This seems to be a popular topic floating around the blogs recently so I thought I’d add my two cents to the discussion. I’m one of those fans that wants it both ways. I would love to see a playoff in college football, but I’d hate to see the regular season devalued. Here are three recent examples why I worry about a playoff being implemented in college football:
(1) 2008 Arizona Cardinals
(2) 2007 New York Giants
(3) 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers
The NFL to me is very similar to college basketball. The whole point of the regular season is just to get into the tournament. That’s the exact reason I love college football so much more than its professional counterpart. The regular season is its most valued treasure. It’s not about the team that gets hot for three weeks.
The Arizona Cardinals this year lost 56-35 to the New York Jets and 47-7 to the New England Patriots. If this were a college team, there’s no way we would be considering this team for national title contention (see the Georgia Bulldogs 2008 team for how two blowouts will affect your national championship hopes). Nevertheless, this team is on the cusp of being crowned the “champions” of the NFL if they can win one more game. Last year the New York Giants won a tight game against a team they were heavy underdogs and which they lost in the regular season. In 2005 the Pittsburgh Steelers made the playoffs without even winning their division and got hot for three weeks leading to a “championship”. Does anyone honestly believe that had the Giants and Patriots played again a week later that the Giants would be favored? Am I the only one that has an issue with this?
In my last post here, I voted Utah #1 in my final Mumme Poll. This had nothing to do with my bias against the hated Gators as I explained that my true opinion was that Texas, Florida, and Utah all had an equal claim to the #1 spot in the land at season end. Right now, college football has what amounts to a two-team playoff better known as the BCS Championship Game. We essentially are splitting hairs between multiple one-loss teams to determine who we think is most worthy of the title.
Like I mentioned earlier, I don’t want to see the regular season lose its value. If we had a multiple team playoff, there’s a solid chance that USC (the real one, not the Gamecocks) could be the 4 or 5 time defending national champions as they traditionally are playing their best football at the end of the season. The problem is they seem to slip up during the regular season (see Oregon State/UCLA 2006, Stanford/Oregon 2007, and Oregon State 2008). The argument I hate the most in college football is “Well, Team A could beat Team B right now at a neutral sight so we should rank them higher”. That argument is just silly. Just because USC could obliterate the rest of the 118 teams in FBS on January 1st, 2009 didn’t change the fact they lost to a 4-loss Oregon State in September.
Saurian Sagacity posted in 2007 (funny that this was the year after the Gators won a national title under the current system, apparently some Gators can see the flaws in a system that benefited them – shocking) a “modest proposal” for a playoff. He prefaces the post by the fact that it is a “TOTALLY UNREALISTIC PLAN” that “WILL NEVER HAPPEN“. I do like the idea proposed. I have a few concerns about whittling the teams down to 96, but I can see how that makes sense.
The concern that has been posted over at the Senator’s site, and which he and I have an agreement on, is the concern for expansion. One of mine and the Senator’s most noted discussions concerns that of one Dennis Felton. As we are both alums of the University of Georgia, we want to see our programs succeed. He and I both agreed that if a playoff were instituted in college football and allowed to expand in size, we could see programs suffering under Felton-like regimes. The only reason Dennis Felton is still coaching at UGA is because he got to the NCAA tournament last year with that tornado stricken, wild weekend in Atlanta. Most rational UGA fans would notice that was fluky and not indicative of the Felton era as a whole. The problem is that the casual UGA fan sees that UGA made the NCAA tourney therefore Felton should be allowed to stay around even though his record suggests otherwise. This brings me to my biggest argument against the playoff because when money is involved we all know there is the inevitable expansion of eligible teams. Hell, we already have 68 teams playing in bowls, who knows what the playoff number could be.
If we are going to have a playoff, there can only be 8-12 teams. I prefer the 8 team answer because this eliminates the need for byes which would probably be based on human rankings anyways. I do agree with Saurian Sagacity that we need 8 power conferences with 12 teams apiece (for those of you that majored in management/marketing, that’s 96 teams). For that to happen we will have to eliminate 23 teams in FBS (if you can’t subtract 96 from 119, please stop reading). The SEC, Big 12, ACC and MAC are already set up for this. The easy solution for the Big Televen is to add Notre Dame (if NBC will allow it). There would be a challenge with how to allocate Conference USA, WAC, MWC, and Pac-10, but I’m sure smart people could figure that out.
Once we get down to eight power conferences with 12 teams, we can split each conference in two divisions with a conference championship game. The winners of the conference championships get in to the playoff, and we seed based on BCS (or whatever the system is at the time) rankings. Therefore, in that first week 1 plays 8, 2 plays 7, and so on. Currently, the last week of games for FBS schools is the first week of December. We can play the first two weeks of the playoff during the middle of December, have a two week break for final exams and holidays, and play the championship game during the first week of January. This way we don’t interfere with school and at most we’ve added two games to the schedule (currently, conference champions in the 12-team conferences play 14 games a year including the bowl. With a playoff they’d play 12 regular season, conference championship, and three playoff games if they made it all the way to the championship game for a total of 16 games).
By not interfering with final exams we throw out the critics that worry about conflicts with school. The two extra games may be a stickler for the “too many games” critics, but I’m not concerned about continuing play through December. I’d rather see my championship game in January with two fairly fresh teams than the two recent stinkers that Ohio State put up after being off since the Thanksgiving weekend.
Quite frankly, I don’t ever see this happening as there is way too much money to be made in the arguing and bickering that is the BCS, but it would be nice. As long as we, the college football fans, keep watching and attending games under the current system, nothing will change. The only realistic chance for a playoff is for us to decide that we’d rather find new hobbies than watch college football on Saturdays (which ain’t happening). By having a conference championship game for every conference, we don’t devalue the regular season as you have to make the conference championship to have a chance at the national championship.
Well, anyways, that’s my two cents. Let me know what you think.