After yesterday’s games, I know the popular take in these here parts is Notre Dame no, Georgia yes, but it’s not the right lesson to learn.
The essential reality of the 2018 season is that there weren’t four teams worthy of national title consideration before yesterday’s games were played. Don’t take my word for that, either ($$).
On rare occasions, we sportswriters actually predict something correctly. Not that this one was particularly challenging.
That Alabama would meet Clemson for the 2018 national championship seemed ordained before the teams even reported to camp. They were ranked 1-2 to start the season. They were 1-2 in every edition of the College Football Playoff rankings…
Frankly, we didn’t need a Playoff this year. The old BCS formula would have sufficed. Alabama and Clemson were the best teams all season, which should not be surprising, seeing as they’ve been the best programs in the sport for the past four seasons.
There’s a reason Vegas established ‘Bama and Clemson as heavy favorites, you know. Yet most of us were willing to buy into a mass hallucination, aided and abetted by Mickey, that these were going to be competitive matches, that Notre Dame and Oklahoma weren’t mere cannon fodder.
Suckers. ESPN and the people running the college football playoffs push the narrative because there’s money to be made. We buy it because we want to be entertained. It’s a fool’s errand, because we ignore the statistical evidence.
Matt is being too generous with his “small sample size” gesture. The essential nature of college football, particularly in the last two decades, is two-fold: one, it boasts less parity than any other major organized sport in this country and two, its excellence is also unbalanced, geographically speaking.
None of this should come as a surprise. College football’s uniqueness comes in large part from its regional nature and from the ability of a select few programs to accumulate talent in significantly greater numbers than the bulk of their peers. The flaw in the current drive to expand the playoffs in an attempt to nationalize the appeal of the sport is that it eradicates the former factor while ignoring the latter. That is why playoff expansion for college football, as it continues along its current trajectory, is doomed to failure.
We’re already seeing it now. Mandel’s column hints at it, but Dan Wolken’s “here we are now, entertain us” piece really hits at it.
Every year now, college football fans and administrators have to ask themselves: Would they rather the selection process be about evaluating seasons or personnel? Georgia has better players than Notre Dame. But by no measurement did two-loss Georgia handle its schedule as well as the undefeated Fighting Irish.
When those two things don’t line up, you get mismatches. And boy have we had a lot of them. Will the cycle even out someday? Or has the romance and intrigue about what a real playoff would look like given way to permanent drudgery? If that’s the case, change is needed ASAP. Such a beautiful sport can’t be allowed to become a bore.
Yes, college football’s two best teams facing off for a national championship is a drudge, a bore.
This is the next argument you’re going to hear for playoff expansion. I admit there’s a superficial attractiveness to it — surely four vs. five will have a certain level of competitiveness to it, right? And don’t forget the Cinderella factor that ESPN will flog to death. But if Alabama and Clemson beat the selection committee’s third and fourth best teams by double digits, are we really supposed to expect that numbers seven and eight are going to put up better fights consistently?
Don’t be ridiculous.
If playoff expansion is inevitable as I believe it is, then we can either expect one of two outcomes. The first is that the current trends I mentioned above are exacerbated by an increasingly watered down field and we’re treated to more and more lopsided affairs until we get down to the championship game or the sport takes steps to reduce the lack of parity that defines it.
With regard to the latter of those, given that those kind of steps would involve making moves like restructuring the nature of scheduling or roster size reduction, all of which would be rightly seen as serious threats to the very college powerhouses that sit atop the sport today, I wouldn’t hold my breath.
In short, I hope you enjoy three-touchdown blowouts in the postseason, because there are plenty more in our future.