Saturday, November 19, 2005

Big Pay Off for a Playoff
By Ben Valentine

First off, I’m realistic. I know that what I’m proposing has been suggested before. I also realize it won’t happen anytime soon. But I’m frustrated enough with the current situation to talk about it anyway. What am I referring to exactly?

The need for a playoff in college football.

Maybe this isn’t the best time or year to suggest it. It looks as if for once we’ll have the only two undefeated teams playing for the title this year. It could be the one season where the formula actually worked. But of course, a blind monkey throwing darts has a shot at hitting the target eventually. Just because it “works” this year doesn’t make up for the system’s failures in the past or its potential ones in the future.

And then again, who’s to say it’s working this year? Even if Texas and USC both go undefeated and meet for the title in Pasadena, are they really the best teams in the country? Well forget USC for a moment. I firmly believe they are the best team in college football by a wide margin. They’ve proven it over a three year span now.

But Texas? What makes Texas the second best team in the nation? Is it because they’ve gone undefeated? Because they beat an inconsistent Ohio State team early on and then have run through a god awful Big 12? Why are the Longhorns more deserving than Miami, who despite having one loss, has played a tougher schedule week in an week out, or Alabama, who lost to a better team than anyone Texas has played. Hell has Texas beaten anyone of the quality of Virginia Tech, the lone team Big East leaders West Virginia lost to this season?

The problem with college football nowadays is that record just isn’t what it used to be. There is such a focus on conference play with an increasingly middling and mediocre pool of talent within those leagues that it is becoming harder and harder to see the difference between an undefeated team and a two loss one. So, people and pollsters rely on reputation to cover up this problem. What do I mean by that?

Let’s take a look at Texas. They’ve played one quality team this year, Ohio State. It was a good win for them, on the road, though it was the Buckeyes at their worst point in the season. But the rest of their schedule is a joke. The out of conference schedule features "heavyweights" like La-Lafeyette and Rice, while the Big 12 is well… terrible. The best team in it is Texas Tech, who is 8-2. But that 8-2 is misleading; the Red Raiders haven’t beaten ANYONE good. The best team they’ve defeated is a 6-4 Nebraska team. Yet no one is questioning Texas’ legitimacy because they play in the Big 12, which is supposedly a top conference.

Well the Big 12 this year is basically the Big East. I mean let’s take West Virginia, who nobody respects despite having just one loss this year. But they’ve played as tough a schedule as Texas, if not harder since Virginia Tech looks to be better than Ohio State. Can anyone argue that Louisville is worse than Texas Tech? Is Rutgers worse than Nebraska? I don’t buy it. What makes the Mountaineers such an inferior team to Texas aside from reputation?

Of course the biggest gripe probably should come from south Florida. Of course, I’m biased because I’m a Hurricanes fan, but Miami’s schedule is light years harder than Texas’. The ACC, as much as it pains me to say it, is arguably college football’s best conference from top to bottom. Miami’s one loss came in the first game of the year to Florida State on a botched FG try. If that game were played today, Miami would roll over the Seminoles, like they did on the road in Blacksburg to Va Tech; a far more impressive win than anything Texas can show. Why is Texas more deserving to go to Pasadena than Miami? Because they managed to go undefeated in one game and then roll over a cupcake schedule?
Moss and the Hurricanes might be the second best team in the nation.

I know traditionalists will say “Well that’s what makes winning a national championship so hard and so special. If you lose early, you may not get the chance to recover. It is a part of college football.”

Well lately, so have been unwatchable National Championship games.

The teams in them just haven’t been deserving. The biggest culprits have been the overrated Big-12, with Nebraska against Miami and the successive Oklahoma teams. But it’s been a problem for most of these games, outside of the Miami vs. Ohio State one. That is the biggest sign the system is flawed. Forget the records, forget the controversies of four undefeated teams or anything like that. The truth is in the games themselves. If the system was working, most of the time we’d get good title games. Instead we’ve gotten the reverse.

