I would say last week in college football news was a tempestuous one for mid-December, but when part of the arguments involve the BCS, I suppose that’s nothing extraordinary at all for this time of year.
I hate the idea that debate and discussion is part of what makes college football great. It’s not. That’s such a ridiculous notion that I’m not sure how it ever began to approach an accepted line of thinking.
Perhaps there was something cute about it when Nebraska and Penn State were arguing about rankings in 1994 or Miami and Washington split a national title not long before that, but once someone decided that picking a champion was serious enough business to have people play a game to decide it every year, the landscape changed.
Gordon Gee, Jim Delany and other playoff opponents like to throw out vague ideas about a slippery slope to professionalism or bracket creep when people ask them why they won’t let more teams have a chance to play for the national championship, but the fact is they are the ones who opened the door.
A four- or eight- or 32-team tournament would not begin that process. It started with the Bowl Coalition almost 20 years ago. That was when the people running the power conferences realized the value of deciding things on the field, and there is no going back.
Their decision to make a concerted effort to match the top two teams against each other every year was perhaps (or perhaps not) innocent enough, but it sent fans hurtling into a new world in which they don’t care about anything but a national title now that it is a more tangible goal. The supposedly sacred regular season died then, whether anyone noticed it at the time or not.
The regular season is not a playoff, especially when four of the major conferences don’t even have a round-robin schedule and there are no more than a handful of meaningful interconference matchups among the top teams in any given year.
I feel pretty comfortable in my ability to judge the relative strengths and weaknesses of a football team, but there really is no way to split hairs at the top with much certainty. And what certainty there is gets churned up and spit out by the month off teams take between the last regular season game and the championship, further complicating matters.
I thought the movement to emphasize resumes over style points beginning a few years ago was going to be a positive, but time has shown that often doesn’t solve much of anything. That’s especially true when more than one team is involved in the discussion. Figuring out that Florida played a far tougher schedule in 2006 than Michigan was easy enough, but it’s not always that cut and dried.
That is why I want to see a playoff that involves every BCS conference champion, perhaps with a minimum ranking required for qualification, depending on the size of the playoff. Sixteen is the perfect number for me as it would include every small conference champion and five at-large teams. That assures every unbeaten team, regardless of schedule strength, would make the field and it gives one-loss teams who played the toughest schedules a chance to redeem themselves for having the audacity to be off one day of the year or to test itself more times than the average team does.
I’ll settle for eight teams if that will placate enough people to make it a reality, but the whole “sanctity of the regular season” notion is misguided if you ask me.
I was reminded of this again Sunday every time I screamed at my television for showing me yet another Carson Palmer interception. Those errant passes were really only the difference between 2-11 and 3-9, so why should I care? Because I do. Because I like it when my team wins. They only play 16 games per year, you know, but I have to live all year with the fans of every other team around, so they might as well win as many of them as they can.
Thing is, football fans at all levels of the sport make a unique deal with their teams. The teams agree to play a scarce few times and fans pay them back by saving up all their energy to support them when they go out there. Football teams don’t put on a contest on the weekend when we’re glued to our TVs then come right back and play three more times in the next week when the drudgery of every-day life is more likely to interfere with our ability to concentrate on what they’re doing. Oh, sure, there are the occasional midweek games for most teams, but as long as they are only that – occasional – most fans of that team can go to the trouble of adjusting temporarily. That’s far easier than being free for 15 midweek college basketball games, although there are fans of that sport who do make a similar effort.
Of course, comparisons between the indoor game with the orange round ball and the outdoor game with the oblong brown one should be made only lightly, if at all. Fans become more passionate about football because of the scarcity of its games, but there are more fans of one sport than the other simply because it better appeals to our tastes. We like violence. We like strategy. We like passion. And we prefer to enjoy these things in an episodic manner like we do the television shows we consume with surprising voracity.
It all just works for football. Walter Camp’s game hit the jackpot. So I’m not sure where the idea comes from that anything could be lost by going to a playoff. I’ve yet to see any evidence that football’s current postseason enhances the enjoyment of football for its fans, yet I’ve heard plenty of people say it does lessen it.
No system guarantees we know which team is “best”, but the winner of any playoff is the champion, regardless of how many teams are involved, so while we used to vote for what team was “best,” now the BCS instead gives us a “champion” that may or may not be the best.
The latter is something anti-playoff people want to avoid, so maybe they don’t quite understand what they’re defending.
The problem with the BCS is two is pretty much the worst possible number for determining who should get the right to prove they’re “best” by playing to be the “champion”.
Two is a bad number because often there are more than two teams with similar resumes and supreme talent, and sometimes there is only one.
There is no perfect number, but to me selecting one too many teams is better than one too few.
I realize life is not fair, but I’m also motivated to see more teams involved as opposed to fewer because I happen to like college football and so the more games there are, the better.
Going into a season thinking Ohio State can probably afford to lose one game and stay in the national title hunt as opposed to feeling fairly confident they can’t but never being quite sure would not really affect my interest in each game at all. I promise to still want to watch when the top-rated teams play even if they are operating with a slightly more reliable net.
On the flip side, I think for the health of the sport, the quicker we end this “every game matters” charade the better before people start realizing what a farce the process is and lose interest.
While football’s inherent enjoyability will preserve its place among our most popular games, I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility to think the legions of casual fans could start to turn away, and those are really the only people who matter from a marketing standpoint, so appealing to them is really all the powers that be can be seen to be doing.
It’s nice to keep the rabid fans happy, but they are going to watch either way just like baseball fans can’t turn away despite its competitive imbalances, spoiled players and inconsistent umpires.
Yet the majority of rabid fans want a playoff, and a playoff would create more meaningful matchups to market to the casual fans who might stop watching the supposed “big” regular season games once they figure out every game really doesn’t matter, so why not expand this one-game playoff and make more money and more people happy?