worthy participant.

          Do you honestly believe one team would not give it their all if UGA and UF were undefeated in Jacksonville?

          If winning your conference championship is the only way to guarantee your participation in the tourney, that game matters.


    • sUGArdaddy,

      The “rivalry” argument has a pretty simply solution — move all the non-conference games to the front of the schedule, like the Pac-10 and Big Ten. (Of course, that’s just a variation of the “big game” argument, which can occur in-conference, too.)

      Most BCS conference are deep enough (or have enough parity) that it would be crazy to “rest your starters” for a conference game — and one lost game could knock you out of contention, depending on the size of the field. The CFB season isn’t large enough that any team can afford to give games away.

      Yes, UF and Bama would both have gone to a tournament last year, and the year before. But that’s not always going to be the case (and it wasn’t in 2007 or 2006). If conference championship games are play-in games for the tournament, then they will sometimes be meaningless. But if we have a tournament, there’s no reason to play an extra game; we could just award a championship based on record like the Big 10. A tournament would make the conference championship game obsolete.

      As for the rematch argument, we’ve already got that possibility in our current system. We could conceivably beat a West opponent (or Auburn any year) and the lose to them in the SECCG. I don’t see how having to play one team one additional time would diminish the passion any. If an 10-0 Auburn and an 10-0 Georgia faced off at the end of this coming season and both already have their divisions locked up, I think we could still at least fill up a stadium. Personally, I’d love the chance to stick it to any of our rivals twice a year.


  7. I should clarify that any 16-team tournament in football should have an automatic bid for all 11 conference champions, as Wetzel’s does, maintaining the emphasis on winning the conference championship. That’s not ideal but I could live with it with no major complaints.

    Actually, I could live with a straight top-16 playoff with no automatic bids over the BCS, too, but a bracket that big would probably be the last option on the list. Too many is better than not enough, but the No. 16 team shouldn’t be playing for a national championship.


  8. Normaltown Mike

    If it was 16 then the SEC would most certainly need to drop the CG. Why potentially eliminate a “bubble team” with a final game?

    Without looking at final BCS standings pre SECCG, I’d bet dollars for dougnuts that in most years the SEC has 3 teams in the top 16.


  9. sUGArdaddy

    Guys, what world do you live in to think the SEC is going to drop the SECCG? Last year before the Bama/Fla. game Tim Brando said minutes before the game, “This right now is the greatest atmosphere in the history of college football.” It was a bloodbath for all the marbles. The ultimate conference championship game. Why would the SEC want to give that up for a playoff where both teams go?

    More importantly, the SEC makes a boatload of money off that game. It ain’t goin’ nowhere for a long, long time.

    The NFL is a much different game, Mike, and scheduling problem is the biggest difference. But a key difference in the NFL is that if your starting TE or LB tears up a knee in the NFC champ. game you can sign another one to help you win a Super Bowl. You can’t do that in college. And it’s a brutal sport. If you think injuries wouldn’t become an issue in a 4-round playoff, find your way to the sidelines of and SEC game sometime. It’s not a contact sport. It’s violent. I believe we need a 4 team playoff because the disparity between conferences has become too great to compare similar records, but any system (i.e. 16 team) that is going to allow weak conference champs (here’s looking at you ACC) and non-champions is one that is going to devalue much of what we love about CFB.

    Of course I think UGA and UF would give it all they had in Jax, it’s just that it would be a bummer to beat them head to head, win the conference and have to play them again in the 2nd or 3rd round of the playoffs. That just doesn’t seem as fun to me, but maybe I’m weird or just getting old. Or maybe I’m the Senator’s long lost twin. I don’t know, I just know that I don’t want that world.


    • I believe the what-ifs and any hypotheticals we want to throw around are far more common in the current system of voting and exclusion than they would be in a win and advance tourney.

      Obviously we are dealing with opinions, however few of you anti-playoff people acknowledge the inherent flaws in the current system.

      It is possible for every conference champ to go undefeated. You want to have a beauty contest to select two teams. And in your beauty contest, factors like traditional powers are going to be considered.

      At least, all of us playoff people define the rules for winning a championship at the beginning of the season, no matter how one is ranked in the pre-season.

      If you manage to win all of your games, you will be the champion. Your system does not assure that outcome. Defend that!


      • sUGArdaddy

        Oh, there are flaws in the system, no doubt. It’s just that we’ve had the BCS system since ’98 and you can really just consider that Auburn ’04 was the only team that has a real beef. They did all they could. But how many times since the tourney expanded to 64 teams has a team that didn’t win their conference won the big one? Or a team that everyone knew was one of the top four teams lose on the wrong off night.

        We have flaws, and I’m for 4-16 team conferences w/ the champs playing in a final four, I’m just concerned about bracket creep and don’t think they could stop once it started, and I’m not willing to trade those evils for what I believe are lesser evils now, especially since I’m a UGA fan. I know that winning the SEC w/ 1 or zero losses will “almost” always mean we’re going to the show, so why would I be in favor of having to run the gauntlet in the SEC and having to win 4 more games instead of 1?


        • I tend to agree about Auburn being the only real team with a beef, but I readily admit that is a subjective assessment.

