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Le Playoffs

Le pew.  Oui!


So college football has this problem where people are unsatisfied with how its championship is decided.

Guesssss what?  We don't have a championship.  That's why people always write MNC -- mythical national champion.  We play a bunch of games in the regular season, some teams end up going to bowl games, then afterwards we vote for an honorary champion and start again eight months later.

The beauty of this game, and what distinguishes it from all other celebrated American sports is its regular season.  Add a playoff and poof! there she goes.

Think about college basketball for a moment.  Can many of you honestly remember much from say, any of the Duke/North Carolina games?    How about Kansas and Texas?  Or UCLA and Arizona?  I can't.  But I remember many moments of that Penn State/Northwestern football game last year.  I remember Boston College playing Florida State and I remember Wisconsin and Minnesota.

All were far more obscure, far less important than the basketball games, yet they were memorable. 


Because the regular season counts for something in college football.  In fact, it's everything.

Our 'championship' is window dressing.  It's important to people, but it's not the force that drives the game.

After 100+ years of play, college football has managed to be a popular sport despite not having its own title quest, no holy grail such as the Stanley Cup.  Don't you think the sport would have done something by now to create a more legitimate and recognized championship other than crowning by polls or BCS if it was really going to help the game?  Shouldn't college football have collapsed by now if its antiquated ways were such bad medicine for its fans?

What we in fact have is a sport with probably the greatest fan loyalty and participation outside of soccer.  We only play 11-14 games a year, with every game of some importance (sans those cynically devised creampuff games).  If you're an Auburn fan, you want to see Ole Miss when they're in town, dammit.  The game's just as much of an event as when you're playing Tennessee or Florida.

The same simply isn't true for the sports some of us seek to model this great game after.  Is there really that much difference for a Minnesota Twins fan to attend a game if the Chicago White Sox are in town for a series or if the Oakland Athletics are in town?  Most of those games will be quickly forgotten.  Same for say, a Chicago Bulls fan.  What's so powerful about a weekday visit from the Atlanta Hawks?  Nothing, really.  It's a casual experience, often at the end of a workday, to be enjoyed like going to the movies.  The vast majority of those games aren't interesting or memorable until the playoffs, rendering the regular season a joke.

Not so for college football.  And the reason is because these games matter.  They matter because there is no playoff, because there are so few games played, because what happens on the field is important and interesting and the players fight so hard for it.

People complain about baseball and basketball players being rich, not caring, mailing it in.  You don't have that in college football.  If guys aren't playing hard, no matter how talented you are, your season is going to be a mess because it's a guarantee your opponent will care and will crush you for your indifference.  It's not simply because the players aren't (allegedly) getting paid.  It's because the sport's status quo makes the regular season worthwhile.

A playoff is an enticement to take it easy, particularly for the very good teams who can afford to not fight back on a bad day knowing one loss won't necessarily kill them.  Imagine if USC had simply given up a few weekends ago against Oregon State, down 33-10.  Imagine their staff simply said eff-it, let's get the starters out, prevent injuries, get out of Dodge.  We would have been robbed of simply one of the finest quarters of football seen from any team all year.  It was a stirring comeback made all the more dramatic as Oregon State stonewalled the Trojans' two-point conversion attempt that would have sent the game into overtime.

We need those games.

They're what set college football apart from the pack and why it draws a lot of fans who have tired of the NBA, of the NHL, of Major League Baseball and yes, even the NFL.  We're different, it's the wedge that makes this game unique and powerful and has helped build its audience.  Why would we fathom such a change that breaks with tradition, that removes some of the incentive for good teams to play hard every minute of every game?  It's insanity and worst of all, it doesn't really solve the 'championship' problem.

A few days ago I brought up the World Series victory by the St. Louis Cardinals.  They were barely a .500 baseball team that snuck into the playoffs, yet caught fire at just the right time and won themselves a title.  It was an embarrassment to baseball's playoff apparatus.  This despite having a best-of-five first round and then best-of-seven subsequent series.  How can college football legitimately crown a champion with just a series of one-and-done games that leave so much up to chance?

