As I do with everything he writes, I read this Chris Brown post about the meaning of being crowned a champion and, more specifically, how a playoff contributes to that with interest. And I agree with his main point. A single elimination tourney isn’t about determining the best team. It’s about producing some finality to a sports season.
But I don’t buy into his conclusion, at least not completely.
… Which is really the issue here. No one has any idea what being “National Champion” ought to mean — especially in college football where you have over a hundred D-1 programs and no team can come close to playing all the others. A playoff would simply lay some ground rules people could follow. As it stands, without a playoff, everyone may mount their high horse and argue past each other.
First of all, we’ve got a playoff, but I doubt there are a huge number of people who think the arguments are going to end. Some are going to be dissatisfied with the structure itself (the eight or sixteen teams would be better crowd), some are going to be unhappy with the selection process itself (I suspect I’m going to wind up in this bunch, but I’m keeping an open mind for now) and some are going to be unhappy with the results of which schools qualify and which don’t at the third and fourth spots.
Second, the smaller you commit to keeping the postseason field, the more likely it is that you keep one of Chris’ shortcomings – “some clunker teams can be crowned, some historically great teams will get the relative shaft” – at bay. Now we can argue about what the appropriate number is, but it’s hard to see how a four-team playoff is going to do a worse job of that than a sixteen-school field. (Of course, if you like Cinderellas, then this is more a bug than a feature.)
But the third thing that bothers me isn’t about the method to a college football playoff. It’s about the motivation behind it. And history tells us that has nothing to do with finality or quality of the playoff field. It’s just about the money. Which leads me to my second quote:
But here’s the problem, and no, this is not a defense of the BCS, which history will find was merely a precursor to what comes next. The problem is that the power has now shifted to the big football schools, and when they find that four teams are not enough of a playoff structure, it will shift that way even more.
And the real argument will not be four teams, or eight teams, or 16 teams, or who picks them, anyway. It will be, as it has always been, how the money gets split, and the betting is as it has always been, that it will be split among the 64 or so members of the 2Big22SeCPac Conference, not among the more general populace, and not among the bowl committees.
We’re not getting a playoff because there’s been some miraculous consensus that we fans have been cheated out of quality national title games. The BCS is far from perfect, but it was better than the process it replaced and judging from the sport’s increasing popularity during its existence, it did more good than harm. Nah, we’re getting a playoff because several commissioners were dismayed at a national title game that excluded every conference in the country but one and because there was a down tick in the viewership and attendance numbers for the last postseason. Now ask yourselves what difference a four-team playoff will make the next time those circumstances crop up. Honesty should compel you to admit probably not a damned thing.
I also read a couple of posts from Spencer Hall and Luke Zimmerman yesterday that suggest my angst is misplaced. As the latter succinctly put it, “Never forget: it’s not the football that makes college football great, it’s the rules and regulations that govern the football. Rest in peace, college football.”
And, in a way, I get where they’re coming from. The sun came up this morning. The football is still oblong-shaped. The field is still 100 yards long. A touchdown still counts for six points. There are still eleven men to a side. But you know what? I can say the same things about the NFL. None of that changes that pro football bores me to tears while college football matters enough to me to blog about it for five-plus years.
I know I’m treading dangerously into old fogeyism here, but what dismays me about the sport I love is the rapid pace its keepers are maintaining in the money race. A year ago, Jim Delany was railing like an Old Testament prophet about the dangers of a four-team playoff. Yesterday, he was a grinning fool about a four-team playoff. The presidents made short shrift of a decision we’d been warned could take a much longer period of time.
And that’s just a part of the picture. Conference realignment and expansion have proceeded at a dizzying pace, as well. TCU jumped in and out and in two new conferences in a matter of weeks and nobody batted an eye (in fact, the Big East is being mocked for suing the school over its departure). Patrick Vint and I snickered a little bit during last night’s podcast over Georgia’s SEC East opener in Columbia, Missouri because the geographics are somewhat ludicrous. Except Mike Slive and the presidents don’t really care about that, because it was part of a necessary step to obtain more TV revenue.
I’ve tried to figure out a way to express where things are going for a while and I’m still struggling with it. What I feel is that if you look at football’s appeal on an axis with the purely local pull of high school football at one end and the national appeal of the NFL on the other, college football, which once sat in the middle (call it regional appeal, for want of a better word), finds itself sliding towards the NFL end of the line. The money is too attractive for them. The results are not likely to be so much for us.
That’s why I find news like this,
Don’t look for news any time soon on Georgia’s future football scheduling – SEC and otherwise.
Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity said everything is essentially in a holding pattern, thanks in large part to Tuesday’s news that college football is going to a four-team playoff starting with the 2014 season.
The importance of strength of schedule in deciding those four teams is unknown, and McGarity said that will be key for SEC teams as they put together their non-conference schedules.
… both expected and depressing all at the same time. The media pulls us that way, the money pushes the decision makers that way, the coaches accept the new conditions and seek to manipulate them to their advantage (see, for example, Les Miles and Steve Spurrier on conference scheduling) and the rest of us follow along as best we can.
I think what’s bothered me the most all along about the playoff debate isn’t the notion of a playoff itself. It’s the “it’s so easy” mentality that so many bring to the debate, which in essence boils down to two things: one, that the game is fairly indestructible, and two, that ultimately the people in charge are as rational as playoff supporters imagine themselves to be. Sorry, but as much as people like Slive, Delany and Scott are lionized, they aren’t geniuses. They’re powerful, they may or may not be shrewd, but what they really happen to be are people lucky enough to have been entrusted with the stewardship of something that matters very much to a large number of enthusiasts. That’s no guarantee they won’t fuck things up. And there’s very little in their bodies of work to suggest otherwise.
So, I look to hold on to what I love as long as I can. I hope I’m wrong about my misgivings, but I fear I’m right. Time will tell.