The Super Bowl is Not an Argument Against (Some) Playoffs.

I really don’t have to spend any time on why college football doesn’t need the equivalent of a seven-loss Super Bowl champ, do I?

Instead, spend a little time reading Year2’s thoughts and concerns on the matter.  Money graf:

I think ultimately though, this all boils down to a fairly fundamental argument. Is college football its own sport that should only be concerned about its own competitively purity, or is it a fundraiser that subsidizes nearly every other sport that schools sponsor? While in practice it is both, I fear that more and more, the powers that be see it solely as the latter.

I know that many of us like to romanticize the whole “settle it on the field” as justification for an expanded playoff, but that’s not why playoffs expand.  They expand for one inevitable reason – the stewards of the sport sense an opportunity to wring more money out of the marketplace.

And that’s why I find it easy to dismiss many of the factors Year2 cites as sort of natural brakes on the expansion process.  Sure, the NFL playoffs are oversized.  Obviously, nobody wants to see a team with a winning percentage on the short side of 60% grab a national title.  No doubt there’s a noticeable dropoff in quality once you get down to college football’s eighth and ninth ranked teams.

To all of that I say, “so what?”  College athletics’ grand poobahs have already traveled down that road and taken comfort in the journey.  These are the people who looked hard at a 96-team basketball tourney and ultimately pulled up only because they couldn’t find a broadcast partner ready to stroke a check of sufficient size.  Closer to home, as many of you like to remind me, there’s a college football playoff out there already.  They’ve even named the division after it!

And the FCS tourney has grown to twenty teams with an eye towards expanding to 24.  So don’t tell me it can’t happen.  If they think the money’s there, it will.

Therein lies the rub.  The big boys have it going their way right now.  What’s holding things in right now is control of the football revenue spigot.  Regular season money isn’t shared and dwarfs the postseason money that is shared.  What they’re trying to do – what they’re always trying to do – is make sure that whatever steps they take don’t upset that apple cart.

It’s not about playoffs.  It’s about how the revenue pie is cut.  That’s why Jim Delany’s cautious toe in the water approach to the plus-one is really the proverbial canary in the coal mine.  The issue isn’t whether there’s going to be a plus-one playoff of some sort (the panic over the recent ratings and attendance drops has made that a virtual lock).  It’s where things go after the plus-one is put in place.

And that’s why the real development to watch isn’t the Big Ten’s playoff discussion, as much attention as that will get.  It’s what NCAA president Mark Emmert is up to with his twin proposals to pay a $2000 player stipend and to allow student-athletes to receive multi-year scholarships.  If both pass, they’ll be the death knell to D-1 football as we know it today.  The have-nots simply won’t be able to keep up with the haves anymore.  The end result will be a split of the division.  And once that happens, Jim Delany won’t have to share with Karl Benson anymore.

It’ll be off to the races from there, playoff-wise.  The only limit we’ll see as to expanded playoffs will be the regular season money.  Delany, Slive and Scott will walk the number of postseason rounds right up to the edge as to where it would affect the value of their conferences’ broadcast rights and calibrate that back just so.

Maybe we’ll get lucky and it will turn out that our desire to see things settled on the field and their desire to settle their bank accounts will line up in agreement when it comes down to a final format.  But it will be nothing more than a happy coincidence if that happens.


Filed under BCS/Playoffs

33 responses to “The Super Bowl is Not an Argument Against (Some) Playoffs.

  1. “What’s holding things in right now is control of the football revenue spigot”. Yep that is it Senator.


    • 69Dawg

      God Bless UGA and OK for that law suit. If the NCAA still control the rights we would have had a 64 team NCAA play-off by now.


      • Mayor of Dawgtown

        And one game a week would be televised on national TV during the regular season. That game would be Notre Dame vs. Whoever Is Playing Notre Dame That Week.


  2. paul

    Sadly, I believe you have hit the proverbial nail on its head. I wish you were wrong, but you’re not.


  3. Lrgk9

    Yup. And another thing, a playoff system will likely favor the SEC because the other conferences don’t run the gauntlet of toughness that is the SEC week in and week out – come playoff time – it will be hard to beat the SEC.

    The other conferences know it and are avoiding like the plague,


  4. gastr1

    Expanding playoffs to increase revenue is a no-brainer with one exception: the FCS playoffs. Did they make any money to begin with? Dis expansion increase revenues, hold the line, or increase losses? There was an increase in the number of FCS schools over time, as the last time the playoffs were expanded was 20+ years ago. Is an increase in participating schools an acceptable reason to expand playoffs?

