It appears that Kirby Smart and I are on the same page about playoff expansion and its effect on the regular season.
“You do devalue that as you increase the number of teams in the playoff,” Smart said. “You do value the end of the season. You think about the last, probably, three weeks of the season, last two weeks of the season, the amount of attention and the amount of big games. (The committee) probably got it more right this year than ever with a lot of the championship games as de facto play-in games. I think that’s the right way to go about it.”
And Dabo Swinney.
“If you know you’re in the playoffs, certain games become very irrelevant,” Swinney said. “All of a sudden, you don’t play certain players because you know you’re in and you don’t want to get a guy hurt. There are a lot of unintended consequences that would creep in, just like you see in all the other sports. I love the NBA, but I don’t ever watch it until the playoffs, because it just doesn’t matter. In our sport, it still matters. I mean, it matters. It matters what you do in September, October and November.”
And Nick Saban.
“We sort of started the two-team deal. Now it’s a four-team deal. Now all the focus and emphasis is on the playoffs,” Saban said.
There’s a certain contrast between the coaches whose teams are in this year’s playoff field and at least one whose team isn’t that has to be mentioned.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh came to the Wolverines after a four-year stint with the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, and he’s all for an expanded field.
“I would just analyze it in terms of every other sport, whether it’s gymnastics, basketball, pro football, FCS football — pick a sport and they have a playoff to get to a champion,” Harbaugh said this past week in a news conference for the Outback Bowl. “None of them start with the last four. You have a great model with the NFL, with their 12 teams, and a great model in the FCS, which had 16 teams and now has 24.
“Eight teams would be better than four and 12 would be better than eight. I think 16 is kind of the sweet spot.”
Riley pointed out that if the playoff field expanded, there would still be folks upset over a certain team being left out.
“There’s never going to be a magic number,” Riley said. “If we have eight (teams), nine and 10 are going to be upset. If we have 16 (teams), 17 and 18 are going to be upset.”
Said Saban: “I don’t care if we have 68 teams in it, we’ll still have a two-hour show on who shouldn’t have got in it just like they do in basketball.”
Self-preservation is part of basic human nature. If you’re a coach who’s concerned with job security, Jim Boeheim’s long-standing position that the more the playoffs expand, the better for coaches’ resumes and survival, regardless of what that means for the nature of the game itself, will always carry the day. Add to that the egos of conference commissioners and school presidents upset that their teams aren’t playing for all the marbles and the resulting momentum to make the playoffs bigger and better will not be checked in the short and medium terms.
The genie is out of the bottle and the cork won’t be going back in until it’s too late. They’ll excuse themselves by telling us they did it for the fans, though. No doubt I’ll find that incredibly comforting as I’m filling out my CFP brackets.