Matt Hinton is a level-headed playoff proponent. So, leave it to him to nail what it is about extended playoffs that bother people like me so much. Here’s what he says in reaction to the 9-7 regular season NFL Giants playing in the Super Bowl:
… they’re the fourth Super Bowl team in the last five years that got there by “getting hot” on the heels of a meh regular season, following the ’07 Giants, ’08 Cardinals and ’10 Packers — all of which made it to the championship round after finishing 10-6 or worse, and two of which wound up hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. It’s not an anomaly. It happens all the time. And every time, the regular season means a little bit less.
So when playoff opponents in college football chant “Every Game Counts,” this is what they mean: The 9-7 New York Giants (or their campus equivalent, in the event of an FBS playoff) have not advanced a legitimate claim on a championship, did not deserve the opportunity they have now taken advantage of and threaten to cheapen the concept of a championship season. To which I have to say, as an advocate of level playing fields and the virtues of competition: They’re right. It’s thoroughly frustrating to glorify teams for “getting hot” at the expense of superior outfits that have consistently outperformed them on the whole, effectively overturning three or four months of results in three or four weeks.
In the NFL, that may be inevitable. In college football, it is not. And I also have to say, as a playoff advocate in the college game: It can’t happen here…
Ah, that’s good. Real good. But it’s far from the whole story. And that’s my problem.
First off, Matt goes on to assert that “it would be impossible for the college football equivalent of a 9-7 NFL team to make the cut in any logistically feasible bracket…”, but that simply ain’t true. Ask Dan Wetzel, or anybody else who thinks a 16-team playoff in which all conference champions are eligible is a swell idea, about that.
But there’s a more underlying reason at the root of my disagreement. Here’s his vision of what a D-1 postseason should aspire to:
… In other words, the format should be (and would be) structured so that there is no doubt that the winner of the playoff is the most accomplished team as a result of winning the playoff. That means (as opposed to the BCS) setting the bar low enough to allow every deserving candidate a legitimate opportunity, but also (as opposed to the NFL, or the NCAA basketball tournament) setting it high enough that only the deserving candidates can clear it. It means being inclusive to generate a legitimate, competitive field, and exclusive enough to avoid diminishing returns.
Who can argue with any of that? Allow Judge Chamberlain Haller to retort.
The people who call the shots don’t care what the Matt Hintons of the world care about. (Note that Matt cites the NCAA basketball tourney as an example to avoid.) They’re in it for one primary purpose, to maximize a revenue stream for themselves. The current floundering over what to do with the BCS and the bowls in the wake of recent declining numbers is all about the money. So is conference expansion. (Just ask Larry Templeton.)
Nobody’s going into this exercise trying to make sure that the undeserving are kept out. Oh sure, that may happen. But if it does, it’ll be nothing more than a happy accident. In the short run, in the medium run and in the long run, there are two goals: buck up the postseason numbers and don’t do anything to harm the regular season revenues. And if whatever course they set in the next few months doesn’t do the trick down the road, they’ll be back at tweaking the deal again. And again.
These are the people who were prepared to tell you what a great thing a 96-team basketball tournament would be. Some of them probably even believe it. To think they have different instincts about college football is foolish. They know what playoffs are designed to do.