This is really, really good.
We, as American sports fans, like endings. I think that speaks a little bit to who we are. We tend to think of September baseball games being more important than April games. We tend to think of sports heroics in the fourth quarter being more meaningful than heroics in the second. We tend to put more stock into great Sunday finishes in golf than great Thursday opening rounds. I think the vast majority of us believe in the fairness of playoffs over the fairness of extended excellence, the value of single elimination games over the value of many weeks of consistent winning. Like I say: I think that speaks a little to who we are.
Posnanski delves into the history of the NFL playoffs, notes that teams with bye weeks have become less successful, acknowledges that makes the efforts during the regular season less meaningful and yet doesn’t see a problem with that.
… Is this good for pro football? I would say largely that it is. I love the NFL playoffs. I love the randomness of it. The NFL is built around that Any Given Sunday credo, and the game thrives largely because of that. You really don’t know what’s going to happen. But the question I think about, the question I want to ask here: WHY do we love that sort of randomness?
To me, that gets to the heart of what’s different about the NFL game and the college game. The pros really are about structuring parity above everything else. You’ve got salary caps, the draft and scheduling reinforcing the attempt to level the playing field for all the teams. That doesn’t mean that every team finishes 8-8 every season, but it does make it harder to sustain excellence over time (or to stay crappy over time, unless you’re a member of the Smith family). And that’s good business for the NFL.
But that’s not what college football is about. First off, it’s not a monolith. Its conferences compete with each other in the market place as well as on the field. And it’s not structured to promote parity. There’s no draft; instead, teams fight and claw with each other for recruits, regardless of the previous season’s records. There’s a limited salary cap in the sense that there is a limit on the number of players who can receive scholarships, but that just encourages schools to spend moneys on infrastructure and coaches’ salaries.
So in any given season, it’s far more likely that you have a bigger pool of relatively equal talent, team-wise, entering the NFL postseason than you do at the end of the college football regular season. The point of inviting the Sun Belt champ to a sixteen-school playoff isn’t that such a team has a legitimate shot of surviving a four-round tourney and winning a national title. It’s to introduce a Cinderella factor into the postseason process.
Posnanski asks if that’s more fair. Eye of the beholder, I suppose, although what I’d really argue is that it’s more entertaining for the people whom he describes in the first paragraph of his piece. Maybe it’s just me, but that’s not what I want the guiding principle behind a college football postseason to be.