I've never felt more like a politician than when it comes to talk of a college football playoff -- I unabashedly play both sides. I defend playoffs to anti-playoff types (and yes, they do exist), and I defend the bowl system and two-team championship method to pro-playoff types.
The simple fact is, I'm easy to please, and I understand both points of view. I know exactly why people want a playoff, and I know without a doubt that I would enjoy the hell out of one. I think a Plus One would be a wonderful compromise, though curmudgeonly Big Ten commish Jim Delany is exactly right -- if people got a Plus One, they would immediately begin the clamor for more, so there is almost no point. I think an eight-team playoff is risky, simply because the selection criteria would get really messy, but I think a 16-team playoff would be a sight to behold. Clearly I get the pro-playoff argument, as I made one of my own last year.
But I also get why people wouldn't want a playoff. For one thing, why change what is working? College football gets more popular every single year despite what is truly becoming an annoying level of playoff talk (you can't even preview an individual bowl game without it devolving into a "Why should we care? Bowls are stupid," exchange), and while looking for tweaks is always a good thing, it is rarely smart business to drastically change what is already working. Besides, while March Madness is obviously wonderful, it's okay to be different.
Plus, at least in theory, I love the "every game matters" concept. We all know that every game doesn't truly matter, of course. Just ask 2010 TCU, who did everything they possibly could to prove themselves worthy of a title shot and still didn't get one, or 2007 LSU, who cross the dreaded two-loss barrier and still got to play for (and win) the title. Really, it's "as many games as possible matter," but for the most part, I am okay with the intent behind that. I love that a four-loss team can't win the national title.
A few weeks ago, ESPN's great Ivan Maisel wrote a piece for the Dot Com talking about how teams like Texas A&M were getting hot in November, but they had nothing to play for because there is no playoff. All I could think was, "…and?" I love that only teams who are actually good the entire season (despite a possible slip-up) have a shot at the top prize, and that would likely get lost with a 16-team playoff (just look at this year's FCS playoff, where five four-loss teams entered the round of 16). A&M's hot streak bumped them all the way up to the Cotton Bowl, which is a great prize in and of itself, but they suffered a three-game losing streak this year -- I have no problem with that eliminating them from the title race.
There are legitimate arguments for keeping the current system in place, but yesterday's egregious USA Today column from BCS Executive Director Bill Hancock didn't actually touch on any of them. Instead, it just infuriated me.
If this were the shady system that some people claim, how could Boise State have been only inches away? And if the system were designed to shut out schools from the so-called non-power conferences, how could TCU — undefeated and No. 3 in the BCS rankings — play in the granddaddy of them all, the Rose Bowl?
Boise State was not "only inches away" -- they were inches away from the No. 3 ranking and a Rose Bowl bid. They still would not have touched the national title game. And while I cannot wait to see TCU taking on Wisconsin (if nothing else, it will go a long way toward proving if they would have truly had a shot at Oregon or Auburn in the big game), I'm pretty sure they would have still preferred a shot at the national title over a Rose Bowl slot.
As this season proves, outstanding teams can play in BCS bowls, including the national championship game, no matter what conference they're in.
Absolutely. Outstanding teams like … Connecticut, currently ranked 51st in F/+. I know why you're patting yourself on the back about TCU, and I have no problem with the Big East having an automatic bid in the end, but this really isn't the best year for such an argument.
Sure, I understand that many football fans want an NFL-style playoff instead. I know that they want to fill out a bracket, and that they want to watch more college football in December. They want their favorite team to have a slot in that bracket.
And they want every team that deserves a shot at the national title … to have a shot at the national title. But we're just going to ignore that argument, huh?
Millions of football fans this year tuned in to watch the season-opening game between Boise State and Virginia Tech because there was so much on the line —starting early in September. If there were a playoff, the Alabama-Auburn game wouldn't have been as important nationally, or as dramatic.
I agree that there would have been less on the line in those games, but there would have still been plenty on the line. Boise would have possibly been playing for a top seed and a home playoff game, and the result of Auburn-Alabama would have possibly eliminated Alabama from the national title race.
And then, of course, there is this:
A playoff also would mean the end of America's bowl tradition as we know it. As Rick Baker, president of the Cotton Bowl, said, "A playoff system would ruin the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic."
No. No, no, no, no, no. Read the Perfect Playoff column I linked at the top. There are so many possible ways to continue great bowl matchups, and it would not create too much of a diversion from students' current schedules. First-round playoff losers end up in the bowl pool -- bang, fixed. I've seen people try to argue that fans would be demoralized after their team lost in the playoffs, and they might not travel well. Or the team itself would not be hyped for a bowl after losing. Guess what: this already happens. Missouri lost a shot at the national title in the 2007 Big 12 Championship; their fans still snapped up a ton of Cotton Bowl tickets, and their team still romped over Arkansas on January 1. Big bowls are rewards for good seasons, and that wouldn't change with the right playoff system.
(And if you want to make a pro-fan, anti-playoff argument, let's talk about whether fans would be able to travel to, potentially, two playoff games and a bowl game. Or four playoff games. There are serious arguments to be made there, but again, Hancock didn't make them. And while I agree that four playoff games could potentially cause harm to the "student" portion of "student-athletes," until they dump the playoff structure from every single other level of college football, that argument cannot fly.)
I almost didn't write anything about this. Others have already executed perfectly strong (and in some cases, much more enjoyable) Hancock takedowns. But I really, really wanted to point out the bowl issue. Bowls don't have to die. I want to keep the bowl structure in place at all costs … and yet, I am still okay with the thought of a playoff. This apparently would make Bill Hancock's head explode.
The bottom line is that, again, I am easy to please. I love college football exactly as it is, with all of its glorious inconsistencies, and if it never deviates from its current system, I will love it all the same. But I am honest enough with myself to know that I would enjoy a playoff too. And at this point, I am so completely sick of the debate that I wish it would just go ahead and happen already. Both sides of the argument can be so disingenuous in their arguments … that it really isn't worth arguing anymore.
(And yet, I just wrote 1,400 words about it. This is why the argument will never die.)