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Friday, May 09, 2008

I'm about to take some recent anti-playoff arguments made by college football blogs and debunk them as best I can, but before we start: you can take it for granted that I agree with any arguments like "the commissioners would screw it up" and acknowledge that the MGoPlayoff is a fanciful dream. But I would like to argue that, conceptually, the right playoff is a net positive for college football in all ways. Arguments like "but it will soon be 16 teams" won't be addressed; I am advocating my system, not other, stupid systems for which anti-playoff arguments are totally valid.

Many arguments take the results of the recently-played season and say "but this wouldn't work," so we should establish the MGoPlayoff's output this year. Seedings are an off-the-cuff guess with a bias towards schedule strength based on pre-bowl results.

#1 LSU hosts lower seed remaining after first round
#2 Ohio State hosts higher seed after first round.
#3 Oklahoma hosts #5 Georgia
#4 Virginia Tech hosts #6 Missouri

BCS remnants:
Rose: Illinois-USC (uh... oops!)
Fiesta: Kansas-West Virginia
Sugar: Florida-Arizona State
Orange: Hawaii-Boston College

Missouri gets the last slot over Kansas (H2H win, better schedule) and USC (better schedule, though to be fair to USC they got hosed by unusually horrible Nebraska and Notre Dame teams). They get switched into the VT game to remove an intraconference first round matchup but keep their seeding.

Teams under consideration left out: Kansas, USC, West Virginia.

Anyway, arguments: regular-season games would be less meaningful. Garnet and Black Attack:

yes, Texas-Texas A&M would have meaning under a playoff system. But the bottom-line question -- whether a team that would probably have been a lower-seed contender gets into the playoffs or not -- is not nearly as weighty as the Big XII Championship Game between Missouri and Oklahoma, which decided whether the national front-runner (Missouri) had a rare chance to play for it all. There would be more games with some degree of meaning, but it's a lower degree of meaning than the important games we have now.
This argument is better phrased than most, and is impossible to deny. With a full-fledged eight team system some late season games lose much of their drama, especially if such a system comes with autobids for conference champions. West Virgina's loss to Pitt would have been entirely moot.

But doesn't national champion LSU feature two losses? Where was the all-or-nothing nature of the season then? I guess the argument is that if you lose you place your fate in the hands of the uneducated rabble that votes and may be unfairly and arbitrarily passed over for some other near-identical team, but... uh... that's not a positive for college football. There's a certain drama in the stupidity, I guess.

Anyway, in this system West Virginia and USC get the boot entirely; Missouri goes from anticipating a bye and a home game against one of two foes it had an eternity to scout to a roadie in Blacksburg. No game is irrelevant and losing late either boots you from the playoff entirely or -- if you're super lucky -- forces you to play a first-round game, likely on the road, and more than halves your chances at national title, and suddenly ten or more teams go into the late stages of the season feverishly looking and hoping and praying and viciously rooting against any team that looks remotely threatening.

I know this is a matter of personal opinion greatly influenced by your opinion of playoffs and not vice versa, but that sounds freakin' awesome.

Playoffs don't necessarily crown the best teams or include all deserving contenders. Around The Oval:
I don't think playoffs will solve all the problems with crowning a national champ. I mean, how often can you say you're sure the team that wins the NCAA tournament in men's basketball was the best in the country that year? If they get hot at the right time and catch a few lucky breaks, a pretty mediocre team can make a run through the playoffs and win it all, while a team that crushed the competition throughout the year can fall victim to a bad call and be out in the first round.
The perfect is the enemy of the good. Just because a playoff is not perfect is no reason to eschew it when our current system is vastly further from perfect. Some team with a claim to be the #6 seed will be omitted and there will be caterwauling. But Auburn fans are going to take 2004 to their grave. Same with Oregon fans and USC fans -- well, not USC fans since the BCS was screwed up so bad that year they left out the #1 team -- and so forth and so on forever and ever amen. Getting booted because your two-loss team was deemed not as good as some other two-loss team is orders of magnitude less offensive.

