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November 17, 2008

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John

I'm against a playoff. I think the NCAA football season is the most exciting regular season on the planet. Every week is a playoff. There's tremendous excitement. Who cares about Texas-Texas Tech or Oregon State-USC if there's a playoff? Who would care about Florida-Alabama? Under a playoff system, both make the playoffs, and the game is meaningless. But now, people care tremendously. College football viewership and attendance are at their all-time high. Why mess with a good thing? Why wreck the best regular season in all of sports by putting in a playoff?

JT

I agree...I am not for a playoff.

I could see teams being forced to make the choice between prepping for their rivalry game and resting for their first-round playoff game. I coach at the high school level, where there is a playoff system, and I have seen that happen - we actually went into our final game, the league showdown vs the top 2 teams in the league, winner gets a share of the league title - and the playoff seedings had basically already been mostly worked out, the team we were playing were guaranteed the top seed no matter what and our seeding was pretty much already set as well. Kind of took all the energy out of what should have been a great experience for the kids into a glorified exhibition game that stood for nothing.

You see NFL teams do this in week 16 and week 17, starters that sit out the last game or 2 to rest up. Sure, it may affect seeding, but it really doesn't matter once you're in the playoffs. We are heading into the playoffs right now for my team, and I don't feel our seeding matters at all - as long as you're in it, you get a shot...shoot, even better to be placed at the bottom of the bracket, that way you get a chance to see where you stack up at the beginning.

Could you imagine a UCLA-USC game in December that stood for nothing, that USC had already locked up the #1 seed in the west or whatever, and win or lose they were headed to the postseason? Maybe this is what USC was thinking in 2006, when they were thought to be a lock for the national title game and were upset 13-9 in one of the great moments in the rivalry. A win like that under a playoff system would be great for the Bruins, but in the grand scheme of things would probably matter little.

The system we have now, while far from perfect, takes into account a team's performance over the whole season holistically - how you perform at the beginning of the season, while not as important, does have some bearing - look at USC's early season loss to Oregon State and how it's still affecting them, if not for that they'd probably be one of the frontrunners right now. The purpose of crowning a champion is supposed to evaluate performance throughout the entire season, not just in the final three or four weeks. The challenge is maintaining consistent performance throughout the season. Teams start off strong and finish weak, and teams stumble out of the blocks but get it together towards the last few months and catch fire - yeah, the current system rewards teams that peak towards the end of the season, but that's harder to do than the other way around.

IMO I see a playoff system just pushing NCAA football one step closer to the NFL. Why does there even need to be a single national champion? If there are two teams that are deserving praise, why can't we just honor both of them? I see nothing wrong with a co-national champion. Beating a team on the field does not mean that you're better than them. People say that's the most fair way to settle these things...in my opinion it's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game. People equate winning with being the better team, but as a player and a coach I don't see that to be true. Some of the highest quality football I've seen is on the high school level - De La Salle High, who owned that 151-game winning streak, plays some of the most fundamentally sound football I've seen at any level and are a joy to watch. Could they beat a NCAA team? Probably not, but that doesn't mean that they are a lesser team.

You can win the wrong way, and lose but put in a great effort and play a great game, do everything right and miss out on a victory because the ball bounced the wrong way or you got a bad call, because your starting quarterback missed the game with the flu, etc. There are so many factors that influence those numbers on the scoreboard that are out of the control of players and coaches, that do not indicate the quality of each team - to me that is not the fairest way to determine a champion.

I love the bowl system, for most of the middle of the pack it gives every team something to play for. Many non-BCS teams dont have a hope of playing for the national title, but everyone has a shot at a bowl game. The New Mexico Bowl might seem pretty irrelevant but it's a huge incentive and big deal for some of the smaller schools.

The current system for picking the upper teams does not work as it should, but I don't see a playoff as the answer, I am not a real big fan of the computers either - as said, I do not believe you can boil a team's quality and performance over the course of a SEASON (not a 3-week tournament) into just statistics, win/loss records, strength of schedule, etc - it has to have that subjective element of the polls, you've got to watch football teams play in order to judge them.

I say the coaches poll should have the most bearing. Coaches know which teams are the most deserving of the crown, those are the people who REALLY understand what good football looks like, those are the individuals we should really be asking, not the talking heads on ESPN, not the sportswriters, not the computers, and definitely not the fans.