This is why we need a playoff. It would help ensure college football gets the best teams into its spotlight game. So how would I do it?

The sport doesn’t do anything for roughly three weeks anyway. I would have a playoff featuring the six current BCS conferences and have two at large bids for independents, a good conference runner up or a deserving mid major. There would be 3 rounds of playoffs; quarterfinals, semis and then the National Championship game in whatever BCS bowl’s turn it was to host it that year. The games would take place the second and third weeks of December, played at the sites of the higher seeds, then of course in the first week of January in the BCS bowls. Seeding would be determined by the BCS formula, with the top rated conference winners getting the highest seeds and the at large bids getting the bottom two.

I wouldn’t do away with the other bowls. They would serve the same function as they do now, as a revenue generator and a showcase for the teams. The third place game would be one of the BCS bowls, while the other two BCS bowls would feature the other four teams. The rest of the bowls are meaningless anyway, so they can continue to pick their teams as they do currently. The playoff won’t hurt them.

For example, right now the playoff first round would look like this:

#1 USC vs. #8 Ohio State

#4 Penn State vs. #5 LSU

#3 Miami vs. #6 West Virginia

#2 Texas vs. #7 Virginia Tech

While West Virginia is the weakest of the teams in the BCS rankings, by virtue of winning their conference they rank ahead of Ohio State and Virginia Tech. There has to be some reward for winning your conference. Now let’s play this out as I predict it would go:

2nd round:

#1 USC vs. #5 LSU

#2 Texas vs. #3 Miami

National Championship Game- Rose Bowl:

#1 USC vs. #3 Miami

3rd Place Game- Fiesta Bowl:

Texas vs. LSU

Other BCS Bowls- Orange Bowl:

West Virginia vs. Penn State

Sugar Bowl:

Virginia Tech vs. Ohio State

Look at those match ups. Wouldn’t there be a lot more interest in the weeks leading up to the National Championship game if we were all treated to USC against Ohio State in the second week of December? Or how about instead of wasting time with the “Insert random sponsor here” Bowl, we got Texas against Miami on the weekend before Christmas? And then wouldn’t the National Championship game mean a little more if we knew the teams got there by beating the other top teams in college football?

The regular season would still mean something, since you would have an increased but still relatively small margin for error. The conference championships would still mean something. The other bowls only mean something when the system screws up, so that wouldn’t be a loss.

But what about a loss in revenue over say, fans and spectators not caring to watch a third or fifth place game? I argue these games don’t mean much as it stands now anyway. I mean take last year; Utah was a nice story but they weren’t going to get any votes for a National Championship even if they beat Pittsburgh 100-0. And Auburn beat Virginia Tech, but the game was meaningless because there was going to be an undefeated team coming out of the National Championship Game. What incentive did the fans and spectators have to watch those games, or the Rose Bowl for that matter outside of the match up of Texas against Michigan?
Vince Young can wax Kansas, but could he do it against Virginia Tech?

Even if there was some drop off in ratings for the other bowls, the playoff games would more than make up for it. Casual college football fans would all tune in to see the top teams of the country play one another. That’s two extra games where there is a heightened interest in the sport. How much revenue could be generated by that? And then when you get to the National Championship, you’ve already built an interest because of the preceding playoff games. It makes so much sense, you wonder why the NCAA doesn’t do it?

Oh that’s right, because it would violate tradition. Well tradition means little when USC is blowing the doors off Oklahoma in a game the Sooners never should have been in. Do you know what most casual sports fans did with tradition last year on January 4th? They turned off their TV sets at half time.

If college football wants to save itself from the embarrassment of the BCS system that has to be tweaked seemingly every year and the pathetic displays of competition in these National Championship Games, then they need to buck tradition. It’s time for a playoff people. We may have all wanted it before, but right now the sport genuinely needs it.

But like I said, I know it’s not going to happen. And that’s just sad.


Blogger Bryan Koch said...


