Sunday, January 5, 2014

The post-BCS world: don’t call it a playoff

I loved the pre-BCS college bowl system because, unlike the NCAA tournament in college basketball, half of the teams in college football went home winners.  And, I hate to have to admit it, but I also liked the BCS system.  First, the BCS essentially preserved the bowl system that I loved; second, the BCS typically didn’t screw up my beloved Big 10 – Pac 12 matchup in the historic Rose Bowl; and third, the BCS’s four-decimal place faux accuracy that it used to decide the national championship matchup and other bowl matchups gave me something to ridicule.
I express my fondness for the BCS in the past tense, of course, because the BCS will be dead in less than 24 hours once Auburn plays Florida State for the last BCS national title.  Next year, the BCS will be replaced by a four-team playoff system.  But “playoff” is a misnomer.  The reason, of course, is that the alleged playoff will consist of only four teams—worse yet, it will consist of the four “best” teams.

Why is that bad to have the four best teams?  Because whether you choose the four best teams by human judgment, computers, or some combination, such a system is not a playoff, and it also incorporates all of the flaws of the BCS system.  The only difference is that, under the new system, instead of arguing who should have been the no. 2 team, we’ll be arguing about who should be the no. 4 team.  That’s just the BCS slightly expanded.

A real playoff, on the other hand, doesn’t worry about including the so-called best teams, and doesn’t worry about placing the two best teams in the championship game.  For example, in the NFL, often the two best teams are from the same conference and can’t play each other in the Super Bowl.  This year, in fact, one of the best teams (the Arizona Cardinals) got left out of the playoffs entirely.  Similarly, in the NCAA college basketball tournament—the greatest tournament on earth, by the way—the best team in a conference often doesn’t “make the big dance.”  For example, the Stony Brook Seawolves are typically the best team in the America East conference, but once they lose a single game in their conference tournament they get excluded from March Madness.  That's just the way a true playoff goes.

A real college football playoff system, therefore, wouldn’t worry about the “best” teams—at least not directly.  Instead, a true playoff would include conference champions—probably from the Pac-12, the SEC, the Big 10, and the Big 12.  Now that would be a playoff.  Unfortunately, though, that would leave out several other conferences such as the ACC (just as the forthcoming four-team “playoff” will), and will also exclude the independents like Notre Dame.

Because of this, the only solution would be to expand the field to eight teams and invite the winners of, say, the six big conferences.  Then there could be two wild-card spots that could be awarded to the two “best” teams that didn’t win a big six conference, e.g., an independent, a smaller conference champion, or a really good SEC team that stumbled just once in conference play.

But it won’t happen that way.  Therefore, I propose that the powers that be in college football stop pretending that its new system is a playoff.  Until they’re ready to do it right, they should go back to the old, pre-BCS bowl system.  At least that way I’ll be guaranteed my traditional Big 10-Pac 12 matchup in The Granddaddy of them All.

Now, if we can just bring back Keith Jackson.  

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