          We summarily exclude teams from non-AQ conferences, rightly or wrongly.

          As for basketball, it is a different game. Basketball, like baseball, is best determined with series play, IMO.

          Back to hypotheticals…

          Suppose Texas and Ohio State both run the table this year. They meet as 1-2 in the title game, it is a close game, best ever. Doesn’t matter who wins for my point.

          Now, in 2011, both Texas and OSU start at the top of the polls and take care of their business. End the season undefeated. But Georgia and Alabama also went into the SEC title game undefeated. Georgia wins a close game over Bama but ends up third in the subjective polls.

          That is the kind of hypothetical that I worry about, not injuries or gutless coaches.


        • Phocion

          How quickly you have forgotten way back when the BCS only consisted of four bowl games with the MNCG rotating between them.

          Creep is already here in the system we have.


    • Gob

      You have a good point about the conference’s interests. But from a fan perspective, if you have an 8 team play-off with 7 total games, I would contend that every single game would have the same sort of feeling. With 8 teams you know everyone’s worthy, and everyone has a legitimate shot at the big one. That’s four more games that “matter” than under the current system (in recent history, only the SEC and BXII CCGs and the NCG have had that kind of tension, plus maybe games like UM-OSU in 2006). Even a plus-one format gives us two/four/five more “meaningful” games, if all BCS teams had the opportunity to make it into the NCG.


    • NRBQ

      I believe you need to reconsider your third graph there.

      NFL teams can sign new player during the playoffs?

      An absurd assertion, but really, imagine the cool possibilities if they could.


      • sUGArdaddy

        Sure they can. The Eagles did it a few years ago when their TE broke a leg or something in the NFC championship game. They can get a player off waivers or bring someone up off the practice squad or get some dude that retired a few years ago. There are rules to who they can get, obviously, but they can sign a player if someone on the 53-man roster gets put on the IR/DL.


  10. Phocion

    The Senator likes to restrict which conference champs get in and which don’t. The 6 BCS conference champs all get in and to make a 8 team bracket their are 2 at-large type bids. The problem here is that you could still leave out a few very worthy teams. Pac10 and Big East teams all paly every other conference team. That isn’t so in the SEC, BigTen, BigXII, or ACC so you could get a ‘champ’ from one of those conferences that is no better than equal if not inferior to a team that got left out of the CCG (Hello, Georgia!)or that loses out on some paperwork deal when co-champs are assigned (Go look at how often the BigTen has co-champs). Not to mention that you could have co-BigTen champs that are both undefeated because they never played each other (each could also have a similar non-conf loss or two). And then there is the Texas-Texas Tech- Oklahoma scenarios.

    So let’s say you add all 6 conference champs in last year. You need two more. Assuming you give the first at large spot to TCU, does Florida get in ahead of Boise State? And Iowa is out, right?

    By insuring that a certain number of conference champs are guaranteed playoff slots in a small playoff format (4, 6, or 8 ) you create as many headaches as you think you solve.


    • Phocion

      damn emoticons…that should be “8”, not some smiley face!


    • By insuring that a certain number of conference champs are guaranteed playoff slots in a small playoff format (4, 6, or 8 ) you create as many headaches as you think you solve.

      Not if your field is equal to the total number of D-1 conferences, which is the format I favor. Four sixteen-team or eight ten-team arrangements – I’m down with either.


      • Phocion

        Yes, but that is after a (radical) realignment.

        Without that, is it status quo forever or another playoff format?


          • Phocion

            I still think that is too small… and could leave out a deserving conference champ.

            Assume the undefeated SEC Champ is #1…the undefeated BigXII is #2…SEC runner up is #3…if two of the remaining three major conference champs both have the same record then it is left to pollster campaigning to see which one gets ranked ahead of the other.


            • Phocion

              I say ‘deserving’ but that is subjective because last year Boise State would have again been left home while Cincinnati and TCU would have been invited. BSU presonally dispatched TCU while Florida showed that Cincy was a sham.


  11. keith

    I will point it out one more time, the reason nobody would be resting starters is because the difference in winning and losing that last game may be the difference in an opening round playoff game at home or opening one the road in Norman or Austin, or in the horse shoe or Heaven forbid, the blue field. I think the money and pride that comes with opening at home vs the road would be plenty enough reason not to rest starters at anytime. The margin of error is too thin.
    Playing a 12 game regular season would make it virtually impossible to go beyond a 16 team tourney.


    • Phocion

      Then again, if you are OSU and the loss to Michigan means avoiding the SEC runner-up in a home game versus playing the non-U$C Pac10 champ on the road doesn’t it at least cross your mind?

      Just kidding, Buckeyes!

      I agree…you play for the home game..and the victory over your rival. Damn the torpedos!


  12. sUGArdaddy

    Right. Home field advantage is huuuuuge. But many of the people wanting playoffs want the bowls as the destinations, which is ridiculous. Fans can’t travel and the regular season would be completely devalued.


    • Is it better to devalue the championship?

      Have you seen Jim Tressel’s voting habits?

      He always votes OSU #1 and is so out of the norm with regards to how high he votes the teams OSU defeats.

      Can’t sports be one place we get to avoid politics?


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