    The comparison to the FCS playoffs is inexact at best and irrelevant at worst, because D1 football playoffs obviously would make money and we all know that D1 football can never turn down even the slightest increase in revenues even when valued traditions and rivalries would be lost. Just for shits and giggles, anyway, can I make a request for a post or series of posts on the history of the FCS playoffs, including revenues, number of schools, and expanding playoffs?


  5. Connor

    When all of that happens, and I agree with you that it probably will, in what way will that new landscape bear any resemblence to the one that grabbed the attention and interest of most of us years ago? UGA will still be playing. But if they are playing different teams, at different times, in different places, with paid players, with different ultimate team goals… is it the same game?
    Everyone is so hell bent on getting the “National Champion” in “College Football National Champion” that they’re willing to lose the “College Football.”


  6. Always Someone Else's Fault

    I’ve yet to see another discussion of this, by any level of writer, that so neatly and perfectly explains how the dominoes line up and how they will fall. Well done.

    Those home semi-final dates are going to turn campuses into a complete zoo, an Alice-in-Wonderland alternative reality with media “live shots” on every street corner and football players mobbed on their way to classes. Unbelievable pressure. See: Alabama-LSU 2011.

    Road team’s going to have a big advantage, if you think about it.


  7. Hogbody Spradlin

    The proverbial genie out of the bottle.


  8. Macallanlover

    You certainly have pointed out the shortfall in a playoff, even if a 7 loss team will never win a CFB championship. What you failed to point out is that the Giants won their title because they were not excluded. Their performance on the road in winning proved they were among the best, they earned it on the field. No one is making fun of them this week, or questioning that they belong. In fact, all the conversation is about how they deserved it because it was earned.

    The NFL and CFB should not be compared in this process for obvious reasons of over saturation by the NFL, but what they did demonstrate is how a winner of a viable conference should not be denied an opportunity. In CFB where there is not the chance to have played most of the field during the regular season, access to realistic contenders or representation of major conferences is necessary to legitimize the title of NC.


    • In fact, all the conversation is about how they deserved it because it was earned.

      Then why are so many citing it as a result CFB should avoid?


      • Macallanlover

        I think there are people who would oppose a CFB playoff even if it led to the cure for cancer. I don’t see the NFL as a model for the CFB football, in fact I would oppose a playoff with that percentage of teams included. It would be a disaster, imo.

        The NY Giants did deserve that particular title….although I am much more intrigued now by the passion and fire of this Gisele girl than discussing any pro game, or playoff.


    • Always Someone Else's Fault

      You can’t separate that conversation about “how it was earned” from the other conversations inspired by the playoffs – -such as the one about “how maybe Tom Brady actually sucks.”

      In other words, at some point you have to admit that some conversations are just nonsense and not worth listening to. CFB is not damaged in the least by what Oregon fans think about the validity of Alabama as a national champion. Nor is CFB substantially enhanced by a playoff in order to “legitimize” a NC.

      Baseball has playoffs. Baseball on TV (versus live) is the definition of boring. No one I know watches.
      Hockey has playoffs. Ditto TV (ditto live). Ditto attention.
      Pro basketball – I don’t start watching until the conference finals.
      College basketball. I watch one weekend a year. Two if my team makes it out of weekend one.

      I could go on. All of these sports have “legitimate” NCs. All of these sports have serious issues getting people to tune in.

      If CFB turns into the NFL, with the conferences as de facto divisions and a wild-card or two, then something will have been gained – and something will have been lost. I agree with Connor above.


    • Their performance on the road in winning proved they were among the best,…

      Does the SI commemorative DVD come with an option to fastforward through the four months of mediocrity, particularly that four game losing streak in November, to get to the good stuff to prove how they were among the “best”?


      • Dante

        Have you never seen those team in review shows? They make everyone seem like they’re on the verge of winning next year’s Super Bowl. They’ll even make the most recent Colts team look good. Of course they fast forward through the mediocrity.


        • Hah, I was just joshin’ with Mac. I think Connor hits the nail on the head above. The largest unintended consequence of the BCS is that it has largely reduced the importance of conference championships with relation to the national championship. My formative years of college football (admittedly during the Bowl Coalition/early BCS days) still were very conference-centric. My freshman year at UGA (2002) was when I really fell in love with college football and the fact that we didn’t win the national title that year, even though I will argue to my grave that we were playing better football than anybody in America by the end of that season, wasn’t diminished because we won the SEC that year.


