Posted by Dr Fro 3:25 PM
This time of year, there is always plenty of discussion on the topic of how college football crowns its national champion. I don't mind people having an opinion one way or the other, as long as their opinion is based on actual fact. Where I get annoyed in these conversations is when people draw conclusions based untruths. In my opinion, the biggest untruths told by people that clamor for a playoff in college football are as follows.
1. "There is no playoff in college football"
Actually, there is. This may seem like a matter of semantics, but the current system is a playoff that consists of 2 teams and 1 game. Why bother making this distinction? Because the "injustices" that happen to the #3 team under the current 2-team playoff will only be replaced by injustices to the #5 team in a 4-team playoff and the #9 team in an 8-team playoff. True that an injustice to #9 is easier to stomach than an injustice to #3, but do not ever be so naïve to think that while the BCS has struggled to develop an optimal system for identifying #1 and #2 that they would somehow magically be able to identify #1-#8 without any problem.
2. "Under the current system, there is controversy every year over the national champion"
This is a common but wholly untrue statement. The current system really began once the Pac-10 and Big-10 gave up their tie-ins to the Rose Bowl and joined the BCS party in 1998. There have been 8 seasons under the current system. Let's look at how each has panned out:
1998: Tennessee came out of the Fiesta Bowl as the only undefeated team in the country and the undisputed national champion.
1999: Florida State came out of the Sugar Bowl as the only undefeated team in the country and the undisputed national champion.
2000: OU came out of the Orange Bowl as the only undefeated team in the country after holding defending national champion Florida State to 2 points. OU was the undisputed national champion.
2001: Miami came out of the Rose Bowl as the only undefeated team in the country and the undisputed national champion.
2002: Ohio State came out of the Fiesta Bowl as the only undefeated team in the nation after beating #1 and defending national champion, Miami. Nobody in this universe disagreed that OSU was the national champion.
2003: LSU won the Sugar Bowl, USC won the Rose Bowl. Both teams had 1 loss. Controversy!
2004: USC came out of the Orange Bowl undefeated. Auburn did, too, and a lot of people thought that they should be the national champion. Utah was also undefeated, although nobody seemed to care. Controversy!
2005: UT came out of the Rose Bowl as the only undefeated team in the nation after beating #1 and defending national champion, USC. Nobody in this universe disagreed that UT was the national champion.
There you have it. Most would say that it worked perfectly 6 times out of 8. While others may argue that it even worked 8 out of 8 (I will get to this later), it can not be denied that it worked at least 6 out of 8. So it can not be said that there is controversy every year. Of course, there is lots of controversy every October when people argue over hypothetical situations, but there is rarely controversy at the end of the post-season.
3. "Every other sport has a playoff."
Not true. Let's start with golf. No playoff. At the end of the season, you could have 4 different majors' champions and a fifth person as the money leader. Nobody seems to care. How about boxing? There isn't even a season; there is a king of the hill situation with a "championship game" multiple times a year. And NASCAR? The most popular sport in the U.S. (embarrassing, but true) surely has a playoff? Nope. No playoff.
And that is just some popular American sports. How about that little sport that happens to be the most popular on the planet? Well the Premier League (England) has a regular season and the team with the most wins at the end of the season is the champion. Well actually, ties count, too, kinda like hockey, but you get the point. There is no post-season in the Premier League.
A team in the Premier League may be involved in up to 3 "cups" during the regular season - 2 open only to English teams and 1 to only very good Euro-wide teams. This is, in fact, a modified bracket playoff. It should be pointed out that these cups occur separately from and simultaneously with the regular season. They are not part of a post-season intended to crown a champion for the season. So at the end of the season, Man U may win the league, Arsenal may win the FA Cup, Chelsea may win the other gay cup that nobody cares about and can't recall what it is called and Liverpool may win the Champions League. Controversy? No way. The fans consider each of these feats as completely separate, unrelated and of differing prestige.
By the way, all the prestigious soccer leagues follow the format I described for the Premier League. So why are all those cheese-eating, white flag waving, communist loving (!pandering alert!) Europeans so opposed to a playoff at the end of the season to decide their champion? Read #4
4. "A playoff is the most effective means of determining a champion."
No it isn't. You will never convince me that when the Yankees completely outperform the Marlins in the regular season but drop a 7-game series that the Marlins are actually better than the Yankees. Didn't the Mariners set the regular season record for wins but lose a 5-game divisional series?
The only way to appear to win this argument is to use the circular logic that the definition of a champion is a team that can perform the best in a playoff type situation. With that definition, one could only conclude that a playoff is in fact the best means of determining a champion. But that is circular logic.
Playoffs are a lot of things. Exciting is one. But, effective at crowning a champion? I'd prefer to look at a body of work over one season rather than a single game (or short series) at the end of the season.
5. "The champion is not determined on the field."
Well first of all it is. The 2-team, 1-game playoff is played on a field. This is not 1994 and we no longer have the bowl tie-ins that kept #1 from playing #2. So stop saying that it isn't determined on the field. It is.
But if what you meant is that the participants in the game are not determined by on the field play, well, I still disagree with you. The BCS formula does not include any inputs that consider something other than what happens on the field. Players' heights and weights are not an input. Neither are TV ratings. Nor are pre-season rankings. And for those of you that think that these facts do weigh in unconsciously via the "human polls", please read # 8.