As far as a team getting "hot at the right time" and darting to a St. Louis Cardinals sort of championship, that's impossible in the system outlined here. Take the last team selected for the playoff, Missouri, and create the least impressive path they can take to the title: wins @ Virginia Tech and @ Ohio State followed by a neutral-field victory over a Georgia team that just beat Oklahoma and LSU. In that scenario, Missouri would have by far the most impressive resume of any team in the country and would be an obvious #1 even if the playoff was a meaningless exhibition and the national championship was decided by pollsters.

Let's take the year the BCS seemed perfect: 2005. Undefeated juggernaut USC met undefeated juggernaut Texas in the Rose Bowl. MGoPlayoff that year:

#1 USC hosts lower seed.
#2 Texas hosts higher seed.
#3 Penn State hosts #6 Georgia
#4 Oregon hosts #5 Ohio State

There are about a thousand possibilities for #6: Notre Dame, Auburn, LSU, Miami, Georgia, West Virginia, Virginia Tech. Georgia's victory in the SEC championship game gives them the edge, IMO.

Repeat the experiment: give Georgia wins @ Penn State and @ USC and a neutral-site victory against either undefeated Texas or one-loss Oregon or Ohio State and it would be extremely difficult to argue that they did not have the most impressive resume by the end of the year and would end up #1 on a hypothetical national-title-determining poll.

Compared to every other sport on the planet, college football hardly exists. The nearest equivalent, the NFL, has double the number of meaningful games if you consider everyone's 2-4 tomato can games against a I-AA team or a Sunbelt team or Notre Dame to be the exhibitions they are. This makes it the perfect environment for a playoff. By restricting teams severely and providing a considerably more difficult path to lower-seeded teams, we can make the playoff champion the opinion champion always. Two or three wins against elite competition will always catapult the winning team's resume to the top of the heap.

A playoff would diminish my college football fandom. This is always the argument that makes me think "WTF? Are you addicted to crack?" so it's appropriate that this one comes from Addicted to Quack:
I started having these thoughts early on last football season. I'm sitting there watching the Cal-Tennessee game in week one. And I started thinking to myself: why the hell am I watching Cal-Tennessee. If it's a basketball game, there is no way I'm watching Cal-Tennessee. Yet I watched every minute of that game. And I watched Oregon State-Cincinnati. And USC-Nebraska. Oh, and not just Pac-10 games. I watched West Virginia-Rutgers. And Oklahoma-Missouri. And basically football every minute of every Saturday all fall.
If the only reason you watch college football is because of the incredibly minute chance Oregon State-Cincinnati has any impact whatsoever on the national title race, I don't know what to tell you. I watch college football because in the stands 80 to 100 thousand people live and die on every play, because I hate Miami, Notre Dame, Ohio State, USC, and most of the SEC, because it is a brief three-month burst of bands and silly songs and real, honest-to-God traditions and stadiums named after states or dead men and punch-you-in-the-eye rivalries in a sea of sports chintz. You can add a playoff and Ohio State-Michigan happens once a year and so too Texas-Oklahoma and Oregon-Oregon State and Georgia-Florida and Army-Navy.

The reason so many of us watch so much college football is that, as mentioned, there is hardly any of it and it is all great. Adding a few games at the end of the season won't change that.

We should go back to the old days. ATO, again:
And who says crowning a national champion is something worth trying to do anyway? Can we really take one team from 119 and say, "Okay, we are absolutely certain this is the best team in the country"? It seems like an exercise in futility, designed to drive us all crazy. So why even try? Let's go back to the old system. Every year, the Big Ten champ plays the Pac-10 champ in the Rose Bowl, the 2nd place Big Ten team plays in the Citrus Bowl, and so on. It won't give us the best team in the country, but I have a sneaking suspicion that there's no way we can conclusively determine that. So instead, we get the tradition back, and a system that at least makes college football less of a blatant cash-grab.
I'm not going to argue with this. I agree: the old system and its entirely mythical national championships are better than the current bullcrap. I'd also be in favor of the Fake Plus One, which is basically the old system with a national title game tacked on, as long as the national title game was rotated around the country.