Unfortunately college football is all about conservatism and money. A playoff format is conducive to neither. Still, I agree, it's easily the preferable option, at least from a fan's perspective.

As for Miami, a quick glance at the computer polls, which all factor in strength of schedule, doesn't really support your case.

According to the Sagarin computer, for instance, Texas' SOS is 37, Miami's is 29. No huge difference. Texas is 3-0 vs. the top 30, Miami is 3-1. No big difference. So I really have no problem with that one loss being the determining factor.

I will say that college football's format makes it more of a novelty for the average sports fan. That could be worth something.

7:52 AM  
Blogger Zachary Geballe said...

Ben, I'm sorry, but you're not going to get much traction when you try and argue that a one-loss team should be in the National Championship game instead of an undefeated one.

The real problem with college football is that there are so few inter-conference games between top programs. This means that not only do we rarely have the chance to say Team A belongs in the title game because they beat Team B, but we can't even find many common opponents. Thus, saying that one conference is superior to another is mainly a matter of conjecture.

Honestly, the powers that be in college football would adopt the playoff system if you guaranteed they could make more money off it. But Ben, I don't think you fully appreciate how much money the BCS system has generated for the BCS conferences. Could a playoff do the same? Maybe. But they're not going to risk losing that cash cow on a mere possibility, even if it would make the majority of fans happy.

12:32 PM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

Bryan- You're right it's about conservatism and money, but I think the sport would make more money with a playoff.

Like I said, that 3-0 is misleading. Texas' 3 wins came against Ohio State, Texas Tech and Colorado. Miami's 3-1 came against FSU, Virginia Tech, Colorado and Clemson. Obviously Colorado they both played, but look at the other three teams. That leaves Ohio State and TT against Tech, FSU and Clemson. Plus, Miami still has to play Virginia and Georgia Tech, who are at least as good as TT and better than anyone else Texas has left on their schedule.

Zach- Your point about the conferences is right on. Thats why a playoff is necessary. We need to take out that conjecture, because it's done nothing but lead us to crappy national championship games. One loss team or not, I want the best game. This is a way to ensure that. Besides, losses aren't all important, it's still based off reputation. Zach I'm sure you remember when that lousy two loss Nebraska team made it to the National Championship over one loss Oregon. Why? Because they played in the Big 12, which as we all know, is loads better than the pathetic Pac-10. (Which is why both Colorado and Nebraska got smoked that year in BCS games)

The BCS has made boatloads of money for those conferences. But why would a playoff generate less? The bowl rotation would still continue, and there would be extra games which would no doubt generate interest and revenue, especially early on since it would be a novelty. I'm no economics expert, but that scenario indicates college football stands to make even more off a playoff system than it does currently.

Also remember there has been issues over the last year with the BCS, between the Rose Bowl complaining and polls pulling out. That indicates the system isn't all that stable. If it isnt' stable it could stand to lose money down the road.

2:48 PM  
Blogger Zachary Geballe said...

I'm not saying that a playoff would generate less money, just that you'd have to prove pretty definitively to the powers that be that a playoff would generate more money than the bowl system. Because why else (from a business perspective, at least) would they make a change?

6:45 PM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

And down go the Hurricanes to Georgia Tech. Figures I'd jinx them.

No matter, I still stand by my argument a playoff is necessary. Zach I wish I could prove the money thing outside of common sense. Look at March Madness. I know it's a different sport and system, but playoffs are always big money generators.

Like I said, I know it probably won't happen. Unfortunately, I think the only way a playoff ever happens is if we keep seeing what's happened the last two years; multiple teams with a claim to the game and the two teams chosen producing a terrible championship. If that were to hypothetically happen for the next two or three years, something might change. But if and USC Texas go undefeated, and they should, we're back to square one.

11:43 PM  
Blogger Zachary Geballe said...

The only way things change is if the NCAA starts seeing diminishing income from the bowl system. Then they might change things up.

1:26 AM  

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