          • Macallanlover

            You are right Audit Dawg, the current system has made conference titles less that getting to “the game”. If conference championships were the entry fee, they would have more meaning. And the regular season would mean more because being in an elite group, and needing homefield advantage for the first round would insure everyone laid it out in every game.


    • Hackerdog

      I like the way you think Macallanlover. Championships should never be about determining which team is the best. And, even if some idiot wanted to argue that the best team should be the champion, obviously a four game schedule is superior than a sixteen game schedule in determining team quality.

      I mean, the lower the sample size, the greater the credibility of the results, right?


      • Macallanlover

        We both know, you never know “the best”. You may speculate, argue your opinion with tons of facts, and even acquire a crown/title through a playoff, but it is not about “the best”. Everyone knows that, and it isn’t just about CFB, it applies to baseball, golf, tennis, basketball,and other football conferences. I hope everyone understands that because the argument about “best” isn’t what the playoff talk is about. “Best” varies week to week, game to game. The old “any given Saturday” is applicable, who is at 100% comes into play.

        Tiger Woods is the very best golfer I have ever seen, and it isn’t even close, but he could never win 50% of the tournaments he plays in, and he especially cannot win half of the major championship tournaments he plays in. I can argue he is the best with anyone, but no one ever knows moment to moment. We don’t in CFB either, we may know who won, or played the best on a given day with specific circumstances.

        This is about championships, earned against a set of deserving contenders. My number is 8, I think that gives us a great championship every year, in a reasonable time frame, with enough inclusion for people to respect the champion that wins…but I would not say they were the best. No one will ever know that.


        • Hackerdog

          I agree. Because we can’t identify the best with 100% accuracy, we shouldn’t even bother trying.

          I’m curious, since you want 8 teams to vie for a championship, but we can all agree that the goal isn’t to determine the best team, how should we choose the 8 teams? Polls? Computers? Conference champions (AQ + what 2 others)? I prefer random lottery, myself.

          Nothing like seeing Alabama play San Diego State to give us a “legitimate” champion.


          • Macallanlover

            You are usually more serious and on point with your comments. I accept that you and I feel differently, but I have never indicated anything that deserved that type of response. Eight teams is very exclusive, I don’t feel I am lowering the bar to a point it deserves mocking comments.


            • Hackerdog

              I’m not mocking your preference for 8 teams in a playoff. I’m mocking your insistence that only a playoff (of more than 2 teams) can determine a champion. I’m also mocking your contention that championships should not try to identify the best team. 8 teams isn’t that big a deal to me.


              • Macallanlover

                In a gross exaggeration of the point, I don’t think the SC, New Hampshire, Iowa, and Colorado primaries identify the best candidate for either party. Just too many areas not represented, and the lineup is different each time they play. I never said we shouldn’t “try” to identify who is the best, we will just never accomplish that because no system I have ever seen does that whether it be NCAA basketball/baseball/golf, etc, nor has the NFL, NBA, MLB, or World Cup. You only get a winner at that point in time.

                You are right, the current two team BCS title game can identify the BCS champion, but it is limited in it’s legitimacy because it is too exclusive. We just held that “championship”, did we identify the best? I don’t think so, and I am not alone. We had two teams who faced each other twice and split 1-1. The team that did not get “declared” the champion did not have the best body of work, won it’s conference and division championship via the regular season, has a more impressive resume based on the number of quality wins, and had a better overall record. Reasonable fans would split over that decision of who was best in 2011.

                Don’t get me wrong, the BCS is better than the prior bowl system but it has, unfortunately, led to the country being misled that we have identified “the best”, and have a way to declare a national champion. It has also led to the regular season having fewer quality, OOC match-ups in an attempt to “play the system”. I think the focus should get back to winning your conference. I don’t think we are far apart on our positions of the regular season, just where it should lead and how we should feel about the job being done to identify a worthy champion.


  9. Dante

    “I really don’t have to spend any time on why college football doesn’t need the equivalent of a seven-loss Super Bowl champ, do I?”

    You don’t have to explain that to me. I realize that a 7-loss Super Bowl champion is no more or less “legitimate” than a BCS champion who can’t even win their conference. (Remember when at least both the Senator and I advocated just giving LSU the national title and letting Bama and Okie State play for #2?) Getting into a urinating contest with some other sport over whose champion is purer or fairer is absurd. College football has a system. They use it to determine a champion. It’s not perfect. It’s not fair. But it’s good TV. Except for when it’s not and that’s why we’re even talking change to begin with.

