Tuesday, November 25, 2008

No Playoff Will Ever Work

You want one. I want one. Even the President-Elect wants one. But it won’t ever happen. A playoff will never happen because it won’t ever work. People are begging, clamoring, yelling for a playoff to celebrate the parity in today’s college football universe. But no format, other than Mike Leach’s 64-team proposal, will appease everyone.

And in each proposed format, I think we can all agree that every BCS conference winner should be admitted and each undefeated team should be admitted. If undefeated teams are not admitted, there still will not be a clear-cut national championship, like in 2003 when Auburn went undefeated.

A “plus-one” or four team playoff would take the top four teams in the nation, regardless of winning their conference. Regardless of what conference they’re in. If it is possible to have a national champion that isn’t a conference champion, why have conferences? If this format is adopted, there will be no need for conferences, let alone “BCS conferences.”

And this year, a four team playoff would not work primarily because of the two undefeated mid-majors. Given the criteria (BCS conference champs and undefeated teams), there must be at least an 8-team playoff, this year including Florida, Oklahoma, USC, Penn State, Virginia Tech, Cincinnati, Boise State and Utah. But this format still leaves out Alabama, Texas, Texas Tech and Ohio State.

Given that, the only logical solution appears to be a 16-team playoff, which would require 4 victories to win the national title. With the twelve game regular season already in place, plus a conference championship game, plus four possible playoff games, that would make for a 17 game season for these student-athletes. And yes, these players are supposed to be students, with actual schoolwork. And these won’t be 17 games against weak competition. These are 17 games of rivalries and conference battles, hard-fought wins and heart-breaking losses, blowouts and nail-biters.

And I haven’t even mentioned the money issue.

Like everything else in sports, money motivates college football. From logo-printed Pop tarts to head coach buyouts, financial decisions far outweigh logical football ones. In a world where Notre Dame’s Charlie Weis keeps his job because of his $21 million buyout rather than his 9-15 record the last two years, dollars make sense. And why shouldn’t they? In the bowl games alone last year, a total of over $140 million was dished out to conferences. That number does not even figure in travel costs and hotel stays and ticket sales and food sales and endorsements and TV contracts. A ticket for this year’s championship game: $581 in the upper deck in row 24 in the end zone. Imagine 60,000 more tickets to be sold and 33 more games to be played during bowl season. Way too much money to be passed up by college football. The only bowls (out of 34) that aren’t sponsored by companies and corporations are Independence, Texas, and International Bowls.

Then there are the conference championship games, a game that, for most teams, would be their 13th of a possible 17 games. Conference championships, much like bowl games are sponsored. Dr. Pepper sponsors the ACC, Big XII and SEC games while Marathon even sponsors the lowly MAC game. Under the proposed system, conference title games would likely be banished, upsetting sponsors and university presidents even more.

Then there is the regular season, where tons of alumni would kill for season tickets, no matter who their team plays, partly due to the importance of the regular season. Under the current system, one loss could eliminate you from the title race, placing importance and relevance on each game played. If a playoff is adopted, the importance of the regular season would go down, and so would ticket sales, meaning a drop in revenue for the universities. And they do not want that.

While the playoff system is ideal for deciding champions, unfortunately, it will never happen. Unless university presidents see the green on the field rather than the green in their wallet.

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