The Wiz

The Wiz responds, first to John:

How does a playoff cheapen the regular season? The regular season has already been downgraded by the teams. Example: Florida is playing Citadel this week and hasn't played an out of state nonconference game since 1991. This game should not count for anything.

My question for JT: Why is a one-loss Oklahoma or Texas better than a one-loss USC? I'm not buying the argument that the hottest team at the end of the season makes it to the title game. USC lost in September. Oklahoma lost in October and Texas in November. In addition, Texas beat Oklahoma on a neutral field by 10 points, yet the Sooners — if they beat Texas Tech — will likely move ahead of the Longhorns in the BCS standings. That's not right.

John

Hey Wiz, love your work. Keep it up!

I too am unhappy about the poor quality of many OOC schedules. But I think it's an orthogonal issue to a playoff or not. If we had a playoff, it'd probably be selected in a not-dissimilar way to BCS bids now - some sort of BCS-like ranking with near-certain conference champion affiliations. Teams today balance the need to have a decent strength of schedule (cf: Auburn 2004) with the danger of taking a loss. But they'd have the same choice if there was a playoff.

Anyway, if you asked Florida fans today if they felt that the regular season was "downgraded", I think they'd say that they understand that EVERY game is important, and frankly that they feel lucky to still be in the NC hunt after blowing one of those games. This week is a gimme. But nothing else on Florida's schedule is a game about which their fans (in my opinion) should feel "downgraded".

Putting aside any Spurrier-related issues, last week's game was very significant for Florida: if they lose, they're out of the NC hunt. But if there's a playoff, that game is completely unimportant; they've clinched the division already and would still have the exact same playoff chances. I see that as downgrading the regular season in a playoff scenario more than in today's scenario.

In general, I think there are more "important" regular season games - must-win games to stay in the NC hunt - under today's scenario than under a playoff scenario. Here's a question to ask yourself, since you run a college hoops site (nice work!) now too: How many football games this year would you have considered must-see? I can think of a bunch - USC-OSU; OSU-PSU; Florida-Georgia; UT-OU; UT-Tech; Tech-OU; Bama-LSU; UCLA-Tennessee (at the time :) ); and that's before we even get to the conference championship games. In hoops, which games do you consider must-see? Duke-Carolina? Who's got the more significant regular season?

The Wiz

The Wiz again: Basketball has a strength-of-schedule element called the RPI. Teams that play lousy schedules get penalized. That component is not clear-cut in football.

I'm not buying the argument that every game counts. Example: When football added a 12th game, what did we get? The Citadels, Chattanoogas and Eastern Washingtons of the world started showing up with frequency on schedules. Games against I-AA opponents should not count.

Yet there is a strong possibility that two teams who played I-AA opponents will meet for the national title (Florida against Oklahoma or Texas Tech) and teams that didn't (Texas and USC) will be on the outside looking in. Not fair, not right.

John

Wiz, you the man. Lemme try to address your two points from my point of view.

When football added a 12th game, yeah, we got some Floridas adding the Citadels. (I can't fault Florida too much though for their OOC schedule.) But we also got some Georgias going to Tempe for an away game (haven't seen that since I was born). We got the Pac-10 scheduling 9 games in conference instead of 8. I'm not convinced the aggregate schedules got easier or harder, but I don't think significantly-easier is how I'd characterize it. But let me get the argument back on track: I contend that in a non-playoff system, more games are important/must-win games in determining the national champion than with a playoff system. Not every game (hence the I-AA games). But more games. Here's what I'd ask you to do: argue which games this year, in your opinion, would have been MORE important in determining a national champion if there was, say, an 8-game playoff compared to the current system. And then I would point to games like Penn State-Iowa (the loss wouldn't matter in a playoff system, but in today's system, knocked Penn State out of title contention) or Florida-South Carolina (same) or Alabama-Mississippi State (same).

We can both agree that we'd like to see more top-quality games, but I'd say 1-AA games are again orthogonal to a playoff vs. non-playoff argument. I don't think teams would significantly alter their scheduling if a playoff was impending (unless the rules for making the playoffs explicitly said so). I think you'd still see USC and Washington schedule a solid set of teams, SEC teams stay home and host a few patsies, and so on.

(BTW, I applaud the Big 10 for making their conference-champion tiebreaker the fewer number of 1-AA games. But I digress.)