    I saw those Super Bowl TV ratings. If the NCAA even thought they could get those kind of ratings with a playoff system, they’d implement one in a heartbeat, especially if they could wrest control of the process from the BCS at the same time.

    College football had something that was too good to gamble with losing in the BCS. If the BCS further deteriorates, rolling the dice on a playoff just looks like that much better of an idea.


  10. +1,000. As I have been commenting from the start of the plus one meme, TPTB in college football are trying to avoid the epic and bloody battle within the NCAA membership that would occur if BCS Div-1A conferences went to a full-scale football playoff without providing access and/or renumeration with the full membership. I think it is the strategy behind calling it a plus one rather than a four team playoff.

    In this area of the country we may dismiss college basketball, but that has a lot to do with the fact that UGA’s team has not been relevant for pretty much its entire history, the conference’s national profile is pretty much Kentucky & Florida’s back-to-back from 4 years ago.

    But as a $$$ maker for the NCAA and its membership & broadcast partners it matters a lot.

    1. The 2011 tourney ratings were up 17% for the round of 64, and 21% for the round of 32.

    2. The opening round of March Madness drew 93 million viewers while the second round drew 86 million.

    3. The Alabama-LSU rematch drew 24 million viewers about 4 million more than their regular season game and the Butler UConn championship game.

    4. Total ad spend for 2011 college football regular season & post season = about $792 million.

    5. Total ad spend for 2010-11 college basketball regular season & post season = $1.335 billion. This year’s college football ad spend is just now hitting the ad spend from the 2007-2010 NCAA tournaments.

    6. The NFL, MLB, NBA, and College basketball all have significant increases in ad spend post-season over regular season. College football’s post-season is almost a $450 million decline.

    Everyone involved with the sport can see that a D-1 playoff will be an uprade in ratings and sponsor revenue but power and control of the total pie is crucial to the decision-making process. The BCS conferences have most of the power and money when it comes to football and they can see the increased cash flow from a playoff. Non-BCS conferences understand that they have enormous power when it comes to the revenues derived from the basketball tourney but too much resistance to a playoff comes with a risk.

    Each side is going to tread carefully out of fear that it all can implode. No one wants to get into protracted legal fights with sponsors, broadcast partners and other NCAA members.

    It will be very interesting.


    • Hackerdog

      No one has argued that the NCAA basketball tournament hasn’t been a financial and ratings success. The problem with it is that it has destroyed the regular season. Only the most hardcore basketball fans watch any regular season basketball games at all. Even the conference tournaments have declined in importance, money, and ratings.

      So now we have a problem where the horse is out of the barn. We have an expanded tournament and no regular season. So the only way to get more money out of college basketball is to tweak the tournament. Absolutely nothing you do to the regular season or conference tournament is going to make any difference whatsoever to revenue.

      It would be awful to see that done to college football. The day I can’t watch the WLOCP because it’s only broadcast on PPV because it’s only October and the games that matter don’t start until December/January is the day I get rid of my TV.


      • First, the NCAA tournament may have had a minor effect on the diminshed importance of college basketball’s regular season – but the tournament has not made significant changes to number of teams and structure of the post-season since 1985 when it expanded to 64 teams. It only has 68 now – so it is hard to chalk up all of college basketball’s issues to the tournment expansion which took place almost 30 years ago.

        If you want to point to something, I would say these issues have more of an impact:
        1. The mind numbing length of college basketball regular season which begins about mid-November and concludes the first week of March. No matter who the opponents are for a game in mid-December or early January – it is hard to sell fans that the 11th regulars season game against a mid-leveal AQ conference opponent with a moderate RPI is an important game when you still have 15-19 games left to go on the season. That game may really only matter if you are on the bubble to get into the NCAA tournament and you want use it to prop up your resume.

        2. The proliferation of televised regular season basketball goes hand in hand with the length of the season. The game is over exposed on just the ESPN family of channels. Throw in all of the other network, syndicated, and cable sports programming and you can have basketball on M-F from 7:00 PM until midnight and from 12:00 PM to 12:00 AM on Saturday and Sunday. It probably adds up to about 50-75 games per week. It is difficult selling the hardcore fan on the importance of watching a Wednesday match up of Baylor-Oklahoma St yet alone a casual fan. Too much broadcast availability has made the teams, coaches and players faceless.