College football's way of determining a champion, while imperfect, does a lot better job of crowning a TRUE CHAMPION based on the regular season. Billy Beane in Moneyball talks about the MLB playoffs being a true crapshoot in who wins because there is so much extra noise in the data that suggest that the playoffs are decided more by luck than a superior team blowing out an inferior team.

The 2006 World Series is a good example of this. It's impossible to think that luck had nothing to do with the Tigers playing defense about as well as a last place Little League team. If they would have played like that all season, then there is no way Detroit wins 95-games and beats down New York and Oakland in the process. However, because it happens during 4-games that they lose at the end of the season, somehow erases the other 171 games they played.


Sample size!  You can't possibly project the national mood on any particular issue by asking a handful of people what they think about the war or taxes.  You have to ask hudreds of them, making sure to correct for bias in your question(s) and control for all kinds of variables such as gender, race, income, residence, awareness of the issues etc.

Just the same you cannot reasonably determine the game's best through one game samples.

As I've argued before, most "playoffs" are poorly structured.  They're not designed well enough to ensure the passage of superior ball clubs, instead rewarding whoever is playing the best at that time, whoever is luckiest, etc.  That's all fine and dandy, but it's not much for a championship.  Please don't confuse me with being anti-playoff.  I enjoy the MLB playoffs, the NFL playoffs are fun, so is the NCAA basketball tournament.  However, I don't necessarily see them as championships but rather postseason tournaments.

Because this is college athletics, because it is the game of football (best played only once a week), a well-designed playoff is impossible.  The NFL playoffs are severely flawed despite the league not having the burdens of academic limitations to travel, etc.  It would be insanity to attempt a playoff in a game with far less freedoms and flexibility than the NFL.

Any college football playoff would be a condensed version of the NFL playoffs or NCAA basketball tournament: seeding and one-and-done games until one team is left standing.  Exciting? absolutely.  Conclusive?  Far from.  In other words a playoff won't help us sleep any more soundly at night than the current situation.  Sorry.

"B..b..b.. but we must do something!" you say, "The BCS is a mess".

Absolutely.  The BCS was designed as a compromise, a win-lose, if you will.  It creates a title game of sorts, but it has no real authority beyond the control of the involved parties: the Harris Poll, the USA Today/Coaches poll and the average of several computers.  Look no further than 2003 to see how well that worked out.

We're in this strange era in the game's history where we've got this added... thing... on top of the game.  It's like that fetus attached to the school nurse's head from the TV show South Park.  It's part of us, but it's not really part of us.  I think down the road we'll look back at this time and realize how frivolous (if $$$ lucrative!) the BCS was, and surgically remove it.

What we can do is try to bring the game back to its historic roots, its traditions.  We can seek the gradual elimination of a great many of the more frivolous postseason bowl games.  Let the postseason be a celebration, a reward for particularly strong play instead of something gained with six wins (particularly woeful when three of them are against out-of-conference nobodies).

We can also shelve the BCS and any other postseason construction.

The game used to be about conference titles and a January bowl game, to play in some new, sun-soaked place as a juicy reward for a season of accomplishment.  We can have that again.

And afterwards, when the party's over, we can take an honorary vote, celebrate a remarkable team or two and turn out the lights again until August.

Update: more discussion here 


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Reader Comments (90)

Again more good points..

Just a thought but IMHO I think that those not in favor of a playoff want a few people to pick their champions every year. They seem to have a tremendous fear and want protection for those selected to make such decisions from being proven wrong on the playing field.

Kind of like... "Let the government choose for us what is best for us for we lack the intellect to figure it out ourselves."

I guess I just don't hold such reverence to those so fortunate to be a part of the selection process.
April 9, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterBill

Your post above is exactly how I feel about postseason tournament proponents.

