I’ve got a follow up to my posts last week about the inevitability of postseason expansion. Some of the comments I read in response harped on how the regular season is already meaningless for many football teams, so it’s irrelevant to argue that a larger playoff will render college football’s regular season less meaningful.
I say this with a total lack of snark: I don’t think that word means what you think it means.
Yes, the typical Sun Belt team enters each season with vastly different hopes and goals than Alabama does. And that couldn’t be less relevant to the point I made.
What is relevant is the example set by Louisville’s loss to Houston last week. In the BCS world, of course, that game wouldn’t have had an impact on the championship picture because Petrino’s team would have already played its way out. It was a relevant game in a four-team playoff setting. In a run towards an eight-team playoff, it would have left Louisville gasping for air and hoping for a little help. In a sixteen-team playoff world, it wouldn’t have had the slightest impact on Louisville’s playoff hopes.
When I talk about playoff expansion devaluing the regular season, that’s exactly what I mean. Troy entering the top 25 isn’t.
The reason this matters to me and should matter to you is because of one simple matter. There is less parity in college football than in any other major organized team sport in America. The professional leagues have drafts and salary caps that serve to restrain talent accumulation. Men’s collegiate basketball teams are relatively small in size; that, plus the one-and-done rule serve to spread the talent around, although not to the extent you see in the pros (because there are a lot more college basketball teams than NBA squads).
But college football, with its huge resources gap between the haves and have-nots, its recruiting wars and its 85-scholarship rosters, is structured in a completely different way from the rest. The absence of parity is a big deal. That’s why we don’t care about a MAC team’s chances to win the national title. It’s a waste of time to be concerned. It’s why college football, more than any other organized sport, should be focused on a playoff format that is constructed to deliver its very best teams, and those teams only, in a national playoff setting. It’s also why comparing the size of CFB’s postseason field relative to the total number of participating teams to those in other sports is a complete red herring.
The reality is in any given college football season there are not very many teams worthy of playing for the national championship. Outside of 2007, I can’t point to a year in the BCS era where there were more than five or six who legitimately deserved to be included in the discussion, and in many of those years, it was a stretch to get past four, or even to four.
That’s why playoff expansion shouldn’t be welcomed. In that regard, college football isn’t on a level playing field and hasn’t ever been. All the brackets and Cinderellas of the world won’t change that, either.
If you’re motivated by a desire to see more teams have a chance to win it all, expanding the playoffs isn’t the answer. Sharply reducing the number of scholarships a D-1 football program can offer is. The irony is that when postseason expansion really gets rolling and college football teams face a sixteen or seventeen-game season on a routine basis, you’ll hear coaches demanding larger scholarship limits. The more things change…