As Roy Kramer put it,
“All the people who thought it was bad for college football enjoyed last night, didn’t they?” said Kramer, a former SEC commissioner. “We thought we could add a little excitement and interest to the college game and I think last night demonstrated it.
“What was interesting is how many people in Tuscaloosa were watching the game in Eugene, Oregon, and how many people in South Bend, Indiana were watching the game in Waco, Texas. For all the critics, well, I’m a little prejudiced. We saw enormous excitement play out last night.”
Yeah, we did. Well, maybe except for Stewart Mandel, who’s a little miffed over last weekend’s SEC schedule.
Saturday was the most chaotic, season-altering set of games in 2012, and the SEC played almost no part in it. In fact, if you didn’t watch a single SEC game Saturday (And why would you, with such offerings as Alabama-Western Carolina, Auburn-Alabama A&M and Texas A&M-Sam Houston State?), you were no less entertained or informed. LSU’s dramatic 41-35 win over Ole Miss was the lone exception, and even there, the biggest highlight was Les Miles’ postgame press conference.
And yet, despite seven conference teams facing FCS foes, one team (Missouri) losing to a 5-5 Big East squad (Syracuse) and another firing its coach (Tennessee’s Derek Dooley) for losing to Vandy, no conference had a better weekend than the SEC.
All of that rather conveniently ignores that the upper level SEC squads beat themselves up over the past few weeks. All of Alabama’s, Florida’s, Georgia’s, LSU’s, South Carolina’s and Texas A&M’s losses have been to each other. Considering those teams occupy the 2, 3, 4, 7, 9 and 12 slots in this week’s BCS standings, I don’t think that’s something worth sneering at.
And that gets to the larger message here. The regular season, college football’s crown jewel, the thing the sport does differently and better than any other, by and large does a good job of separating the wheat from the chaff. It’s not perfect, as seasons like 2004 demonstrate, and I can understand the justification for a four-team playoff on those grounds. But here’s what I never have gotten:
… You’ve heard it: The whole college football season is a playoff. I know that’s the lame line that BCS supporters used to defend their indefensible system … but it still rings true. What other sport has this? Baseball’s individual games were always teetering on irrelevance anyway because there were so many of them; now eight teams make the playoffs, so the games mean even less. The NBA and NHL don’t even pretend that the regular season matters — especially the NHL, which, every now and again, just for fun, cancels entire seasons. Each week matters in the NFL, but no one week in October or November turns the entire league upside down.
This is only true in college football. Sure, you can say — people do say — that a playoff wouldn’t change any of that. The regular season would still be epic … only now there will be a playoff at the end!
Everything good will stay good, but now the bad will be good too! The incredible tensions of week-to-week college football will remain, but December and January will now light up! Everyone gets a new car! Trees will be made of chocolate! Televisions will start pouring beer!
Maybe. But you might know the line from Inherit the Wind: “Progress has never been a bargain. You have to pay for it. Sometimes I think there’s a man who sits behind a counter and says, ‘All right, you can have the telephone, but you lose privacy and the charm of distance. … Mister, you may conquer the air but the birds will lose their wonder and the clouds will smell of gasoline.'”
A college football playoff is progress. We want it — almost all of us. But I can’t help but think that we will be giving up something too. Days like Saturday will still be amazing, I have no doubt about that. I wonder though, if they will be quite as amazing.
They won’t be. They can’t be. There simply won’t be as much on the line. What’s happened over the last two weeks would just offer programming fodder for ESPN’s Playoff Selection Show under a four-team playoff format. Go to eight teams and all you’re talking about is who has to travel for the first round. Oh, and how the ninth-ranked team in the country got screwed.
I get why change is coming. On one level – multiple major-conference undefeated teams deserve more than a one-game format – I can accept it. But I’ll never understand why playoff proponents find it so easy to dismiss what saddens people like me. My worst fear is that one day they’ll come to appreciate that. Unfortunately, by then, the horse will be so far out of the barn that it won’t matter.