Tuesday, December 6, 2011

annual playoff gripe

If you know me at all, you know I don't want a college football playoff.  Believe it or not I'm actually happy with the BCS.  I don't like the BCS, at least, not enough to be some kind of staunch defender of it, as if it were the best possible system, but I think it's got its positives.  And truth is, college football's three-month regular season is too great to be spoiled by a playoff.  How much do you care about basketball's regular season?  The only people for whom it really matters are the bubble teams, and even then only in retrospect (oh, if only we'd beaten so-and-so.)

I'm in the minority, of course, so in order to be in the majority I have my own idea for a playoff, since everyone does.  You can read that here, and you probably should, or some of this might not make sense.  (One thing: if you've read it in the past, you might notice a few changes this time.  Normally I keep changes so it doesn't look like I'm covering up mistakes, but that's an important page and I don't want it to have a thousand words struck out, it would get cluttered.  You'll get the gist.)  Anyway, I don't want a playoff, no - but if we must, that'd be the one I'd want.  Why is it better than everyone else's?

One, because of the way I went about constructing it.  When people say, "gee, I'd really like to see this idea," they start with their own happyland wishes and go from there.  Then when you point out problems and why it couldn't occur, they say, "well, we could change this and this and then it would work."  These decisions are made by actual stakeholders with stuff at stake.  Which they lose if they do it wrong.  You have to try and get in their heads and figure out what they want, and go from there.  This is what I've tried to do.  To put this in quick and dirty terms, most people pick up their favorite-shaped square peg and try to change the hole.  I have analyzed the hole and tried to find the best peg to fit it.

Two, because with my idea you can have your cake and eat it too.  Right now football is like a five-year old's birthday party with delicious chocolate cake.  Everyone likes cake.  Some people like a different kind of cake, and complain that they want a different flavor, but they're gonna eat the cake anyway because it's irresistible.  (Except for the one five-year old, screaming and throwing a huge temper tantrum in the corner.**)

Well, the FOV playoff lets you playoff lovers have your delicious cake of whatever flavor, and us bowl and regular season lovers have ours.  Let me give you the very basics:

-- 16 teams, arranged in what we'll call the Big East Style (Biggie Style if you say it fast) because it's how the Big East arranges its basketball tournament.  Double byes for the top four teams, single byes for 5 through 8.
-- Play the first three rounds in the first three weekends of December so that the losers can play in bowls.  And play them at home sites.
-- Eight conference champions are autobidded, based on some kind of RPI-esque ranking system.  Eight more teams are chosen by a competition committee from an at-large pool that consists of the three non-autobidded champions plus the top X number of teams in the RPI-esque system.  Whatever you want X to be, I don't care.

It's that simple.  Well, there are other details, but please click through to the playoff proposal post since I've already typed 'em up and I don't want to duplicate the effort.  Since there's already the equivalent of a two-team playoff, it would only require one bowl's worth of teams extra - 12 playoff losers can go to a bowl, and only the Football Final Four would be held out of the bowl process.  Bowl invites could get interesting.  Clemson might well be ticketed again for the Orange Bowl, but what if they win out?  Maybe the Orange Bowl then contracts to take the team they beat.  Or - also intriguing - perhaps playoff performance helps determine bowl eligibility; bowls such as the Sugar and Orange might agree to take only those teams which got past the first round of the playoffs.  Lots of possibilities.

If I were made king of college football, of course, there'd be other changes besides.  No bowls after the first weekend in January, or January 3rd, whichever is earlier.  No "Capital One Bowl."  Fuck you and put your real name back on the game.  Bowls will be played in ascending order of importance, except that the Rose Bowl will always be on New Year's Day.  None of this Weedeater.com Bowl stuff on January 8.  But don't confuse these for problems with the system.  This is the fault of the idiots in charge of it.

Anyway, this post largely exists to give you a taste of what this could look like this year.  I'm not going to list out all the bowls, either, but you'd still get them, of course.  And because the first three rounds are all played at home, instead of traveling to, like, Colorado Springs or something like in the NCAA tournament, it feels more like an extension of the regular season than a postseason.  Twelve teams get to host a game.  That's good stuff that will make ADs feel happy.  I am a competition committee of one for this exercise, so here is your 2011 FOV playoff:

Is beautiful, no?  In this way, regular season protectionists (like myself) can be satisfied, because it separates the teams into four distinct tiers: host a third-round game, host a second-round game, host a first-round game, get your ass on the road.  Here we have eight conference winners and eight at-large choices, and you can quibble with my choices all you want but if you do, that's kind of the point - playoffs don't really make any controversy disappear.

