I've always remained pretty quiet when hanging around college football
fans who target their anger towards the BCS. Part of that's just
me, I tend to not really say much when I don't really care much for the
argument. Part of it's because I have an opinion very much
different from the more outspoken fans.
That opinion is that I like college football's status quo. In fact, I preferred its antebellum days, when we went with the two polls---Associated Press and Coaches---to determine team rankings and bowl matchups. In most years, the poll outcomes were never in much dispute, harmonious and not worth any kind of fuss.
Obviously, times changed and with the game's continued growth, the money men of the sport took advantage of fan frustration at a few messy poll outcomes and crafted the Bowl Alliance and later the Bowl Championship Series. It was a halfway measure meant to quell the masses while creating cash-cow megabowls.
Such a system, by its nature a compromise, isn't exactly anything to be excited about, but it's made for some major end-of-year matchups that we might not have otherwise seen.
Some of the real problems rest in the creation of so many bowl games. Around half of the teams in D-1 are now playing in some kind of end-of-year bowl, which combined with the prominence of the Big Four (Rose, Orange, Fiesta, Sugar) bowls, has diminished the value of some of the game's more established and celebrated games like the Cotton and Gator bowls. I'm very much in favor of bowl games, but they become a lot more valuable if there are less of them being played and thus better teams and better matchups are played within them.
My argument has always sided towards remaining with the bowl games. The bowls are such a fascinating and unique tradition, often pairing unlikely opponents that test fans' beliefs in their team/conference/regional superiority. And it creates great travel opportunities for the players and fans. I love them, and they're what make college football so great, because the tradition aspect is what really separates college football from all other sports on the American landscape. It's why you're here, in some aspect, reading this website. You root for some school and are loyal to it not just because you were born into it, but because you believe in its mythology, its symbolism, its victory over bitter rivals, and because the wider game itself has some kind of appeal.
That's the draw of tradition. The bowls are, in my heart and mind, a permanent feature of that tradition. Without the bowls, the college game loses so much of its appeal.
So when I hear people argue for some kind of a playoff, I cringe and wonder if maybe we're getting away from the real purpose of the game. College football, bless its soul, has a ridiculously brief season, usually 11 games and if a team's lucky, a 12th game in some kind of bowl. The weeks approach and pass in furious order. But what's great about the season is that because there are so few games and such a great bowl reward potential at the end, that literally every week matters. There is such tension and drama in the week-to-week happenings all across America. No other sport has that aspect.
Creating some kind of playoff, to myself and in the long run a lot of fans, would kill so much of the game's appeal. Perhaps we're all being a bit short-sighted here in our quest to reach some kind of "final" outcome. Again, I've always enjoyed the frustration of things like split national championships. It's fun to see disparate fan bases argue until the cows come home about who really was the best. That's part of what keeps us watching the games. We need the uncertainty. It's in this imperfection that college football has attained such a nirvana-like appeal to so many fans. And now many of us want to tinker with that.
Now, some have said that the playoff could function within the bowl setup. I say hogwash. Fans would see right through that as some kind of diminishment of the bowls. Imagine the first round of the playoffs somehow being an "Holiday Bowl" and "Gator Bowl" for the rights to play the next round in the Rose Bowl or Fiesta Bowl or what have you. How bizarre is that? To me that looks like chaos and an unnecessary change to how college football has always been run.
So, having a choice between what looks like an unnecessary and diminishing future option and the curent tangled, confusing and perhaps unfair but intriguing system, I choose the former.
Long live the bowls.
Response: BCS Throwdown!College Football Resource plays caveman to my tinfoil spacesuit in his latest post about the BCS. His post is an excellent argument against a playoff, but one that I can't agree with.