Sunday, February 1, 2009

Everybody's doing it

I'm not one of those people who will sit and debate for hours on end about the best way to set up a college football playoff. I've accepted the fact that it just isn't going to happen, so there's no real point in conjuring up brackets and ways to get the bowls involved and all that.

Do I want a playoff in college football? Well ... a few years ago, I would have unequivocally said yes. But I'm not so sure anymore.

Actually, let me clarify that. It's not that I don't think a playoff would be better than what we have now -- it could be better, but only if done the right way. And that's my concern -- I'll bet you can't remember the last time the NCAA put something together and you thought, "That seems fair and well-planned."

There are so many people with a financial stake in the process that I just don't see how it could be limited to a reasonable number of teams, and that's the only way that a playoff would be a legitimate way to determine a national champion.

I've heard people throw out ideas for a 64-team playoff along the lines of March Madness, and all I will say to that idea is this: No. Absolutely not, even if you could figure out the logistics. The one thing that almost no one will dispute is the need to keep the regular season as meaningful as possible, because once that intensity is gone, college football will never be the same.

Here's a question for you: Which was the best team in the NFL last year? It wasn't the Giants. They might have been the best team over the final four weeks, but I would argue that the Patriots were better at every point throughout the entire season except for the one game that arbitrarily determined the championship.

The Patriots beat the Giants -- in New York, no less -- in the final week of the regular season. But that game meant absolutely nothing, according to the NFL. The Super Bowl was the only game that counted, because ... well, just because. That's the way a playoff is set up, of course -- whoever wins the final game is the champion, no matter what happened at any point prior to it.

And this year isn't much different. As a Phoenix resident, I'm loving the Cardinals' run to the Super Bowl -- but regardless of what happens, there's no way I could possibly justify declaring the Cardinals the champion of the NFL. They got hot at the right time, but I also watched them lose 47-7 to New England, 48-20 to Philadelphia and 56-35 to the N.Y. Jets. They scored 427 points this season, and they allowed 426. Basically, they were a slightly above-average team.

The best team doesn't necessarily win a playoff. The hottest team wins a playoff -- just ask any college basketball national champion in the last ... well, ever. And the more teams you include, the better the chance of a mediocre team winning it all.

I've also heard arguments for a plus-one, but tell me this: Who would you have picked for a plus-one game this year? Obviously, there would be no Florida-Oklahoma matchup in a plus-one scenario, so no matter how you arrange the bracket, you'd still be left choosing from at least three teams -- out of Oklahoma, Florida, USC, Texas and Utah -- for only two spots in the national title game. This year, a plus-one would have solved nothing.

The only way -- again, the ONLY way -- I can see a playoff serving its purpose is if it's limited to either six teams or eight teams. If there was a way to get those top teams together -- something that would ensure that the legitimate contenders all had a shot, but that no (or a minimum number of) undeserving teams were included -- that would probably be ideal. A top-five team that's won two or three games against other top-five teams would have by far the strongest resume of any team in the country and would have earned the national title. There would be no possibility of a Cardinals-type run, because an 8-4 or 7-5 team would never qualify.

There are some pretty interesting proposals out there -- I've always liked Brian's at mgoblog, particularly in regard to using bye weeks and home-field advantage to reward the top teams -- so I'm sure that there's a way this could be done.

But with conference tie-ins, the lawsuits from the non-BCS conferences, the bowls reaching in for their slice of the payout ... I just find it unlikely that the NCAA will ever allow that type of a setup. And until I see proof otherwise, I'll have a hard time supporting a hypothetical playoff that will most likely be pointless (a plus-one) or will take college football in a direction we don't want it to go (a devalued regular season and a system that declares a "playoff" champion, not a season champion).

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