clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

DebAte-T-Q: Should College Football Install a Playoff?

It's the oldest argument in college football. Should college football install a playoff?

On one side of the argument you have the traditionalist that love the history and pageantry of the bowl system. They love the fact that the winner of the Pac 10 will play in the Rose Bowl on January 1st every year. They might be ok with little tweaks to the bowl system that allows for the game to be worth more money to the conference and thereby their school overall, but why give up 109 years of history so that some of the less relevant and smaller schools can say they were given their fair shake at a National Championship?

On the other side are the progressive less confined to tradition people that want to see an even opportunity given to all schools to hoist a national championship trophy. They're not wrapped up in history or pageantry or affiliations. They want to see good football, played at it's highest level for the ultimate prize. They're unable to grasp or understand how a bunch of market research, computers and media guys from USA Today are better suited to pick who should play for a title versus wins and losses on the field of play.

Matt: Personally, I have no problems with the worst case scenario for Oregon being the Pac 10 Champs being going to the Rose Bowl. I grew up understanding that if you won your conference you were going to get to play in the "The Granddaddy of Them All." At the heart of the argument for me is the desire for others to recognize that you were the best team in the country. When there is no National Championship Game you were forced to accept those that give that title and question those that don't. If the AP says you are the champs but the UPI says you are not, you're happy to espouse all that is right with the AP and all that is wrong with UPI. On top of that, you'll take every opportunity to disparage why the team that was awarded their championship didn't deserve it in the first place and how the transitive property of college actually exists, unless it works against you and then it's a bunch of hogwash.

Whatever happened to being happy being the Rose Bowl Champs?

So many fans care what other school's fans think that it's led us to this convoluted system in the first place. We're so enamored with having a consensus National Championship that if you're a respected member of the voting and polling establishment (Associated Press) that if you have a difference of opinion (USC 2003) we're willing to throw you out and find someone that's able to fall in line.

Instead of being happy being Rose Bowl and Pac 10 Champs fans needed to have Big 12, ACC, and SEC fans accept that they were better than their school's team as well. Honestly, who cares? I don't care that Miami won the Big East and the AP (a bunch of non-athletic idiot sports writers... not really) Championship and didn't think that Washington was deserving of those same accolades in 1991. Why do I need them to agree? Washington won the Pac 10 and won the Rose Bowl. Isn't that enough? Why throw away 100+ years of history and tradition just so that the fans in Florida or the fans in Washington agree?

Football has too many teams and too many fans to ever come to some consensus on who the best team in the FBS actually is. Does anyone actually believe that Connecticut was the best team in college basketball last year? Not a chance. They won the playoff, but that doesn't mean they were the best team. Those transitive properties in college football will only be accentuated by the limited number of games that teams play. If you go to a 4, 8 or even 16 team playoff, chance are that one team is going to lose another to team that's going to lose to a different team but eventually won the "Championship" and fans are still going to argue about who the best team in college football was that year. It solves nothing. Without going into all the logistical upheaval that a playoff would create, it's going to throw away 100+ years of history and tradition the major bowls already present and still give us the same controversy and uncertainty of who the "best team in the country actually is." So what's the point?

David: History? Tradition? If we're going on history and tradition, I guess Oregon fans can be happy with an 8th place finish in the Pac-12 every year and be done with it.

Of course there are too many teams to have everyone agree who the best team in the country is. That's EXACTLY the reason college football needs a playoff. You have 120 teams in the land, and a sample size of 12 games. From these 12, we're supposed to determine who is the best? Was Auburn the best last year (TCU was also undefeated)? What about all the years Boise State was undefeated? Hell, what about USC's run? You could absolutely be the best team, but not have the best record. There is all kinds of statistical noise in a sample size as small as 12 games. As for the argument that we don't really need to figure out who the best is, then what the hell do we even have the games for? Lets just do the odds on paper and save ourselves a whole lot of trouble.
You talk about not feeling the need to impress the sportswriters. This is another reason we need a playoff. Lets take the sportswriters out of it. Lets settle it on the field instead of in pressrooms and on online forums. Whoever wins the playoff wins the Natty, not whomever the writers feel like voting for after predetermined bowl matchups.
Nobody argues that UConn was the best team in college basketball throughout the season last year. But they were clearly the best at the end. Improvement over the course of the season counts for something. Sure, there will be upsets along the way, but at least the players settle the games and not some knuckleheads who happen to have a sports column in the local fishwrapper.
A playoff takes all the controversy out of it. No undefeated teams left wondering "what-if". No transitive property of college football. Somebody wants to open their trap about why they should be champions even though they lost in the playoffs? You look at them, say "scoreboard" and it ends the argument.
No system is going to be completely perfect, other than having a sample size of several hundred games per team. But getting all the best teams together in a tournament gives you a much better idea than does having writers debate three undefeated teams with no games left.