But I would add that you all also remind me of the poor souls who can't allow score to be kept in little league games because it might hurt the poor children's feelings and self esteem.

The playoff system is the system that "lacks the intellect to figure it out ourselves." We must have rematches to prove which team is better on the field. We can't have a poor team excluded just because they lost a couple of games. And, god forbid Tulane go undefeated and not have a chance at the National Championship.

All your arguments above argue for a better BCS system or a return to the old bowl system, not for a playoff.

A playoff does not determine the "best team" or even the most deserving team any more than the BCS does. It does nothing to "determine it on the field" any more than the current BCS does.
April 13, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterSteven
>>>>>A playoff does not determine the "best team" or even the most deserving team any more than the BCS does. It does nothing to "determine it on the field" any more than the current BCS does.

A playoff is not meant to determine the best team. Nothing determines the best team. It is an irrelevant matter of opinion and only playoff opponents pretend otherwise. I don't care who the best team. I simply want to determine a champion in an equitable objective manner that allows everyone to control their destiny. The BCS definitely does not accomplish this.
April 13, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterChad
Amen! Chad

I haven't a clue where this "poor little league analogy"?? came from. Obviously it is kind of like many of the other myths perpetrated by those trying to somehow validate a tragically flawed mistake on how to settle a Division One Football championship.


The NCCA apparently agrees with my opinion since they do not award an official NCCA Division One championship trophy. Deal with it!

Likewise, according to you every other level of football has it wrong?? Looks like the majority of the sporting world disagrees with you as well.

Perhaps it is you rather than myself that fits that absurd little league analogy. In fact I think the current bowl system fits that analogy quite well. I do believe you support this so I would state you did a good job at describing yourself. I want a deserving winner not one that got their because they were liked more than another. That sounds like your little league comment to the T.
April 16, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterBill
Oh and finally Steven,

Since we already have rematches with the current system what is your point??
April 16, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterBill
Heartily agree with the position that a division 1 playoff would ruin the last major sport that maintains a compelling regular season.

I have never seen a perfect format for a football playoff, or even one that would resolve 'controversy.'

There will always be a deserving team that was left out. There has to be some subjective criteria used to determine who gets in amongst teams with the same record. There is no way to objectively factor "strength of schedule." All of the arguments for a play off assume that the teams that will play will be the consensus 1 through 4, 8, 12, 16 or however many teams are included. Believe me #17 will be screaming bloody murder. What do you do with a Hawaii that has only one loss when an SEC team has 3?

The regular season will be as dull as those in other sports with playoffs. As it is, we are seeing college teams intentionally dilute their schedules to make BCS bowls. This phenomenon will accelerate when a playoff system is introduced.

What is the reflexive need for standardized testing and ranking in every aspect of sports. I enjoy arguing with fellow CFB fans about who is number 1. Why is that so intolerable?
August 1, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterLT
If you are talking about the much thought of NFL Loser out Model, then I whole-heartedly agree - A Playoff would catastrophic for college football, a train wreck waiting to happen.

My model would be a little different for it would truly make everygame a playoff in college football. By eliminating the bogus non-conference games which currently dot the country-side during the month of September (See Louisville v. Murray St, Rutgers v. Buffalo, Arkansas v. Troy, USC v. Idaho, Cincinnati v. SW Missouri St), we could save room in the Regular Season for all 120 teams to be involved in 4 separate brackets to determine the bowl games. This would honor, save and continue the bowl platform, which truly defines college football and leaves the current 12 games regular season in tact. Think about it - What if we could create head-to-head match-ups, have every conference define a champion via a conference championship game and then have the final two-to-three weeks open for the thunderous match-ups of the Texas-Ohio State, California-Tennessee or Miami-Texas A&M variety? What if - What if - if only the games could begin?!!!

