Thursday, January 18, 2007

Creating a College Football Playoff

The college football season is now long over. There are plenty of great stories to remember, including Boise State's win over Oklahoma, Wake Forest's Orange Bowl run, and the Ohio State-Michigan game. The Florida Gators are the national champions, (perhaps) crowned with less controversy than some other teams in recent years.

Now that the season is over, let's rationally discuss why college football needs a playoff system. This conversation is hard to have during the season, because emotions tend to cloud rational judgment. People tend to say things like:

"Boise State's win over Oklahoma proves why there should be a playoff system."
"Even if we had a playoff, some deserving team (Boise State, for instance) would get left out."
"There aren't ever enough deserving teams to justify a playoff."
"A playoff would destroy the existing bowl system, which everyone likes for their own reasons."

Here's what I'm asking for: an eight-game playoff system. I think it can be done relatively easily, if the BCS is committed to doing it. And I think it beats the four-game playoff that BCS coordinator Mike Slive has said he is "open-minded" about considering.

For the love of [insert your deity here], Division I-A football is the only Division I-A NCAA sponsored sport without an organized tournament to determine a champion. Every other division has a playoff. We'd scratch our heads if at the end of the season, the NCAA decided that the #1 and #2 ranked basketball teams would play each other to determine a national champion, sans the NCAA Tournament.

With that said, let's pick the above arguments apart one by one. Be prepared for lots of references to college basketball.

"Boise State's win over Oklahoma proves why there should be a playoff system."

Boise State's win over Oklahoma bolsters the argument for a playoff, but by itself proves nothing. Just like George Mason's 2006 run to the Final Four bolstered the argument that letting more mid-major teams into the tournament was a good idea, but in reality didn't prove a thing (what if no mid-majors make it to the Final Four this year?). Really, I think everyone knows that this argument is silly. But emotions make people say silly things, see?

"Even if we had a playoff, some deserving team (Boise State, for instance) would get left out."

Well, you've got me there. That very well could happen. It supposedly happens in basketball every year, despite the fact that 65 teams get to go to the NCAA tournament. 65 teams. So yeah, I suppose at least one team is going to feel left out each year. But under the current system, only two teams get to play for the championship. So let's toss this argument out the window.

This argument actually supports my idea that an eight-game playoff is superior than a four-game playoff. With a four game playoff, all of the major conferences wouldn't even have a chance to be represented, so you can definitely forget about your Boise States.

"There aren't ever enough deserving teams to justify a playoff."

And here's the other extreme. This argument is really only relevant when discussing an eight-game playoff, not the four-game playoff. And of course, I'm going to use the NCAA Tournament again to make my point. The NCAA Tournament has 65 teams. 65 teams. Do you honestly think every single one of those teams really has a chance to win the whole thing? Doesn't a favored heavyweight almost always end up winning?

Plus, you're never going to convince me that there aren't eight teams deserving to go to a playoff. If we had had an eight-game playoff this past season, here's how it might have looked. We'll assume the champions from the six major conferences, plus two at-large bids:

ACC Champion: Wake Forest
Big Ten Champion: Ohio State
Pac-10 Champion: USC
Big 12 Champion: Oklahoma
Big East Champion: Louisville
SEC Champion: Florida

WAC Champion/At-large bid: Boise State
At-large bid: Notre Dame

Oh, I know, I know. What about Michigan? What about LSU? Etc., etc.

I think I've proven my point.

"A playoff would destroy the existing bowl system, which everyone likes for their own reasons."

Here are the reasons:

The schools like it because of the money involved.
The hosting cities like it because of the money involved.
The fans like it because all their teams have to do is win six games, and they (usually) go to a (usually) meaningless post-season game that gives them an excuse to go on vacation to a place they (usually) wouldn't go otherwise. Or at the very least, it allows them to watch their team for one last game.

Why would having a playoff get rid of any of these aspects? An eight-game playoff would require seven games. There were 32 bowl games this past year, and if the creation of the Toronto Bowl, indicates anything, there could probably be more. Everyone likes these bowls, right? And hey, if any of these bowls fail, I don't think a playoff would have much to do with it.

From 1998 until 2005, eight teams played in four "BCS" bowls. Those bowls, the Rose Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, the Fiesta Bowl, and the Orange Bowl, were already being used for marquee games. The only difference was that one of the games was the "national championship game" between the top two teams in the BCS standings. The current system has five "meaningless" games taking place in traditional bowls, plus an additionally created national championship bowl. Neither of these formats destroyed the bowl system, so why would a meaningful playoff system? You wouldn't even have to extend the season further into January (playing the championship game on January 8 seemed a bit late to me, but I don't like having the Super Bowl in February, either). You can have multiple playoff games on the same day, just like in the NFL playoffs. They would all get spectacular ratings, just like in the NFL playoffs. They would all be well attended, just like in the NFL playoffs.

Hell, if the BCS wanted to, they could even continue to play the Pac-10 champion and the Big Ten champion against one another, even if it would mess up the seeding. Yeah, it would be a little silly, but no sillier than not having a playoff at all.

So let's have this idea turn into reality. I can wait until 2010 if need be. Just don't tell me that it can't, or shouldn't, be done.

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