Friday, May 2, 2008

Playoff In the News

There's been a good bit of chatter lately about the long-range possibility of college football getting a more traditional playoff system in place. It won't happen any time soon, but it could happen eventually.

It has finally occurred to me. Even though I am only a small blogger with a few dozen readers, I am probably the most prominent college football commentator who does not support going to a playoff format. I think going to a playoff format might be good for college football, but it would be a disaster for the individual conferences, especially the SEC. And honestly, I care more about the SEC than about the sport as a whole. Mike Slive should be leading the charge against a playoff system, not advocating for it.

I don't want to see the quest for the national championship beat the conference races into submission. If there had been a 4-team playoff last year, Georgia would have been in it under most scenarios, relegating the conference championship Georgia failed to win to a simple consolation prize for the winner, just like it is in basketball.

Quick, who won the Big East Conference in basketball in 2008? See, you don't know, and it just happened two months ago. In football, it was West Virginia.* Oklahoma won the Big 12; USC won the Pac-10; Ohio State won the Big 10, LSU won the SEC; and Virginia Tech won the ACC. That's right off the top of my head.** Why don't you know who won the Big East in basketball? Because it isn't important. No one cares who wins the conferences in basketball. All that matters is the tournament. I don't want to see college football become like that.

With a playoff, the SEC becomes about as important as the NFC South, the winner of which is important only in that it gets an automatic bid to the playoffs. Do we want our conferences to become just geographically convenient divisions of a much more important whole? Do we want the conferences to be mainly about ease of scheduling? Or do we want our conference to continue to maintain a strong identity? Do we want the SEC to continue to mean something.

I like the bowl system, by which I mean I like all the different bowls that criss-cross the country in a two-or-so week time-period. I like that some teams go to a bowl and are very disappointed about which one, but have to face a team that is excited to be going to any bowl at all.

I like that there is a one game winner-take-all for the national championship, with endless debate about who should be in it. I like that it is flawed as all get-out, and only marginally authoritative.

I think the reason for me liking things more or less the way they are is because, for me, the national championship is secondary to the conference championship. In the conference, you're going against your biggest rivals, and you know exactly what you have to do to win. Beat the other teams in your conference. It's precise. It's mathematical. It's satisfying.

Why does college football need to be just like every other sport? Every sport has a tournament at the end to declare a champion. College football is unique in having a post-season that is entirely unlike a tournament, and darn-it, I like it that way. Making college football like every other sport would, well, make it just like every other sport. It would take away the specialness of college football. Do we want college football to become just another tournament-based sport?

This is not to say everything is perfect in the bowl system. Clearly, the bowls are struggling. The non-BCS bowls are too weak, and "January 1" is losing its luster thanks to a ton of games starting before noon when people aren't yet in the mood for football. Recently adding two new bowls to the mix does not really help, unless the other bowls are strengthened.

The birth of the BCS has relegated the other bowls to side shows, but I think that's simply a matter of how the NCAA has chosen to market its bowls. Change that, and I think the current system is fine. Go to a playoff system, and college football as we know it has ended, and it won't just affect December and January.

* Actually, UConn tied for the conference title, but it was awarded to WVU based on tie-breakers.

** I admit, I confirmed my recollections by looking up the conference champions I wasn't lock-sure about, but my recollections were right every time. I can even remember most of the conference champions from 2006. Ohio State, Florida, USC, Oklahoma, Wake Forest, and I think Louisville. Those I did not look up. The point is, going to a playoff format devalues the conference championships, making them less meaningful. If being able to remember them equates to them being meaningful, I think I've made my point.


Billy the kid said...

I totally agree with you. Leave college football alone.

jimherehi said...

This just in:

Ryan Perrilloux has been dismissed from the team. I don't have time to read the whole article.

Poseur said...

I am a playiff advocate, but I firmly believe it should be restricted to conference champions for the exact reason Pittman has outlined. Conferences matter. If you can't win your conference, you simply have no claim to being the best team in the country. None. Zero. Zip. You might be #2, but not #1.

And I love the bowls. Why does there have to be a playoff OR the bowl system? I've never understood this. A playoff will be between, even in the most liberal proposals, a maximum of 16 teams. That leaves a whole bunch of teams to play in the Peach Bowl. The minor bowls don't matter NOW. How is a playoff going to make them more irrelevent? I love the bowls for a simple reason: it's more football.

I do believe in a playoff, but God, I hate the idea of a plus one so much. It's trying to split the baby between now and a playoff. And it would have been doomed to failure.

jimherehi said...

Interesting analysis of the what would happen if a traditional playoff system was put into play. I certainly would not want the SEC championship game to lose its importance. And, after thinking about it, I like the whole buildup/controversy surrounding the present BCS championship game. All of that would be gone.

Richard Pittman said...

God dammit! I don't know if I'm more mad right now about what Perrilloux has done for the team or what he's done to this post. I was waiting to post this. I put a lot of time into getting this post right. I think my dissenting voice on the playoff debate is potentially important, and now he's gone and rendered it obsolete within hours of me posting it.

That, and of course, he's left us completely in the lurch.