September 1, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterBCSBusters
Until there is a true championship tournament -- like there are in all the other NCAA football divisions -- there will be the the same old system where the best any team can do is claim bragging rights. My favorite matchup in this year's scheme of anachronistic bowl games is the December 30 Independence Bowl, where the loser will end the season with a 6-7 record. This one ought to be renamed the Apathy Bowl. Wouldn't such a school with a regular-season record of 6-6 that got seeded last in a 32-team tourney feel better about its recruiting prospects next year by reaching the Elite 8 than by losing in a meaningless bowl game that probably won't even sell all its seats?

With a 32-team championship series, there could be continued 31 of the existing bowl sites. Trim the seedings to 24 teams and you could have the top 8 teams get a bye week in a 5-week series with the bottom 16 playing in the first week. This second setup would leave only 23 games, still plenty to guarantee that the best team is included.
December 27, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterBuildrich
Not remember a regular season Duke/Carolina game? Have you lost your mind? Local rivalries are not going to go away because there is a playoff system. The playoff system is a way to insure that the nation's best teams have a chance to prove who is the national champion by competing...not by corporate interests or popularity. It sounds like you've never played a competitive sport and have missed the true meaning of a playoff system. It's mor than just for your entertainment.
January 11, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMahon
You're wrong again. The BCS *is* indeed a play-off...but of only what it deems the top 2 teams...which is EXACTLY why THE BCS IS COMPLETELY INDEFENSIBLE.

The very people who support it are forced to use pro-play-off rationales just to justify their arguments against play-offs. The BCS is a travesty and not-too-deep-down you know it.

Go to http://www.ripbcs.com for a dose of reality on this.
September 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterR.I.P. BCS
I don't have the vaguest idea what your definition of "legitimate championship" would be, except one that invariably crowns your particular #1 team as its champion. Sounds like it would exclude an underdog from ever rising up and beating a "superior" opponent. "Oh well, the regular season's over -- let's give the championship trophy to the team with the best record." Really? If you did this in other sports, how many trophies would have to change hands, just in the last ten years? And I don't buy the "uniqueness of CFB" argument. Keeping a horribly flawed system just because it's unique is absurd on its face.

Perhaps having attended a non-BCS school (BYU) makes me sensitive to this kind of rubbish, but whether it's BCS or the old-school methold of just voting in a champion, it turns the championship into a popularity contest. So far BYU is 4-0, and has won at Washington and has crushed UCLA. Normally those would count as two marquee wins, but this year both those teams are shadows of their typical selves. To think voters won't hold this against the Y is foolish optimism. But how were they to know? They attempted to schedule themselves solid non-conference opponents, and they turned out to be weaker than the average MWC team. So does this mean the Cougs have no shot at a championship? Essentially, it does.

Even when a "BCS-Buster" happens, it's likely to be like kissing your sister. Utah shredded everyone on their schedule a few years back and was invited to the Fiesta Bowl. Their reward? A craptastic Pitt team. The Utes were in a no-win . . even the emphatic win they earned was discounted because of the weakness of their BCS-league opponent. Could they have beaten the teams that finished ahead of them in the rankings? Who knows? How does your theory function in that situation?

So if BYU (or Utah again, for that matter) can manage to end up undefeated throughout the season, but so do USC and some SEC team, what would you say is fair? I know a Pac-10 or SEC fan is going to insist that the Y didn't play anyone and therefore doesn't belong, but you can't know unless you put them together on the field. I can't imagine a playoff being less exciting than the current system, and I utterly reject your idea that it would devalue the regular season. Dude, you're just wrong.
September 22, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDouglas Deru
What does figure skating and college football have in common? Yes the champion is determined by biased judges. If voting for a champion is so popular you would of thought the NFL and all other sports would vote for there champion. Lets throw out that 64 team play off in college basketball, sound like a good idea? According to the Author its the polls that make college football successful. If thats true then why dont all sports use this system? SEC is the best confreence in the land, well at least untill the season gets under way, after the season starts those LSU, Geogia and Auburn and Tennessee teams arent so good, However they all benefited from a over ranking in the polls.
November 17, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSteve
Dont compare a 160 game baseball season with a 12 game football season and try to find similarities. Apples and Oranges. Baseball regular season is not meaningless because they have playoffs. How many people think a regular season NFL game is meaningless because they have a playoff? Not many.
November 17, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSteve
I disagree.

