A College Football Playoff? Say It Ain't So!

Robert DentonCorrespondent IJanuary 6, 2010

MIAMI - JANUARY 08:  Brandon Spikes #51 of the Florida Gators holds up the winning trophy after the FedEx BCS National Championship Game against the Oklahoma Sooners at Dolphin Stadium on January 8, 2009 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images)
Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images

All you hear from the media anymore is how wrong college football is for not implementing a legitimate playoff system in the NCAA’s elite division, the FBS.


It reminds me of the classic confrontation between liberals and conservatives in that each side, rather than coming up with any real ideas of their own, simply appeals to their respective voters by telling them what’s wrong with the ideas of their counterparts.


The same is true here.  No one can come up with a system that works; they would just rather complain that there should be something better.


My question to the media and to all of you who are screaming for a playoff is what is a legitimate playoff system…and is it really better at all?


Let me explain to you why there isn’t one…and why there shouldn’t be.


First, comparisons made to the playoff system in the NFL are ridiculous.  Of’ course it’s football, but that’s where the analogous relationship ends.


There are only 32 teams in the NFL and while there is certainly a level of the “haves” and “have nots,” the competitive differences between teams and conferences at football’s highest level are minimal.


Due to this fact, each team plays virtually the same schedule.  Sure, you can make a case that the New England Patriots got hosed last year when their 11-5 season left them sitting at home watching the 8-8 San Diego Chargers win the weakest division in the NFL and make a decent playoff run, but this unfairness is a simple talking point; nothing more.


Second, any comparisons made to the NCAA’s lower divisions should also fall on deaf ears.  While the number of teams in the NCAA’s second highest division is similar to the FBS, the differences in conference strength are negligible.  In other words, each team stands on equal competitive ground, which makes a playoff system basically fair, right?


Wrong!  Even with the advantage of competitive balance, the FCS can’t get it right.  Their system is a far cry from fair.  In fact, their process for selecting “at-large” teams into its playoff system can sometimes be a completely ambiguous process. It can also sometimes be the most ridiculously unfair procedure you can imagine. 


Eight conference champions automatically qualify and eight other teams are selected based on rankings and record.  Sounds simple right?  It’s not.


Any BCS playoff system would have to employ a similar structure, and it’s a completely myopic viewpoint.  Here's why.


Right now you hear arguments ranging from a “plus-one” system to a 16 team playoff much like the FCS.  My question is, in each case wouldn’t the debate move to the last teams chosen to participate?


For example, in a “plus-one” system you could hypothetically make the case for teams ranked no. 2 through no. 5.  In an eight team playoff you could make an argument for teams ranked no. 8 through no. 12.  In a 16 team format you can argue for teams ranked no. 16 through no. 25, and on and on and on… It would never stop.


In this years BCS Bowl lineup I’ve heard a million times that the Fiesta Bowl, featuring two undefeated teams (TCU and Boise State) could have been a “semi-final” match up.  Ok…that works for this year only.  What if we would have had six more teams undefeated?


And is that the end?  Wouldn’t you like to see how an undefeated Boise State team compared to a one loss Florida Gator team that destroyed Cincinnati?  Where would you draw the line?


Every time I hear another member of the media scream that the current system is a joke.  I ask them, “When would it be fair…When would it be enough?”


The answer is never, in both cases. 


The only legitimate argument is changing the structure to include a championship game in each conference with the winners advancing to a playoff.  However, couldn’t the argument then be made that a Big XII runner-up like Nebraska would be more deserving than the MAC Champion, Central Michigan?  Or would teams from mid-level conferences even get to be in the discussion?


I know, let’s have an “at-large” selection process that would include conference champions and six highly ranked second place teams.  No…it still doesn’t work. 


Nearly half of all bowl games this season have been upsets.  I realize that teams like Middle Tennessee State would most likely not fair very well against the top teams that would most likely qualify for a playoff in most year’s, but would these teams ever have a chance? And if so, who would they have to overcome to get there?


This season alone, East Carolina beat Houston, who beat Texas Tech, who beat Michigan State, who beat Purdue, who beat Ohio State, who beat Oregon.  Out of those teams, who is more deserving of a playoff berth? Anyone who says that they know is an absolute liar, and these games are prime examples...if there ever were any.


The simple fact is the number of teams and the disparity of schedules in college football make any playoff scenario impossible.


Isn’t the on-going debate about who might be better part of what makes college football so great anyway?


Our time would be wiser spent talking about the fact that there is no need to crown a “national champion” to begin with.  Who does it really benefit?


The answer is the media.  Networks like ESPN can make ridiculous amounts of money on a college football playoff system, and they do not care at all who gets cheated in the process. 


This year’s bowl season serves as yet another glaring reminder of how many teams would in fact, get cheated in any of the examples of a college football playoff that have ever been presented.


Talk of a playoff of any kind has to be supported by arguments that make a system fair.  The fact is, however, there just aren’t any to be made.