SOS: RPI is one of many factors in college basketball, as the selection committee so often reminds us; it's clear-cut how it's computed, but it's by no means clear-cut how it influences the final selection; it's just one factor. SOS is also important in football, but it's similarly one of many factors; it clearly influences the rankings of teams with similar records in football, and the rankings of the humans as well. Why else are Boise State and Utah ranked behind several teams with one loss? Why did Auburn get left out in 2004 when OU and USC went to the title game? Auburn played a lousy schedule. Auburn got penalized.

Ed Gunther

For me, I guess it comes down to this: do you want a champion that everyone agrees upon, or do you want a champion that most peple agree had the best overall season? Keeping the focus on the polls almost guarantees that the best overall team throughout the year is the one named champion. A playoff is designed to produce a consensus champion, but not necessarily one that achieved the most throughout the year - just look at the NFL last year.

http://thenationalchampionshipissue.blogspot.com/2008/02/what-patriots-loss-means-for-college.html

Enzo Valentini

The BCS does far more to cheapen the regular season than a playoff would or could. Why? Because the BCS makes the vast majority of regular season games irrelevant in the national title picture by the middle of November. There are currently five teams with a legitimate shot at the national title. No. 6, USC, is counting on a doomsday scenario. Everybody else is out for the count. As a consequence, this weekend's rivalry games -- OSU-Michigan, PSU-MSU, Georgia-GT, Kansas-Missouri -- lose interest outside of their local fan bases because they have no impact on the national championship picture. An eight-team playoff would bring many of those teams back into the fold. A system that knocks teams out for good with months left in the season does NOT make the regular season more compelling.

John

"the BCS makes the vast majority of regular season games irrelevant in the national title picture by the middle of November".

Well, that's true now, and would be true in a playoff system too. Most of this weekend's rivalry games won't factor into any sort of national title decision. That's true under a playoff or BCS system. Georgia-GT isn't going to make any difference either way to the national championship picture. You could argue that 2 Big 10 games would impact a playoff-centric national title scenario (and 3 wouldn't), but I'd say under the current system those games are just as important because of a Rose Bowl bid. Ask a Penn State fan if this weekend's game is important to him under a BCS system. (And ask a nationwide fan if, under a playoff system, he felt like a Big 10 team would have any chance at all in an 8-team playoff. :) )

On the other hand, look at a game like Auburn-Alabama. Under the BCS that game has a substantial impact on the national title picture. Under a playoff, it has no impact. Look at Florida-Florida State. Same deal. Big impact today, no impact under a playoff. I would argue that those games have LOTS of interest outside their local fan bases today.

Any system will knock teams out for good with months left in the season. Today, lose a game or two and you're out. In a playoff, lose a game or two in conference and you're out.

Allen

There is only one way a playoff could be pulled off successfully and still work.

The top eight teams go regardless of conference affiliation. This would just move the current argument being had over #1 and #2 down to who is #8, you would still have a bunch of teams who just missed the mark who would cry foul. This would keep the regular season important as one loss could still possibly keep you out of the playoffs. This severely weakens the value of winning your conference (ex FLA/BAMA loser would still make playoffs barring a loss to FSU/Auburn respectively). This way is actually the most fair, as Utah would currently be in and Boise State only needing one or two upsets to be in as well. However, weaker BCS conference commissioners would never go for it. ACC/Big East might never have anyone in the playoffs.

The playoff idea that everyone seems to be in love with is for the conference championship route. That idea is inane. Under that system, the teams that everyone is sure are top ten teams, even if they cant agree on order, such as the current top 5 of three Big XII or two SEC teams would get only 3 of the five in (assuming one gets a "wild card")and leave out the other two in favor of, gasp! Miami or Maryland out of the ACC or 3 loss Oregon State out of the Pac 10 (since they would win the conference if they won out, not fan fav USC). Who wants crappy conference champions to get an automatic ticket into the playoffs? That is how 8-8 division winners make the playoffs and teams can go 10-6 and miss em in the NFL. Everyone forgets that outside of the title game the rest of the BCS is what all the other bowls are, exhibition for show. That is why conference champs get in now, to create matchups you wouldnt normally see. Now I know the counter argument is that three of those 5 teams in the top five won't get a chance under the current system, but that is why the playoff option one is the only viable one.

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