Tuesday, May 20
Playoffs?! OK, you can talk about playoffs.
With a plus-one playoff proposal recently having been shot down by the conference commissioners of D-IA, the already heated (and seemingly endless) debate over a playoff in IA football has ramped up yet further in the blogosphere. Most of the CFB blogs I read on the regular, surprisingly, are against playoffs -- even more surprisingly, this goes double for the Georgia blogs, as Senator Blutarsky, Paul Westerdawg, and Kyle King (among others) have all come out against such a system despite the fact that it might've given last year's 11-2 Bulldogs the shot at the Big 'Un that many felt they were unfairly denied. At the other end of the spectrum, you've got (among others) Sunday Morning Quarterback, who has not only made eloquent pro-playoff arguments in the past but has gone so far as to call one more or less inevitable.
It's prompted me to do a little wondering of my own about what my true opinion is on this, and the closest thing I can come up with is I don't actually care. I know that's one of the most annoying things a blogger can do, to write a long-ass post that basically amounts to "Hey everybody, my opinion is that I have no opinion," so let me modify that somewhat: Whatever opinion I have on this matter has far, far less to do with me wanting a playoff than it does with not wanting -- with extreme prejudice -- the system we've got now, i.e. the BCS.
In theory, I'm attracted to the idea of a plus-one playoff; looking back over the first 10 seasons of the BCS and what it would've looked like had a plus-one been in effect, it's hard to say for all but one or two of those groupings that any of the teams involved wouldn't have made a fine and respectable national champion had they ended up winning it all. However, my interest in a plus-one has two major caveats, and the first one is the potential for a four-team playoff to grow wildly into something much bigger and more diluted -- or, as Blutarsky calls it, mission creep. The textbook example of this is the NCAA basketball tournament, which started out with only eight teams in 1939 and has more than octupled in size since then; and even if you dismiss that by delineating all the reasons that college hoops aren't analogous to college football, there may be an even better example of "mission creep" in the college bowl system. In 1939 there were five bowl games -- Rose, Cotton, Orange, Sugar, and Sun, all of which have remained respectable institutions with generally high (though varying) levels of prestige -- but this coming season we're going to have 34. If you'd asked Cotton Bowl founder J. Curtis Sanford back in 1937 whether his financing of a new bowl would one day lead to an annual game in Shreveport between the number-seven teams in the SEC and Big 12, I'm sure he would've told you "Don't be silly," too (though that would've been partly because he wouldn't have even known what the Big 12 was). And if you'd asked him about a bowl matching the third-place team in the Big East with the fifth-place team in Conference USA that was named after not even a pizza restaurant but said pizza restaurant's Web site, I'm sure he would've at least given thought to burning you for witchcraft.
If there's one thing we should have learned about the country's conference commissioners by now, it's that they're some greedy mofos. I realize that's because they have to be; their top priority isn't college football writ large, it's their own conferences first, the sanctity of college football second. Looking again at that what-if post about a plus-one on Blutarsky's site, you'll note that no Big East teams would've been invited to the plus-one party for the last five seasons, and only one ACC team would've gotten the call in the seven seasons since FSU last played for the title -- think Mike Tranghese or John Swofford wouldn't have raised a stink about that at some point? Given that more playoff games would equal more money, it would be completely implausible if they weren’t eventually able to drum up enough support to crack open the playoff field a little more and expand it to include four more teams and a pair of more-or-less-automatic berths for their conference champions.
He up and swiped Miami, VaTech, and Boston College right out from under the Big East's nose -- what makes you think he won't f$#! with your playoff?
So if a plus-one playoff ever does get implemented, there has to be a Doomsday Device built into it that says the very minute someone even suggests expanding the field beyond four teams, the whole thing blows up and we go back to the circa-1991, pre-Coalition, every-bowl-for-itself system, split titles and all. Clap to this: How is our current situation really all that different? There’s still just as much disagreement over national titles on a regular basis, and still the danger of a split title, as 2003 proved; only now we can’t even figure out who’s going to be in the national-title game without a calculator and a college-level expertise in statistics, which is stupid. Any average math-averse Joe like myself should be able to sit down with the sports section on a Monday morning and, after less than 60 seconds’ worth of perusing the poll results and conference standings, figure out who’s going to be playing for the title, whether those teams are going to be matched up in one game or spread out over two or even three. But I can’t do that now because we’ve just arbitrarily thrown algorithms and something called the Colley Matrix into the mix. I think part of our current distaste for the BCS stems from mistrust, because we’re basically throwing the poll results into a Cuisinart along with some computer rankings whose formulas or methodology are known only to a tiny group of people who may not even be football fans in the first place and expecting everyone to just accept on faith whatever comes out. And I’m sorry, but this isn’t a faith-based business.
Have a playoff or don’t have a playoff already, but whichever you end up deciding, let’s get rid of the BCS. An old-school, unstructured Wild-West bowl system might not be preferable to a playoff, but in practical terms it’s certainly no worse than letting math geeks have this much say in who gets to play for the title. Basically, after ten years of the BCS, I think I've come to the conclusion that a split title, while certainly not the ideal situation, wouldn't exactly be the end of the world; it's when we have to slog through the aggravation of an arcane jumble of decimal points, and still arrive at a split title anyway, that I really start to feel like the sanctity of my favorite sport is being arbitrarily and pointlessly messed with. And that's when I get pissed.
Sorry if that disappoints both the playoff proponents and the BCS folks, but what can I say? Even a commie pinko like me can be a traditionalist about some things.
And honestly, if the chaos of the old bowl system could give us moments like this, was it really that bad?