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Tuesday, July 05, 2005

The playoff postin' a while back spurred an interesting comment thread with a host of ideas, objections, and declarations that I'm crazy. It's obviously a subject that inspires a lot of shouting, because there is a deathly fear that college football, being a fragile peach of a sport that tends to bruise easily, will be ruined by changes. I submit that it can't get much worse unless we get "January Madness," and 16 or (gasp) more teams make the playoffs.

Some ground rules to start.

First, let's dispense with the notion that college football teams can't play more games (because of the children! Think about the children!). Last year's I-AA national champion, James Madison, played 15 games, four of them in the playoffs. No one at James Madison is going to be able to buy a Bentley when their playing days are over--they have to go to school, and there doesn't appear to be a peep of complaint from I-AA folk about the rigors of the playoff. They keep expanding the number of teams in it, actually. A four-team playoff adds a grand total of one game to the college football season. An eight-team playoff adds a grand total of six games. The NCAA just added approximately 60 games by legalizing a 12 game schedule. Objections to a playoff on Save The Children grounds are either hopelessly naive or dastardly cynical.

Second, there were objections that ran along the lines of "I don't want to see a playoff because I don't want a champion crowned at all." I can understand this line of reasoning--the overriding focus of the media on the national championship as the one goal for every team has overwhelmed even the best efforts of lovably cranky old coots like Bo, who regarded the nonconference schedule as the "preseason." Now Lloyd Carr embarrassingly complains about how hard Michigan's nonconference schedule is on a regular basis. The chances of Michigan's brief series against Miami or Florida State ever resurrecting themselves are nil. Most programs around the country are content with one marquee matchup in their nonconference schedule, if that, all in the hopes of being a national championship contender. It's too late... and if you remember the arguments that flew back and forth in the late 90s and early 80s, those were unbelievably annoying. Just flagrantly unsophisticated.

So. Assuming you are me, and have a deep respect for the game's traditions but have become really frustrated with Michigan vs. Eastern Michigan, hate the BCS with irrationally intense fervor, want those pansy southern teams to play some real burlyman football in the North when it's cold, and don't buy the Save the Children line, this is what things look like:

Ante-bellum bowl system.

Pro: Tradition-laden. Pac 10 meets Big Ten in the Rose Bowl every year. Also some other teams play games. New Year's Day is a sacred holiday for college football fans. No games on Wednesday, January fourth.
Con: Ask Penn State '94. National championship often split or, worse, wrongly denied to a deserving team that has done nothing but waste its opponents. Constant pointless bickering between fanbases that extends well into the next millennium, boring all in its wake. M part of MNC strongly emphasized.

BCS as is: two team playoff.

Pro: Occasional undisputed #1-#2 game that produces a true national champion. Produced one really good game when Ohio State beat Miami with the aid of a late pass interference call.
Con: Only produces satisfying result when there are two and only two undefeated teams. Anything else causes conniption fit. System revamps itself every year so that it won't screw up the same way it did the year before only to screw up in unexpected new ways. National championship game is on a goddamn Wednesday at 9 pm and goddamn Ashlee Simpson performs at it. Since teams are punished heavily for losing and not rewarded proportionally for winning tough games, nonconference schedules become mostly lame. Rose Bowl invaded by heathens on regular basis.

"Plus One" BCS system

(note: this is basically a return to traditional bowl tie-ins with an additional MNC game after the bowls)
Pros: Sort of like a playoff that would allow years like the last two, when two undefeated teams remained after the bowls, to conclude satisfactorily. Traditional bowl ties restored.
Cons: Pointless when there are two and only two undefeated teams and in situations like that could lead to more controversy than the system we have now. Still emphasizes not losing at all. Asks an awful lot of CFB fans to travel to a bowl game and then travel to another one a mere week later.

True BCS based four team playoff.

Pros: Virtually guarantees that an undefeated major-conference team will have a chance at a national championship. Should generally produce an NC
Cons: Warm weather schools get all games at home. Again emphasizes "undefeated," paralyzing non-conference schedules. Abomination known as "Fiesta Bowl" continues to lurch along unimpeded.

mgoblog's eight team playoff.

Pros: Miami versus Michigan in Michigan Stadium in December. USC in Columbus in December. Probable beefing up of nonconference schedules, as there is always the win-your-conference out into the playoff. Winning is still really important, especially to fans, as the first two rounds are at campus sites: finishing in the top two is a huge advantage.
Cons: Bowl system severely damaged (shouldn't this be a pro?)--the eight playoff teams are all gunning for the Rose Bowl but the six that don't make it probably won't go to a bowl game at all. Every bowl except the Rose Bowl becomes a sideshow that doesn't really matter.

Sixteen+ team playoff.

Pros: Uh. Anyone who sorta half-deserves it gets in. No complaining from anyone about illicitly bestowed national championships.
Cons: 8-3 teams that finished third in their conference start getting in. Season loses dramatic urgency. Power teams hardly ever miss the playoffs. Essential difference between college football and every other sport on the planet gone.


College football faces the following problems: lame nonconference schedules, useless bowl proliferation, traditions fading in favor of Simpson sisters, and national championships still being delivered largely on whim. An eight-team playoff that gives the top-rated teams significant advantages decided by a committee that uses cojones as a significant components of its seeding process erases all of the above except the tradition bit, which it exacerbates.

I would personally rank these options as...
1. Eight-team playoff
2. Four-team playoff
3. Plus one
4. Ante-bellum system
5. Current system
6. Anything else
1,000,004. Playoff with more than eight teams.

All right. Go Syndicate on me. (Uzi. Uzi. Minigun. Minigun.) What are your ratings? I'd like to find out if I'm a nut.