This is pitch perfect:
… In the last few years, many fans and pundits allowed the word “playoff” to take on something of a talismanic quality. Replacing the BCS with a playoff system would surely cure the evils of the BCS, they thought, and quite possibly “save the sport” by “settling things on the field.”
Here’s the problem: A playoff does not even attempt to crown either the best or most deserving team. The very purpose of a playoff or tournament is the exact opposite: No matter a team’s talent or apparent destiny, everything can be undone on a single day by a single bounce of the ball. (Admittedly, that’s actually the allure of a playoff, hence why they call it March Madness.) Yet we’ve become so accustomed to playoffs that it’s difficult for us to think of any other way of selecting a champion.
And then Chris really nails the big problem I have with the new postseason format.
The primary advantage of a playoff is certainty, and after years of endless BCS debate — which followed decades of debate under the earlier bowl systems — certainty has real allure. But in most sports that have playoffs, like the NFL or the NBA, the criteria for getting to the playoffs is basically objective. Most playoff spots are decided based on win/loss records, with certain mechanical tiebreakers in place and known in advance. It’s not that the playoff crowns the best or most deserving team — just ask the 10-6 New York Giants that knocked off the undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. It’s that the loser has nothing to complain about: Everyone knows the rules.
Yet the new College Football Playoff lacks the very thing that makes playoffs in other sports so palatable, namely a semblance of objective certainty. While the defective BCS formula should have been interred long ago, it has been replaced by a Council of Platonic Guardians. The College Football Playoff selection committee will meet confidentially, then announce the identities of the playoff participants by edict. That’s not exactly what I’d call “settling it on the field.”
It’s not. But, then again, that’s not why Delany, Slive and company have fashioned this arrangement we’re supposed to be thrilled with. Their intent seems pretty apparent to me – maximize revenues while minimizing the threat to the power conferences’ place in the postseason. And there lie the seeds of the instability of the new format.
I share Chris’ concerns about what playoff expansion means for the relevancy of the regular season – what he encapsulates as “F— It Saturday” – but, honestly, I think that train’s already left the station. Delany paid lip service to that as recently as a couple of years ago, but the reality is that the only relevancy commissioners and presidents care about is the revenue stream they can capture from regular season broadcasts. And it’s apparent that these guys believe that an expanded postseason won’t threaten that.
No, the real problem is going to be the totally subjective nature of qualifying for the playoffs. The smartest guys in the room are inviting a level of second guessing that they’ve never dealt with before. And there’s nothing to think based on their recent track record that there will be any sort of proactive planning when it goes south, which it inevitably will. Why should there be? After all, they’ve already proclaimed this is all college football needs and locked in a long-term deal for it. But they’re just one major controversy away – “F— It Saturday” will be replaced with a ferocious argument about why a particular school was stuck with a number five ranking – from a media shitstorm, public outcry and, most importantly, a decline in viewership that will have them fleeing to the lifeboats to figure out the next quick fix. Which will, of course, be another round of playoffs. Lather, rinse, repeat.
The sad thing for me now isn’t that the regular season will be diminished. It’s that we’re probably entering the last phase of college football as we know it. And that phase is going to have a pretty short lifespan.