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LSU Gives College Football Fans a Playoff

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First off, you're welcome.

There is no program that has done more to expose the BCS as the fraud that it is than LSU. 2003, 2007, 2011... those are the controversies that would eventually bring down a system. OK, we won titles in 2003 and 2007, so we benefited pretty handsomely from the whole arrangement, but we took the screw job in 2011 that eventually brought the system to the ground.

I guess we were owed that one, but it's still satisfying to know that it was the screwing of your team that got people off their asses to chunk the system. So, thanks everybody for noticing. I know you didn't watch the title game, but trust us, it pretty much sucked. Good call on staying away in droves.

Actually, 2011 is the flip of 2007 for LSU fans. LSU made the title game in 2007 on the grounds that someone had to go, and our mediocre resume was better than anyone else's. In 2011, LSU fans were left asking why we even needed to play an extra game, but we had to play somebody. And just like 2007, Somebody ended up being the Clear Number One. Oh well. Goes around, comes around.

So LSU gets hosed, and the rest of y'all get a playoff. That seems fair, after all the BCS gave LSU over the past decade and a half. We were due for a screw job.*

*Speaking of which, I still can't believe how badly Oregon got screwed in 2001 and to this day, NO ONE CARES. Sure, Miami was unbeatable in 2001, but how the holy hell did UO get screwed so anonymously?

Now, the new system isn't perfect, nor is it permanent.

I'm okay with both of those things, but have no illusions. This will not stop controversies, and it may not even slow them. Really, all the new system does is give college football a larger target to hit. Instead of using a fatally flawed metric to select two teams, we now will have a potentially flawed committee to select four teams. Hey, it's progress.

Honestly, if I had to identify the absolute worst thing about the BCS, it was the formula. The formula was the illusion of mathematics to sanctify a matchup of the top two teams in the polls. The formula was virtually designed to give us the same result as the polls, and it lacked any sort of legitimacy to overturn the poll results (SEE: 2003).

Consigning the BCS formula to the dustbin of history is nothing but positive. People are already complaining about the potential bias of a committee, as if we haven't had a biased selection committee that didn't even meet for the past fifteen years.

I can live with imperfect. Life is imperfect. Committees in the other NCAA sports largely do a good job, and they take the task seriously. Of course, they have a much larger target to hit.

The bigger issue is that this is not permanent. The presidents signed off on a 12-year contract to prevent playoff expansion, as they are already anticipating the pleas for it. And well they should. Because the pleas will come.

The margin separating the #4 and #5 teams are usually razor thin, and the criteria to select them will almost certainly be more art than science. It will lead to inconsistent results, which will lead to complaints, which will lead to calls for playoff expansion. It won't happen right away, but it will happen, as year after year, the "outrages" pile up.

Playoffs need to expand. They are like fire, always seeking oxygen and kindling. Fire can be contained, but it wants to burn free. You prevent a fire from expanding by depriving it of the ability to expand, and giving it just enough logs to keep burning.

Playoffs expand the same way: wild cards. Any playoff that includes wild card teams will eventually expand. You can only fight nature for so long. I'm not sure it's entirely bad if it does expand, but I'm virtually certain that it will.

We look at college basketball as the ultimate playoff monster, one that has practically consumed the regular season. The tournament used to have between 23 and 25 teams, depending on the number of conferences, for over two decades. But in 1975, after several top teams were excluded from the field, the tournament expanded to 32 teams, just enough to let in those great runners up in each conference.

It lasted four years.

The field expanded to 40 in 1979 and 48 in 1980. The field further expanded to 52 in 1983 and finally 64 teams in 1985. In ten years, the field doubled in size and the Monster was unleashed.

Think it's an isolated example? The World Series started in 1884 and the field did not even expand to four teams until 1969, when divisional play was introduced. MLB added wild cards in 1995 and despite no one really demanding more teams in the field, the playoffs are expanding this year to ten teams. Only four teams made the field until 1993, over a century of tradition. Introduce wild cards, and the field expands in less than twenty years despite no public pressure for expansion.

Playoffs need to expand, and wild cards are the vehicles by which they expand.

It won't happen right away, but it will happen. The four team playoff will become eight, maybe even sixteen. The seeds for expansion are already written into the plans. Football could stall expansion by preventing wild cards, but even that's probably a losing battle. Once the camel has his nose under the tent, the camel is in the tent.

These playoffs are not perfect, nor are the permanent. There will be controversy, and there will be expansion. Maybe instead of saying "you're welcome", we should say we're sorry.