        3. It also has been made irrelevant, because their are few transcendent players at the college basketball level anymore. Personally, I think this is the reason college basketball’s regular season has suffered more than anything else. The sport lost generations worth of talent to the NBA – 39 players in 10 years including Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, LeBron, Dwight Howard, and Amare Stoudemire. All of whom had the talent to carry a college team on their back. Throw in 1 year college players like Carmelo Anthony, Stephon Marbury, Derrick Rose, Chris Bosh, Greg Oden, or even a Kyrie Irving. The #1 reason that people go see NBA games is to see the top players in the game. You cannot market regular season college basketball when the top players either never matriculated at a college or played about 15 games on campus before leaving for the pros. Player attrition has affected all of the facets of the game from the way coaches recruit and build teams, to in-game strategies to the tournament itself.

        Second, tournament basketball has not forced the regular season to broadcast games on PPV. If the NFL Network has taught anyone in sports anything, it is that you cannot move to regular season game availability to subscription pay cable without angering fans and sponsors.

        Third, regular season games do matter in all sports. Without a decent regular season record, there is a small window to qualify for the NCAA tournament. If and when college football goes to a full scale playoff, the regular season will still matter. Yes, you might have a champion with 2 or 3 or possible even 4 losses, but in order to qualify for the post-season tourney teams will most likely need to be a conference champion. You did not have to be a conference champion to win the 2011 National title.


        • Hackerdog

          In point 1, you agree with my position. You said, “That game may really only matter if you are on the bubble to get into the NCAA tournament …” The fact is that all games only matter as issues of seeding for the NCAA tournament.

          As for your second point, college football has seen the same explosion in television exposure. And the popularity has only grown. I think that’s because the college football regular season isn’t devalued by an expanded post-season.

          You do have a point about the best players leaving school early. But then again, UGA football still sells out after its star players leave.

          As for the regular season continuing to matter. You’re right that it will. It will just matter a lot less. After the 2011 regular season, there was one undefeated team from a major conference. The championship debate centered around the most deserving of the one-loss teams. Two losses put you out of consideration for a championship. With an expanded tournament, we simply move the debate from discussing the most deserving one-loss team, to the most deserving two or three-loss teams. So it will take three or four losses to exclude a team from championship consideration. So that’s the unfortunate reality. And when multiple loss teams still make the tournament, you get coaches resting players to prepare for the tournament. Or, you get coaches who were .500 after playing 88% of the schedule looking like geniuses when their teams get hot at the right time and win the tournament.


    • Always Someone Else's Fault

      I’m in basic agreement. Some points to consider:

      The totals invested in ads for each sport is potentially misleading statistic. Ad money spent per available slot is a much better metric. CBB, for example, probably exceeds total CFB programming inventory by a ratio of… what, 5 to 1? 10 to 1?

      You also can’t divide the pots for regular season CBB and CFB down the middle. Those are lumped for most conferences, and I haven’t heard anyone discuss the formula that the networks use to evaluate a conference for its total football/basketball package. However, I think you can look at the differences in the ACC and SEC packages to see which sport weighs the most at the negotiating table.

      But we agree that a “playoff” represents money left on the table right now and that it will remain left on the table as long as revenue distribution gets decided in an NCAA boardroom.


      • I agree with you there are better metrics, but it is a telling statistic that CFB is one of the few sports that generates less in sponsor revenue for their postseason compared to the regular season. Also, I think that the CPM is less for the college football post-season.

        I would bet that the difference in available inventory for the post-season is not that different. Football broadcast are about 60 to 90 minutes longer than a basketball. Plus most of the football postseason broadcasts are produced independently from other games so in theory they could increase the inventory for the bowl production. I remember seeing report that there are roughly about 100 ad spots per game for college football bowl games – so there are probably about 3500 commercials for the entire post-season.

        College basketball has about 65-70 commercials per game but the NCAA/CBS have add some for the tournament. However, game production is filtered through CBS so the games do not broadcast independently but as single programming block. With 63-65 total games, they probably have 4200 – 4500 total # of spots? The premium prices that they are charging dwarfs the college football post-season and the NCAA is not selling any “title sponsorship” to March Madness.

        That is an issue that has not even been addressed in this whole discussion. What happens to all of those “Insert Corporate Name Here” Bowl title sponsors if and when the playoff is developed? Will the NCAA sell the rights to title sponsorship? How much more money will the current corporate partners be expected to pay?