“If a team can finish ninth in its conference and then be crowned national champion, your playoff is too big.”

Michael Elkon noticed something about the latest Final Four…

After a year in which college basketball was roundly criticized for being boring, too physical, too slow, too defensive and increasingly unpopular, the Final Four and the Championship Game got the best TV ratings in decades. Both the Final Four and the tournament as a whole got their highest ratings since 1993.

Like 2015, 1993 featured the rare trio of No. 1 seeds reaching the Final Four.

… and draws a useful conclusion for college football from that.

So what does this mean for college football? Simple: the tournament is an endorsement of modern-day college football in two important respects.

First, the 2015 tournament shows it’s much better to have the best teams playing the semifinals than it is to have a stagecoach full of Cinderella. Yes, it was fun to see VCU, Butler and George Mason make Final Fours, but the viewing public tuned out because it gauged that these were not the best teams in the country. In contrast, put together a Final Four with three No. 1 seeds and another perennial power, and you have TV gold.

Right now, the College Football Playoff is designed to produce that exact formula. It aims to take the four best teams in the country, not the four that have gone 4-0 in a tournament.  [Emphasis added.]

Two things in response:  he’s right and ultimately it won’t matter that he’s right.

The same people who are responsible for the current enlarged basketball playoff field – and would have been happy to bloat things even further had some broadcaster been willing to pay for the privilege – are making the call on college football’s postseason.  And there are too many elements of a perfect storm out there waiting for just the right moment to spring Bill Hancock’s next breathless announcement about how this time they’ve really got things nailed.

If I can mix aquatic movie metaphors for just a minute, we’re all just waiting for someone to say they’re gonna need a bigger boat.



Filed under BCS/Playoffs

7 responses to ““If a team can finish ninth in its conference and then be crowned national champion, your playoff is too big.”

  1. The only way you can grow the postseason without cheapening the regular season now is to expand to 8 (champions only), but it would require the type of changes no one wants to see. When they go to 8 with the current cluster called the committee, it won’t be long until we see 12 or 16. Anyone who thinks numbers 9-16 deserve to have a chance to be national champions just doesn’t get what makes college football the best.


  2. Biggus Rickus

    I don’t think it’s that the perceived best teams weren’t playing in those Final Fours, but rather that they weren’t name brands. It’s the same reason you see ratings spikes when the Yankees are in the World Series or the Lakers or Celtics are in the NBA Finals. Casual fans like brand names.


  3. Just Chuck (The Other One)

    To build on the boat analogy, if you overload the boat, it sinks.


  4. heyberto

    I think you can make a direct correlation to ratings and fan expectations. Andy by ‘fans’ I’m talking anyone that would tune in for the championship game. They want to see a matchup that has been in the making all season long. That gets back to rankings. So I guess I’m taking it a step further.. it’s not just certain schools.. it’s seeing the kind of matchup that’s been talked about by the talking heads all year long. When that doesn’t happen, then they’ve screwed themselves.


  5. Monday Night Froetteur

    One of the biggest flaws with his argument is that the ratings that matter aren’t the highs of 2015, when there were several elite teams with elite NBA-level talent in CBB, 3/4 of whom made it to the F4. The important ratings are the ratings in 2011 or 2013, when there weren’t elite teams, yet the tournament still drew tens of millions of viewers even for a ghastly 53-41 final game featuring about 2 1/2 NBA players total, and what, one NBA starter? It just was not entertaining basketball.

    Because of early entry and changes in officiating, there frequently are seasons of CBB where there simply are no elite teams. Forgoing the entertainment value of the tournament to stick a blah conference champ with a record that is better than its performance (e.g. Virginia in 2014 and 2015) in a quarter or semi final would be insane.


  6. Cojones

    The 8 top teams represent the best best in the country if the polls are used. Lets don’t wipe two deserving teams off our conscience by lauding what 4 teams gives us. Evidence shows that two were done wrong in that scenario and attempted obfuscation won’t fill the bill. No wonder the Big 12 is trying to muddy the qualifying scenario from what it has been although their approach is hard-headed concerning a conf champ. Baylor and TCU may have even had their best chance go by, but if I were them I’d press for 8 teams and play strong ooc teams like a bitch.


  7. ASEF

    Regular Season: Mississippi State vs Kentucky CFB drew more viewers than either UNC-Duke CBB game in a year where both teams were quite good. So did Auburn-Georgia and about 3 dozen more regular season games.

    CBB features a lot of wonderful OOC games prior to conference play. We even saw the championship game in November, with Duke beating Wisconsin by 10. But no one watches because no one cares. The games are scrimmages for programs like Duke or Wisconsin. For programs with an eye on a Final Four, November and December regular season games are the equivalent of spring practice: do get better, don’t get injured.

    CBB puts all of its entertainment eggs in a 3 week basket and hopes for the best. The best is usually good-to-great ratings for a couple of weekends and a lot of controversy from the brackets and poor officiating. It’s a sport where the best weekend of the year amounts to 48 games in a 96 hour window, with viewers flipping from end-game to end-game hoping to see a desperation 3 knock out a top seed. No one watches an entire game until the Elite 8 and only then if they badly want to see a favorite team win or a hated villain lose.

    From personal experience, I know that the more a sport has expanded its playoffs, the more my interest in it has waned over the years. I don’t watch MLB or MLH at all, regular or post-season. I will watch the NBA post-season if round 2 or later generates some interesting match-ups and a competitive series gets past 4 games. I watched about 2 hours of live basketball during the NCAA tournament and about 4 hours of games on the DVR, fast forwarding though the boring parts. I watch more CFB than all of those other sports combined, probably x2

    But, even CFB is starting to lose some luster for me. And I think the most interesting thing i see is how completely my kid and his friends tune out the sports TV thing. They follow the games and sports, but it’s through Instagram highlights and other social media outlets.

    It’s going to be interesting to see how all of this evolves over the next 20 years.