Matt: No controversy? No What-ifs? This is where the pro-playoff argument starts to break down. We already have a playoff in college football and there is plenty of controversy. It's called the BCS Championship Game. Sure it's only a two team playoff, but it's still a playoff. So people will argue that we need more teams in the tournament. How many, 4? That would still lead to tons of controversy considering there will be BCS conference champs with identical records as the 3rd or 4th team in and why didn't they get a shot? Ok, so 8? And how do we determine those 8? BCS Conference champs may be in (would love to see the rationalization for why UConn should have been in last year over LSU, Wisconsin, TCU or Boise), but then there are two at large berths. Who gets those?

Your team may be ranked #8 but that may not matter. You weren't conference champs, and someone ranked lower than you was or maybe your strength of schedule just wasn't strong enough, even if you had beaten one of the schools that got into the tournament. Fine, let's go with 16. Now we have to determine who was the best 2 or 3 loss team? You don't think there's not going to be any controversy or transitive property of college football applied there? Especially considering not all conferences have conference championship games, or the same number of teams, or the same requirements for OOC games or conference games.

I'd also love to hear someone explain why Oregon would have even cared about the Civil War last year if they were already conference champs and were expecting to play a playoff game a week or two later. There would be no controversy or arguments about whether LMJ should play in the Civil War and risk injury considering the playoffs are coming up.

The only way to make it work is if you recreated 8 conferences with the same number of teams, with the same OOC schedules, and the same conference championship requirements. Anything else is going to require polls, rankings, beauty pageant judges, politics and controversy and will end up being nothing more than a patch or evolution of the current screwed up system we currently have.

Orrrrrrrr, we can just get rid of this ridiculous notion of "National Champions." You play your conference, you win your conference and then you play an exhibition game against another conference champion. If some group wants to nominate your school as their National Champion, fine. Then you're that organization's National Champion. But what really matters are the conference games and the conference championships. Arguing over nominated National Championships (whether they are from the UPI, AP, or BCS) or Rose Bowl wins is about as dumb as the husky that started it.

The only true "scoreboard" we have right now is conference championship. And unless you throw out everything in college football and start all over again, you're only going to have more controversy, what-ifs and transitive property of college football.

David: We have controversy with the two team playoff because there oftentimes isn't enough sample size after 12 games to whittle it down to two, and because you have teams that have done everything they can and still not get a shot. Just because the current system sucks isn't a reason to revert to a system that sucks even more.
Eight is actually a really good number. You let the six auto qualifying champs in. Did UConn deserve to be in last year? Probably not. But you know beforehand that there is a premium on winning your conference. Unlike the current system, you know exactly what you have to do to earn a playoff spot. As for the two at larges? Something like any non auto-qualifier in the top eight or top ten gets a spot. If there aren't two of those, then the highest ranked non-conference champs get in. Sad you got left out? Shut up and win your conference next year. No controversy because the rules are clear. No getting in over someone ranked ahead because you travel better. The rules are explicitly stated before the season. This puts a premium on conference champs, as you like, but still allows for a tournament of the best.
Why would Oregon care about the Civil War last season under this system? Because its the Civil freaking War! For most teams, the last game of the season is the rivalry game. You really think that teams are going to tank their rivalry game?
I'll also go ahead a preempt what I think your next argument is going to be, and what I know a lot of the readers will argue: "look at the money from the TV contract, how much the regular season matters. A playoff throws both of those out the window. Look at college basketball." Sure, I buy that if you let 32 teams into the playoff. But with eight, you damn well better win your conference, putting a premium on regular season games.
Finally, with regards to the pre-BCS bowl system, which is what you seem to be advocating, I guarantee you the sport isn't as popular or anyone is making as much money is that system. In that scenario, why should anyone on the West Coast care about SEC football, or vice versa.
We need a playoff because it would be better than the BCS. But even the BCS is still wildly better than the old system. The proof is in the ratings.


Let's allow the commenters finish this. What do you think? Would you like a playoff system, and if so how many teams and how would you administer it given the uneven playing field conferences have right now? How would you pick the seeds? Do you care about the controversy? Let's end this argument once a for all. Should college football have a playoff?