The participants in the NC game are chose based on what they do on the field.
6. "It is not fair that schools from certain conferences are given preferential treatment."
Not true at all. Number 1 plays number 2 period. It is true that the BCS games other than the championship game is a good ol' boys network, but the championship game has no bias against "non-BCS" teams
7. "There is overwhelming support for a college football playoff."
This is the only untruth that I can't support with anything more than my personal experience. While I do agree that college football, like any commercial enterprise (oh, don't be naïve!), should give the market what it wants, I am not convinced that this is what the market wants. I think if you interview a pool of ESPN-watching, NFL-loving, Fantasy Football playing, Dallas Cowboy season ticket holding sports fans, you will see a huge support for a college playoff. If, on the other hand, you interviewed a bunch of people that have season tickets to a Div. I-A program, graduated from a Div. I-A school and do not care much about sports other than college football (a.k.a. college football's most die-hard fans), I think you would be surprised to learn how few of them want a playoff.
People that are smart in marketing give their biggest customers what they want, even if it offends the outspoken marginal customer.
8. "The system of picking the 2 participants doesn't work."
If this true, then a solution is to fix how the participants are chosen. But of course, those who levy this criticism are not interested in that. They want a playoff, dammit! Refer to #1. No system is perfect. In college basketball, the Stonecutters meet in secret and choose 64 teams based on, based on…. Um, well, actually they don't ever tell us exactly what it is based on.
People love to point to 2003 when USC was shut out of the BCS game despite being #1 in the AP and Coaches' Poll. People say this is proof that the system is broken. That could only be true if we accept that the the human polls are the best indicator of who the best teams are. And if this is the case, then the solution to this perceived problem would be to change the BCS formula to only consider human polls. But why don't we do that? Because of a simple truth on which everyone agrees:
There is inherent bias in the human polls.
So, the BCS tempers this by mixing in some computer polls. Of course, the weaknesses of the computer polls are tempered by the human polls. Checks and balances. How American.
9. "Fro, that is neat I will agree with you on all points except possibly #7 But at the end of the day, can't we agree that there is no downside to a playoff, and it would be a lot of fun and would make a lot of money?"
Yes, we can agree that it would be fun and that it would make a lot of money. But it is not true to say there is no downside. There is downside. College football is the only sport where winning your conference still matters. It is the only sport where half the teams in the top 25 end the season with a win (in a bowl game), as opposed to basketball where 63 of the top 64 teams end the season in a loss. The benefit here isn't that losses hurt the players and fans feelings. The point is that once your out of championship contention (e.g. A&M right now), you still have a lot to play for. They can still win out (they won't), win the conference (they won't) and win the Fiesta Bowl (they definitely won't). But they can. So there is still a compelling reason to tune in other hoping they get into a playoff. They have absolutely no business in a playoff, and they are appropriately out of contention. But they still have plenty of other things to play for. And they should.
I love the fact that regular season games matter. The TX-OU game was great this year for bragging rights, but the fact that only the winner maintained a (slight) possibility for a national championship upped the stakes. When TX plays OU in basketball, the game is largely meaningless, except for bragging rights.
In summary, you can not say there is no downside. You can argue what the cost of the downside is, but do not state that there is no cost.
Those are 9 untruths that muck up what could be an otherwise productive argument on the subject. If you want to argue with me, fine. There are plenty of good arguments for a playoff. See if you can find one. But please do not repeat any of the 9 untruths above. (OK, you can use #7 if you wish).
One final thought of mine on college football that is not a popular opinion by any means. In fact, just about nobody agrees with me on this subject. But that rarely changes my mind. Here it goes: I like the fact that there is a little bit of controversy. A little bit. Put another way, I would prefer controversy 6 out of 8 years over a system that crowns a single, undisputed champion every year. Why? The answer is two-fold.
First of all, I have never liked the fact that in every sport there is a single champion every year that seems to largely get equal recognition as all other champions. Sure, if a team repeats or if they go undefeated or if they do something really spectacular, they may be held out as a really special champion. But rarely does a champion get an asterisk by their name. Some may put one by the Rockets during Jordan's absence from the NBA. Not many did that, but some did. Other than that, in the minds of most sports fans, a champion is a champion is a champion. I have never liked that. If in 2006, we had the 32 worst NFL teams of all time compete against each other, somebody would emerge as the undisputed champion. (By default) But that doesn't seem right if all 32 teams kinda suck. Now consider the NCAA in 2003. Three teams - OU, LSU and USC - all had 1-loss. So screw them. They don't get the same level of respect as, say, Tennessee in 1998. And they shouldn't! If they don't like it, they shouldn't have lost that game! Don't come to me with sob stories. Win your games (hey, doesn't that mean we decide things on the field!)
The second reason is a bit more practical, but few will forget the "Auburn lesson." Schedule pansies, and you may not get a shot at the NC. The system rewards teams for scheduling heavyweights. But Fro, UT is on the outside of the championship race looking in now because they scheduled OSU! No, Stupid, they are on the outside looking in because the LOST to OSU, not because they scheduled them. Win that game, and, as OSU knows, it is unfathomable that you will be left out of the NC game no matter how many undefeated teams there are this season.