Year2 explains why the college basketball postseason model isn’t ideal for D-1 football.
… Football goes by a principle of scarcity. It is the only sport that truly does, and it has no choice given the brutality of it. College football in particular works this way, given that it has the shortest regular season and postseason tournament of the major American sports. Yes, you read that right. College football has a tournament; it’s just a two-team tournament.
College basketball works on a principle of abundance. The marginal value of any one regular season game, rivalries and the like aside, is much lower than the value of a college football regular season game. The sport makes up for that lower value in volume.
The trick is knowing whether you are operating from scarcity or abundance and playing to the strength of the format. If you’re going to mix the two, you want to have abundance in the regular season and scarcity in the postseason. The last thing you want is scarcity in the regular season and abundance in the postseason tournament, because it drops the value of the regular season games considerably.
Now I want to believe he’s on to something there, but then he goes on with this:
… That’s the main, and supremely valid, concern of those who are against expanding college football’s tournament beyond two teams. Can you do it without sacrificing scarcity?
Of course you can. Opening it up to a four-team playoff does the trick, and I could be persuaded to go up to about 10 teams like with Matt Hinton’s playoff plan. I would absolutely be against a 16-team monstrosity involving the champions of all 11 conferences. The trick is making sure that playoff creep doesn’t happen and expand the field too far, but if you can keep a playoff at two teams indefinitely, you can keep it at whatever number you want indefinitely.
And that’s where he loses me. The reason D-1 football’s playoff has been locked in as it has at two is because the Delanys and Slives of the college football world are terrified about what might happen to the cash flow they control from the regular season in the wake of an expanded postseason. Now I happen to agree with Year2 that a plus one format of some sort isn’t likely to threaten that, but I admit that’s an easy concession to make from someone who isn’t responsible for keeping the money flowing.
However, I don’t think the tipping point is nearly as far out as he believes it is. Any postseason format which combines automatic berths for conference champs with entry based on subjective rankings opens itself up to regular complaints about deserving teams (or deserving conferences) being passed over with the inevitable pressure to expand to accommodate the whiners.
It’s worth remembering two things here. First, despite the scarcity talk, don’t forget that D-1 football is the outlier here. It’s the only game in town without a large playoff. (College football’s lower divisions all have them.) Not coincidently, D-1 football also happens to be the only game in town which hasn’t expanded its playoff.
Second, if you look at how the college basketball tourney has expanded, the pressure hasn’t come from the mid-majors. It’s come from the big conferences which push for ways to get more of their members in the postseason. That’s how you get eleven schools from Jim Boeheim’s conference playing in March.
I’m not smart enough to know exactly where the tipping point is. But I am smart enough to appreciate that the same ruthless bastards who run college football are also the ones who have pushed the basketball tourney’s growth. If they’re resistant to an enlarged D-1 football playoff, what does that tell you?