I don't hold any illusions about the powers-that-be being this creative, though.  If the choice were between the current system and this, give me this.  But that doesn't make me pro-playoff - if the choice were between the current system and some of the crap being peddled these days, give me the BCS all day.  Sadly, I think the playoff debate is skewed by people who confuse "I want MY playoff" with "I want A playoff."  Let's be honest with ourselves: the people in charge of this are the ones who brought you the BCS in the first place and are about to place San Diego State in a conference called the "Big East."  If you've been telling yourself "anything but the BCS" do you really trust them to come up with something you'll like?  Join my miniscule army and let's get this bad boy approved instead.

**Seriously: Dan Wetzel is no longer a credible or objective reporter when it comes to the BCS.  He has written uncountable scathing attack pieces and a scathing attack book called "Death to the BCS" - this removes any shred of objectivity when he reports on it.  He has an agenda.  Period.  As an opinion columnist, he is perfectly entitled to one, but when he tweets made-up bullshit like this, you are required to remember that he has an agenda.  He wrote a book based on that agenda.  That agenda involves making the BCS look as bad as possible.  Objectivity: zero.


Deane said...

I LOVE the ACC basketball regular season. The NCAA tournament in no way detracts from it - what a strange and annoying concept. I don't at all buy that a football playoff would detract from its regular season, either. And the notion that the regular season acts as a playoff is ridiculous (although I do acknowledge that some of the arguments have merit). You don't hear anyone arguing about professional sports' regular season/playoff format. The regular season is used to determine the "best" teams of the year, and the playoff lets those teams determine the champion on the field.

That being said, I'd be perfectly happy with a hybrid playoff/bowl system. I think an 8-team playoff would be enough.

P.S. If you don't care about the basketball regular season, what in the world are you writing all those blogs for???

Anonymous said...

Wetzel's tweet appears to be gone, what did it say?

Anonymous said...

Correct me if I'm wrong or received bad information: are there no bowls at all on New Years' Day? Everything says Jan. 2.

Anonymous said...

I think you dismiss the academic/finals time argument too easily. I'm a fourth year student with two football players in one of my politics seminars. Our final is toward the end of next week as well as a final paper. If the playoffs were to start at the beginning of next week like you said, then this would be a huge distraction from their classes to prep for the game/travel/etc.

UVA isn't JMU where the professors are going to be flexible about when their students take finals...

Brendan said...

Answers to all the above:

1) Deane - couple of points. One, I like the basketball regular season because I'm a junkie, not because it necessarily matters. Kentucky and North Carolina just played what basically amounts to a 1 vs. 2 game. What effect will it have on the tournament? Probably zero as they'll both likely be 1 seeds anyway.

As for nobody arguing about professional sports, no - but people do love them some brackets so they don't care. Everyone knows that the best NFL team in 2007 was the one that went 16-0, not the one that went 10-6, but we allow ourselves to not care because woo brackets and yay Super Bowl party. Yet I keep hearing that a playoff is the only way to "decide things on the field."

An 8-team playoff would be enough for a lot of people, but so was 64 teams in the NCAA tournament.

2) Wetzel's tweet is still there as far as I can tell (though it would really have bolstered my case if he deleted the thing out of embarrassment) but here is the gist: The Sugar Bowl took VT over Boise because Big Ten commish Jim Delany twisted their arms for a quid pro quo after working overtime to get Ohio State eligible for last year's Sugar, and he didn't want one of his glamor teams playing a little upstart like Boise. If someone else had tweeted that I'd be much less skeptical, but as Wetzel is literally the only source for that, I call BS. You just can't be as virulently anti-BCS as Wetzel is and be an objective reporter at the same time.

3) The bowls are on Jan. 2, yes, because Jan. 1 is Sunday and the NFL is playing. It seems "untraditional" but ever since the dawn of the NFL as the nation's sports superpower, even the Rose Bowl hasn't been stupid enough to compete with it. This has happened before, so I don't make any fuss over it.

4) No, UVA isn't JMU and flexible about finals prep, but I bet you Alabama is, as well as quite a few other schools. Heck, they're flexible about the whole damn semester at some of these places.