It’s nearing the end of the bowl season that means everyone has a brief, precious amount of time left to complain about how college football should have a playoff system. It’s a popular sentiment and simply bringing up the BCS (more like the BS SYSTEM!!!11!!1!!!) is all but guaranteed to get plenty of irate posts. I’d love to write a piece bashing the BCS Bowl SHAM-pionship series (Zing!), but I can’t; I am one of the very few people who are publicly against a playoff.
A few of us exist. Tony Barnhart dismisses polls that show support for a playoff because those polls are too vague to actually mean anything (a good lesson for any methodology course). Stewart Mandel wisely supports a “+1” format. Even my man Pete Fiutak (hands down the best college football analyst online) has expressed unease about a playoff (though he does push for an 8-team design which seems feasible, especially when compared with the 64 team playoff (!) proposed by CBS writer Darin Darst). But for the most part, it’s easier to trash the BCS.
I could go on and on about how unique college football is. It’s a bullshit talking point, but it still has some merit: The entire college football season is a playoff. Right now I’m sickened by the talk about NFL teams who have clinched the playoff berth resting players for the final game or two of the regular season (just ask the Colts fans how that felt last week). It’s absolute bullshit and I fear it would absolutely happen in college football.
People point to the Urban Meyer/Nick Saban types who strive for perfection (no one else strives, apparently), who would want an undefeated record (much like Tim Tebow wanted this season). But the most important thing in football is winning the championship. In the NFL, no one gives a shit that New England went undefeated with one notable exception – the Giants won the Superbowl. And that’s in the NFL. In college football, an undefeated season is far from rare. In the past 20 years, there have been 22 teams who have gone undefeated. Any coach would gladly sit his starters if a college playoff spot was guaranteed, especially if players are a little dinged up.
Of course, for the first year or two, rivalries would remain upheld and announcers would pontificate about the importance of tradition in college football. However, in a world of multi-million dollar contracts, it wouldn’t be long before some coach under pressure to perform well in the playoffs decided to rest his players. Any modicum of success would be met with imitation. And suddenly the college football regular season is as boring as the college basketball regular season.
Right now the source of the excitement is watching other teams fail. I watch as much college football as I possibly can, but what really holds my attention are the upsets. USC getting the shit kicked out of it by the (at the time) unranked Oregon Ducks was fascinating because a Trojan loss all but guaranteed they would be out of the BCS picture and stuck in a lame-ass bowl game (done and done). Watching LSU lose, or Michigan or USC or Virginia Tech or Michigan or Texas or Michigan or Les Miles or Miami lose is fine and enjoyable, but watching one of those teams lose where there are serious repercussions is must-see TV. Is the Cincinnati/Pittsburgh game as exciting if the Bearcats are guaranteed a spot in a playoff? What about Nebraska/Texas?
Scrap the idea of a college football playoff and…listen closely…FIX. THE. BCS. Don’t just trash it – fix it.
By far, by FAR the worst component in the current BCS system is the human element. The polls are just awful (especially the coaches poll). For evidence, look no further than the Capital One Bowl. This year featured Penn State and LSU (ranked number 13 and 12, respectively, at the end of the season). But did either team belong? Penn State’s best win, best win, was over Minnesota. That’s rough, but it’s nothing compared to LSU, whose best games were losses to Florida and Alabama. But because their preseason rankings were so high (Penn State started off the season at #8, LSU at #11), these two were bound to end up at the top.
How do we fix this? Actually Kirk Herbstreit suggested this years ago on College Gameday: Create a panel of people who are required to watch every game every weekend. Sit them in a room with comfortable chairs and excellent food, and make sure they watch every single minute of every single game. Make sure they’re moving teams around early in the season (a la the genius of Doug Lesmerises) so that no one is guaranteed a top spot because they looked good in a bowl game 9 months earlier.
I would also love to see written decisions, like Supreme Court justices. Maybe not one for every team, but if there is a particularly controversial ranking (or if there is a close vote) the winning side would write (anonymously) why a certain team deserved a certain ranking.
I also am a firm believer in the “plus one” format, again using the same criteria as before (with the panel meeting to discuss the major bowl games to determine who deserves to challenge for the national championship).
It’s manageable, it’s something that can be adjusted if there are still issues, and it’s nothing as drastic (and overly simplistic) as the playoff cure-all.