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Playoffs Aren't Perfect But So What?

I'm a bit late to the party, what with that whole "new baby" thing. Sorry that your incoherent rants against the football establishment are getting cranked out a week late. But in true LSU fashion, I believe it is better to show up late to the party, once it has already gotten going. Who shows up on time?

Anyway, TSK reviewed the BCS era in a largely-excellent series that you should go read, even if it was published a whole two weeks ago. I know, in internet terms, this means it is already irrelevant. Heaven forbid we have an attention span longer than my two week old child.

The series wraps up with several conclusions to be drawn from the BCS era and the upcoming four-team playoffs, and I hate to disagree with the TSK, but... er... well... I completely disagree with TSK's conclusions. Well, not entirely. Let's take them one at a time:

This is not a panacea for the schools formerly known as non-AQ

Absolutely agree. The big conferences run college football and we have seen them gain power over the last two decades, not lose it. There's a reason the NCAA hasn't moved in to create a playoff with all of the conference champions as automatic qualifiers plus some at large teams to fill out the field - they lack the political capital to do so. The smaller schools have power in the NCAA, and it's reflected in the tournament formats, particularly basketball. It is inclusive over exclusive. In football, the big money schools rule and the only question is how exclusive shall the playoffs be. "Inclusive" is not on the table, nor will it ever be so long as the money schools are in charge.

You didn't like the rematch? Just wait for the playoffs

Here, TSK starts trying to knock over strawmen. The objection is not, nor has it ever been, "all rematches are bad." Rematches predate the BCS (think Florida-FSU, though no one was happy about it then, either). To reduce the argument against the LSU-Alabama rematch to simply "people are against rematches" is reductive to the point that it completely misconstrues the argument.

The argument is against rematches that are wholly unearned. Alabama got a rematch against LSU by simply not losing.* Alabama lost at home to LSU, and then got a title shot without winning its conference. Alabama avoided playing an extra game against the East champ, and they also, through a quirk of scheduling, avoided playing Georgia and South Carolina entirely. Yes, the SEC was the toughest conference in the country. However, five teams posted a winning conference record, and Alabama went 1-1 against them in the regular season. The SEC is a lot easier if you don't play half of the top tier teams.

*Ed Note - This is not to complain about Alabama's title. The system is the system, and Alabama won fair and square in the system that was in place. The question is not whether Bama's title is legitimate, as it clearly is. If we didn't want to complain about Bama's title, we should have beaten them on January 9th. The question is whether this system should stay in place going forward. It has no bearing on Bama's title.

Compare this to the NFL's rematch. Sure, the Giants got a rematch in the title game (against a team they beat in the regular season). In order to earn that rematch, the Giants won their division (not the hardest thing in the world, admittedly). Then they won three playoff games, two of them on the road, against two of the best teams in football. The reason that no one bitched about the Super Bowl rematch is that the Giants played their way into the game, they weren't simply placed in the game by an opinion poll.

Fans accept rematches in every other sport not because they love rematches but because the sport can justify the rematch by results on the field. If Alabama earned a rematch by having to beat Oregon or Stanford, there would have been a lot less complaining about it. They wouldn't have just been anointed the challenger by the BCS acting like a shady boxing promoter.

What would it have meant for the SEC?

Let me answer this the only way college football fans should: WHO CARES?

This is the biggest problem with college football - everyone just looks at their own grubby self-interest instead of what's best for the game. If the SEC has the best teams, they will win the title. End of story. SEC fans shouldn't be trying to advocate for what's best for the SEC, but what's best for football... we'll win the title regardless.

Know what's best for the SEC? Whichever system chooses a champion based primarily on merit. And if the SEC doesn't win the title that season, it's still what's good for the SEC because the best team won. The best team winning the title is what's best for every conference, every team, and every fan. The thought "what about my team or my conference?" shouldn't even cross your head when trying to design a postseason format. The only goal you should have is "what is the best format that is most likely to crown the best team champion?" Everything else is bullshit.

There are still going to be complaints

Well, no crap. The key isn't eliminating complaints but reducing legitimate complaints. This isn't a small minority of fans complaining about the BCS, it's an overwhelming majority. It's not LSU fans bitching about being screwed*, it's pretty much every neutral fan who stayed away from the title game in droves. The current system is broken, refusing to fix it because we can't create the perfect system is no argument at all. Change tends to be gradual, so let's fix what's broken and then keep fixing what needs to be fixed as life goes on. When people complain, let's evaluate those complaints and see if we need to act on them.

TSK included some subpoints, which I'd also like to address.

The first is that sticking to a rigid set of rankings is probably a bad idea. I'm a little bit different than Year2 on this, but not much. There should be a selection committee of people who follow the game, and they should have access to all the polls and the computer data, and they should take into account who won their conference and who didn't and who had the tougher schedules. There should probably be some standards to keep the committee from doing something insane, but those rules should be as general and as few as possible.

I couldn't agree more. There are many issues with the BCS, but the ridiculous BCS formula is pretty high on the list. We all understand the formula is just the opinion polls with the illusion of mathematics behind it, right? The one time the BCS poll churned out something different than the polls, we changed the formula to make sure that never happened again. The problem here is that no one respects the BCS formula, so when it churns out a different result from the poll, it lacks the credibility to have people buy in. Scrap it.

The second is that setting up a playoff system to try to reduce uncertainty in selecting a champion is a pointless exercise. There will be uncertainty if there are four teams in the playoffs or eight or 32. College basketball has almost 70 teams in its tournament and there are stillarguments about whether the selection committee passed over a deserving team for an undeserving one.

Yes and no. Yes, people complain about the basketball committee, but only for a day or two, and that's just because we are waiting for actual games to be played. No one seriously suggests that a title contender gets left out of the field, just that it would be nice for certain teams to get the reward of losing ni the first round.

But I absolutely agree that there are so many teams that picking the best two, or even the best four, is patently absurd. There's just not enough data to sort through 120 teams, playing a 12-game schedule. We can make an educated guess who the best team is, but it's still a guess. This gets into TSK's fear of playoff creep, which is not unjustified. It's just impossible to say with any certainty who the best four teams are. There just aren't enough games to "link" the conferences.

Those establishing the college football playoffs have to walk a fine line here -- creating the best postseason for the sport while still preserving one of the most important regular seasons in the world.

I agree with that, but I also think TSK is too late to the party. The BCS has already eroded the regular season and I think we need a playoff to stop this erosion. We just crowned a team that failed to win its conference the national champion for the first time since 1936. Say what you will, that's an incredibly radical event. Out of conference schedules have grown increasingly weaker under the BCS, as teams schedule to simply not lose. The regular has already been devalued compared to the pre-BCS era, and the conference-only playoff partisans are actually arguing to restore value back to the regular season.

Preserving the regular season's value as well as a century's worth of tradition are valuable goals. They are goals I share with TSK, we just disagree on how to accomplish these goals. Here's to a great debate. Hopefully, we don't screw this up.