A College Football Playoff Would Be No Better Than BCS
by Trevor Whenham - 11/13/2008
I am sick to death of the talk of a college football playoff. BCS bashing is the favorite activity of the media and college football fans. I don't agree. I think that a playoff is a bad idea for a lot of reasons. That's not to say that I think the BCS is perfect. It's far from it. It's just that the playoff would be no better. Winston Churchill said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others that have been tried. That's pretty much how I feel about the BCS. Don't agree with me? Maybe you will after I lay out some of my arguments:
Playoff is still subjective - This is the single biggest problem I have with a playoff. Critics argue that the problem with the BCS forumla is that the two teams that play for the championship are subjectively chosen. The teams in a playoff would be, too. There is no way to come up with a meaningful points system or other mechanism of automatic qualification in the playoffs, so some combination of voters and computers would still have to figure out which four or eight teams would make the playoffs. You'd still have the same sort of crying and moaning about the team that ended up ninth as you do now about the team that ends up third now. It would probably be even worse - the seventh and eight spots would be the teams that aren't major conference champs, so there would almost always be a lot of teams that could claim those spots. Further, you would add an extra level of potential problems to the situation - deciding which teams play each other, and where they play. The matchups would go a long way to determining who is going to win, so they would be very controversial. College basketball has a much larger tournament, so pairings, especially in early rounds, are much more straightforward. Still, every year there are several teams that are outraged by their unfair placement in the brackets. That would be magnified in a college football playoff.
The problem all comes down to one thing - when you have nearly 120 teams playing just 12 games it's almost impossible to reach consensus over which teams are the best. Basketball teams play significantly more games, and it's still very difficult to know which teams will occupy the one and two seeds before the brackets are announced. As soon as a team was kept out of the playoff that a lot of people think should have been included the whole thing would lose credibility.
BCS isn't that broken - People claim that the BCS is a joke because it has raised the wrong teams to the final game. That's just not the case. Everyone looks to Ohio State as Exhibit A. They have undeniably been awful in each of the last two championships, but they still deserved to be there. In 2006 they were the only undefeated major conference team. No-brainer. Last year they were the only one-loss major conference champion. They still would have been in a playoff, and they still probably wouldn't have won the championship. Nothing would have been changed. If you look back at the history of the BCS, the title game has usually featured the two teams that should have been there. Even when it was controversial it has proven to be right. In 2004, many thought that it should have been Auburn instead of USC that got into the title game. USC was a resounding winner, though, while Auburn only barely beat Virginia Tech. If you are being objective, you have to admit that the BCS does a remarkably good job of the incredibly difficult job of identifying the top two teams in the country. A playoff would not be guaranteed at doing a better job of seeding the top four or eight teams.
Shuts down BCS-busters - Even the most stringent traditionalist has to acknowledge that one of the great elements of the last five years in college football has been the rise of legitimate mid-majors. Utah and Boise State have done real damage, and both are poised to do so again this year. That helps the sport at all levels. A playoff would make it much harder for those teams to get that shot. There is no way that anyone would tolerate a champion of one of the big six conferences not making the playoff, so that means that an eight team playoff would only have two at-large bids. That's two fewer than there currently are, and it's already almost impossible for more than one non-BCS team to make it. A playoff would isolate deserving mid-tier conferences.
The controversy is good for the sport - There's that saying that any publicity is good publicity as long as they spell your name right. Regardless of what people are saying about the BCS, the fact is that it has been a huge boost for college football. People might be complaining about it, but at least they are talking about the sport. The BCS makes sure that we get one decisive bowl game, and it gives fans more to debate about, argue about, and speculate over. There is more for fans to sink their teeth into now than there was in the pre-BCS era, and the system is to thank for that. A playoff may be able to arouse the same interest, but it won't arouse any more.
A playoff would impact the bowl system - Yes, the bowl system is ridiculous. That's the point. Any playoff would inevitably impact the bowl structure. The joy of bowls is the history, pageantry, tradition, and rivalries. That's unique to football, and part of what makes it so great. The bowls should be preserved and advanced, not undermined. (I also don't buy the argument that there are too many bowls, but that's an argument for another day).
It's not going to happen - Every time I fly anywhere my knees barely fit into my seat. I used to complain about it all the time, but now I just come to terms with it and accept it for what it is. I am a tall guy, and airlines need to have as many seats on the plane as they can, so the situation isn't going to change. I've accepted that nothing is going to change, and that has made me a happier flier. People need to do the same thing about a playoff, so it almost certainly isn't going to happen. Quit complaining about that which can't change and you may actually learn to love the BCS. Or at least recognize that it isn't all that it's made out to be.