Picking Splinters: Playoff Pragmatism

November 21, 2006 6:30 PM0 comments

Have we reached the conclusion that the BCS system is dumb yet? Of course we have. We reached that conclusion in 2003 when the system that was supposed to give the nation a definitive collegiate champion failed to supply us with a consensus winner. That year LSU (BCS champion) and USC (the top team in the AP Poll) each ended the season claiming to be the top team.

This year, things are going to be just as murky. With the debut of the latest BCS Poll, Michigan is still No. 2 in the country, despite losing to the Buckeyes in what amounted to the Big 10 title game last Saturday. Forget for a second that there is a better than average possibility that the national title game will feature two teams that met a week ago. Forget that the Big 10 conference would be guaranteed a national title, despite having just three teams ranked in the Top 25, the same number as the oft-disparaged Big East. Forget that there is a chance that Michigan could play for the national title despite not winning its own conference. Forget all of that, if you can, and let’s get to the crux of the problem — the BCS System is just flat out unfair.

Since at least 2002, no team ranked outside of the Top 15 to start the season has won a national championship in college football. Are the pollsters just that good? Well, last year in men’s basketball the Florida Gators started the season unranked, so let’s not put them on the Miss Cleo pedestal just yet. The polls are biased, but without their blessing, a team can never win a championship. Even if Rutgers had won out, it’s unlikely they would have been able to pass Michigan in the BCS Standings, nor any of the other one-loss teams that were ahead of the Scarlet Knights heading into last weekend. Even if teams like Rutgers or Boise State or Wake Forest win every game that’s still not enough to get them even a shot at the national championship. How fair is that?

Only a select field has a chance to win the national championship every year, the rest of the field is just spinning its collective wheels and taking glory in the achievements they can claim, like conference championships. But why be part of a system that you can’t win? Sure Boise State can earn some dough by making it to a BCS game, but are the monetary benefits what the NCAA wants to promote? And what does a head coach like Chris Peterson tell his kids on week one of the season? “Sorry guys. You can’t actually be the best team in the nation, but let’s get out there and earn the university a boatload of money … of which you’ll never see a dime.”

Playoffs are the only solution. If you want to win a national championship in a playoff system … just win. Simple, right? But currently in college football, just winning isn’t good enough. Not only do you have to win, but the other teams in your conference have to win … after you win against them, that is. Your winning also has to be recognized early, or else you won’t have enough steam to climb the polls before bowl week. Let’s face it, the only time teams move down in the polls is if they lose a game. That’s because the voters in these polls are far from college football experts.

But can we blame them? It shouldn’t be the responsibility of athletic directors or coaches to rank the teams (as they do in the USA Today poll). Do you think these guys just sit in a room of TVs all Saturday? Nevertheless, in the current system, these are the people that are deciding the national champion. Call me crazy, but shouldn’t the teams themselves be deciding that?

In high school football there are playoffs. In professional football there are playoffs. In baseball, hockey, soccer, basketball, tennis, and heck, even curling, every team in the league has the chance to win a championship solely through their performance on the playing field. But with college football, it’s part performance, part beauty pageant. Why?

I know, I know, it’s all about money. But are you going to tell me there’s no money in a college football playoff series? Ken Forsse, Larry Larsen and John Davies made millions by cramming a tape deck into a teddy bear named Teddy Ruxpin, but a three-week playoff series can’t turn a profit equal to a slate of meaningless bowl games? What happened to American ingenuity?

Tickets for the OSU-Michigan game resold for more than $3,000 a pop. Imagine four such games on the first weekend of December and tell me there isn’t enough money in that.

Take eight teams. Take the conference champions from the six BCS conferences and take two wild cards. Those would be the highest non-conference winners in the BCS standings or teams like Notre Dame or Boise State if they’re up there. The bowl-eligible also-rans can keep playing in the Soon-to-Be-Bankrupt-Internet-Start-Up.com Bowl or whatever, but a series of seven games should decide the national champion.

It’s been eight years and we’re still arguing about a system that was designed to eliminate arguments. Is there any bigger sign that this system is a complete and utter failure? 


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