Every game would count in getting into the playoffs unlike the NCAA where over a third of the teams get invites. The chances of getting an invite to an 8 team playoof would be slim with 2 losses.

An even more exciting system that valued each game the most would be the conference champion system feeding into any play-off

USC shouldn't have a shot of getting into the playoff unless they win the Pac Ten. Losing to Oregon St almost lost them the Pac Ten title despite Oregon St's worse record and thats how it should be. I am a Pac 10 fan. I amNot saying we're better but that I watch the pac 10 race because my team is in it. I watch and enjoy games betwee teams that go on to 5-7 records because I wonder about their relative stregnth. a, interested in how they are playing before my team meets them etc.

I root for California and I'm happy the years when we have a winning season and each game counts for me. I'd like to see us win the divisiion one of these years and get to the rose bowl.

I also watch a lot of SEC games for the same reason as the conference is highly competitive with lots of good programs and the winner of the SEC means something in itself.

I'd like a playoff system that would allow the SEC champion to have a clear shot at it. Same with the Pac 10 (although out of fairness the Pac 10 team should need to knock off another conference champ for parity with the SEC conference championship game).

Every game should count and making the conference champion race even more important makes the games count even more. If you have three losses to other good teams you could still have a shot at the national championship by winning your conference with other strong teams and a lot of parity.

While every game counts now, it would be even more exciting late in the season to know that a handful other other teams beyond #! and #2 would still be in the running.

It would keep people interested in the races of other divisions beyond their favorites. It would make more games factor into how your team might fare againts teams they might face in other parts of the country.
December 6, 2008 | Unregistered Commentershander
I say YES to playoffs. And i just ran across a site that has one and let's fans vote. But the Nitanny Lions are LOSING to TCU!!!! Can somebody fix this?
December 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLionFever
We need to abolish the BCS "System" once and for all.
I found this clever website which will send a "BS Flag" to the BCS mailbox for you for FREE.
Pretty clever. I just did it. If enough true fans do the same thing, maybe, just maybe,
the BCS Committee will get the message loud and clear!
Try it and pass the word!!
December 10, 2008 | Unregistered Commentercolin
end the BCS Madness!
We need to abolish the BCS "System" once and for all.
December 12, 2008 | Unregistered Commentercolin
I agree that a playoff just isn't going to happen. It's the best way to determine who a true champion is at the end of the season, but you still have the argument that they weren't the best team at the end of the season, just the one who did the best in the playoffs. It also trivializes the entire regular season.

But truth be told, this is college, and it's all about recruiting. Florida has recruited very well recently because they were declared national champions twice in three years. It really helps, and so in order to obtain that distinguishment, they should have to earn it. Beating OU by 10 is exactly what Texas did this year. Beating Alabama was exqactly what Utah did, only Utah did it better. Having only one loss to a 9-4 team was exactly what USC, only their loss didn't come at home.

How can Florida claim they are the best team in the land? How can they claim they deserve to be national champions? It's ridiculous!

So here is what I propose to you, College Football Resource. I just created a blog recently called College Football Cafeteria. It's not done, but it will include my postseason proposal which is this: a compromise.

People want a playoff so that every deserving team who played a great regular season has the opportunity to be the national champion. Quite honestly, based on regular season performance this year, you had Florida, OU, Texas, USC, Utah, Boise State and Alabama. Computers and biased pollsters decided Florida should play OU and screw the others. Not fair, especially for the non-BCS teams.

