The NCAA has done such an incredibly poor job of selling their non-playoff-format post-season that the the media tends to treat it as a given that everyone wants a college football playoff. I do not want a playoff, and now that the football season is over and the basketball season is near its midpoint, it's time to discuss why I think a playoff would be bad for college football.
Back when I was writing for GeauxTuscaloosa, I wrote an article railing against a playoff, and re-reading it now I think it's still a pretty accurate representation of my views. I'll quote the most articulate parts:
I don't want to see the quest for the national championship beat the conference races into submission. If there had been a 4-team playoff last year , Georgia would have been in it under most scenarios, relegating the conference championship Georgia failed to win to a simple consolation prize for the winner, just like it is in basketball.
Quick, who won the Big East Conference in basketball in 2008? See, you don't know, and it just happened two months ago. In football, it was West Virginia.* Oklahoma won the Big 12; USC won the Pac-10; Ohio State won the Big 10, LSU won the SEC; and Virginia Tech won the ACC. That's right off the top of my head.** Why don't you know who won the Big East in basketball? Because it isn't important. No one cares who wins the conferences in basketball. All that matters is the tournament. I don't want to see college football become like that.
With a playoff, the SEC becomes about as important as the NFC South, the winner of which is important only in that it gets an automatic bid to the playoffs. Do we want our conferences to become just geographically convenient divisions of a much more important whole? Do we want the conferences to be mainly about ease of scheduling? Or do we want our conference to continue to maintain a strong identity? Do we want the SEC to continue to mean something.
Why does college football need to be just like every other sport? Every sport has a tournament at the end to declare a champion. College football is unique in having a post-season that is entirely unlike a tournament, and darn-it, I like it that way. Making college football like every other sport would, well, make it just like every other sport. It would take away the specialness of college football. Do we want college football to become just another tournament-based sport?
The NCAA basketball tournament is a wonderful event. For basketball. It's a great 3+ week spectacular of amateur basketball, as good as any sporting event on the planet other than the World Cup, which only happens every four years. I wouldn't change a thing about it.
But football does not need one of its own. While we all acknowledge that the NCAA Tournament is outstanding, and that there would be great interest in a football version, let's look at what we've sacrificed for the basketball tournament. The basketball regular season has been rendered virtually meaningless. It starts in mid-November and few people even care until the meat of the schedule gets there. Even the really good early-season matchups are essentially scrimmages for most teams.
Don't believe me? Well, do you remember when North Carolina played Notre Dame on November 26? It was an out-of-conference matchup of two top 10 teams. North Carolina pummeled Notre Dame. Still don't remember it? Well, neither do I. It was a glorified scrimmage. Notre Dame was pounded, but they've come back just fine, and barring an unexpected late season collapse, they are comfortably in the tournament. Their bad loss has ultimately meant nothing.
Do you remember an OOC football game between Clemson and Bama? I remember it. It set the tone for the season for both Clemson and Bama. One game. One season ruined, and another set on a path to near-greatness. That's football. Everything is meaningful. There are no glorified scrimmages.
In basketball, the entire regular season means nothing except for how it determines placement in the tournament and seeding within the tournament. No one remembers who won the conferences and even fewer remember who won the conference tournaments, unless an upstart came in a won an automatic bid it never would have gotten otherwise (good job Georgia). In basketball, the conferences are just geographic subdivisions used for the ease of scheduling and travel.
I would not want to see the football regular season come down to a simple determination of who makes it into a tournament. I don't want the conference race to be a meaningless sideshow. I don't want the early season to become a series of scrimmages. Almost every proposal I have ever seen for a playoff would do these things, and because the NCAA has done such a poor job is marketing their own ideas, people don't even seem to realize what they'd be giving up to get a tournament. The model is right in front of our faces. The basketball regular season is a long and pointless endeavour, except insofar as how it determines what happens in the tournament. In basketball, it's worth it because the tournament is a tradition. It would be a shame to see the same thing happen to football, though.