So here we go, lets make a 5th BCS bowl. You add the Sun Bowl or the Cotton Bowl to the mix. Now we've got 10 teams who can play after the regular season. And here's what they do:

Rose- pac 10 vs big 10
Fiesta- Big 12 vs WAC
Sugar- SEC vs MWC
Orange- ACC vs Big East
Sun/Cotton- two highest ranked conf. champs between CUSA, MAC and Sun Belt.

Now those big BCS payouts can come to anyone good enough to win their conference, No more penalties for the conference you are in or who you play. Plus it will actually mean more to win your conference. These 5 games will be played on January 1, 2 and 3.

After all other normal bowls have been played and these 5 BCS bowls have been played, have the BCS rerank all the teams. 5 conference champions will beat 5 other conference champions, and that could heavily influence BCS rankings. Imagine if Utah had beaten Florida, or Boise State had beaten Oklahoma? The lesser conferences of the Sun Belt, MAC and CUSA still won't have much of a chance at the title, but they also aren't at the level to compete for that yet anyway.

So this season, let's say USC, BSU, Utah, Virginia Tech and East Carolina all win BCS games. We'll say Alabama loses to TCU, Texas beats Ohio State. Who goes to the championship BCS game? USC? Texas? Utah? BSU? You still maintain the intrigue and controversy, but at least number 1 and 2 dont' play for a title simply because they had good seasons and won their conferences. BSU and Utah would both have had very legitimate shots at beating Florida and OU I think.

You let Notre Dame into a BCS game if they are ranked higher than 8. They take either the WAC or MWC spot if they are ranked ahead of one of those champs. If not, they take the spot of CUSA or MAC.

Still some kinks to work out here, but imagine a real "postseason" of sorts! Its playoff-ish in nature and title contenders can say they actually did something to earn their spot in that game by beating the best team from another conference, not just their conference teams and weak Sun Belt foes.
February 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSloppy Joe
Well I can tell I am NOT going to be liked here. But I disagree with just about every one of you that do not support some type of playoff. I can support my decision and if you would like to read a laid thought to why I have it posted on absolutelyalabamafootball.wordpress.com. It's right there on the home page. I am in the process of moving it to theamazingtide.com. So please forgive the organization it currently is NOT in. But, my well laid out reason is there. But just read this for your entertainment. It's a funny. I normally would refute every post here if time allowed...but I support a playoff system.



After determining the Big-12 college football championship game participants the BCS computers were put to work on other major contests and today the BCS declared Germany to be the winner of World War II. “Germany put together an incredible number of victories beginning with the annexation of Austria and the Sudetenland and continuing on into conference play with defeats of Poland, France, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands. Their only losses came against the US and Russia; however considering their entire body of work–including an incredibly tough Strength of Schedule–our computers deemed them worthy of the #1 ranking.” Questioned about the #4 ranking of the United States the BCS commissioner stated “The US only had two major victories–Japan and Germany. The computer models, unlike humans, aren’t influenced by head-to-head contests–they consider each contest to be only a single, equally-weighted event.” German Chancellor Adolph Hiter said “Yes, we lost to the US; but we defeated #2 ranked France in only 6 weeks.” Herr Hitler has been criticized for seeking dramatic victories to earn ’style points’ to enhance Germany’s rankings. Hitler protested “Our contest with Poland was in doubt until the final day and the conditions in Norway were incredibly challenging and demanded the application of additional forces.” The French ranking has also come under scrutiny. The BCS commented ” France had a single loss against Germany and following a preseason #1 ranking they only fell to #2.” Japan was ranked #3 with victories including Manchuria, Borneo and the Philippines.

March 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJrwhiterabbit
You some really valid points... you need to send this out to as many resources as you can.. follow Malcolm Jenkins, new NEW ORLEANS SAINTS CB! .... http://twitter.com/malcolmjenkins
April 28, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBigFootballFan

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