November 15, 2008
College Football's Biggest MythBy Rusty Weiss
With a myriad of arguments in favor of the implementation of a playoff system in college football, opponents always seem to hearken back to the same counterpoint -- the college football regular season is the most intriguing in all of sports. It is the only counterpoint that seems to have stuck; yet it is also one of the biggest myths perpetuated by the BCS brass since its inception.
Let's assume for a moment that the most important thing is to award a champion at the end of the season, an assumption that most fans accept, but one the BCS seems unable to comprehend. Like any good movie or book that you may have read, each starts with a bang, and then slowly builds momentum toward a very satisfying climax. The same can be said for most major sports. One major exception to this formula is college football, in which the regular season actually becomes exponentially less important as the year rolls on.
With two losses, no program has a chance of getting a title shot in the current system. One-loss teams would need several stars to align perfectly for the shot to get in the championship game. Interest in most schools wanes as the year goes on, or it is diverted to other personal accomplishments, such as getting into less relevant bowl games. These other bowl games are utterly meaningless in the scheme of crowning a champion, and serve no other purpose than to generate money, while sending less successful teams out on a positive winning note.
In a playoff system, two-loss teams could conceivably get into the round of eight. One-loss teams would almost certainly be assured of a playoff shot. Interest would continue throughout the regular season for several teams. A majority of fans would be far more satisfied debating the most worthy team for the eighth spot. Under the BCS system fans are left with an empty feeling as their team disappears from the picture altogether because their team shows up as number three on the BCS computers at the end of the season.
Using results from this year as an example, let's discuss what has happened under the BCS system, and what could happen with a playoff system. Limiting our analysis to the teams in the preseason top 25 will simplify the argument.
In a perfect world, one with a playoff system implemented, it is quite reasonable to assume that a majority of the pre-season top 25 teams would have set a realistic goal of getting into an eight team playoff field. Getting into our theoretical field of eight ensures an opportunity at a championship, and all of the top teams would then be able to take care of their business during the regular season to secure such an opportunity. Even the smaller, non-traditional powerhouses in the rankings would have a realistic shot at making the playoffs.
With the BCS intact, the pre-season top 25 teams have been vying for two spots and two spots only. As the system currently stands, six of these teams are eliminated immediately from the list of potential champions: Arizona State, BYU, Illinois, South Florida, Pittsburgh, and Wake Forest. Most of these are self-explanatory. For example, the realist will tell you that even if BYU goes undefeated with a large average margin of victory, they would still only hope to get 5th or 6th in the BCS rankings. Illinois will never make the top two with an undefeated season based on the overall perceived weakness of the Big 10. South Florida will not be taken seriously. You get the picture.
On the other hand, in a playoff system hope looms large for 25+ teams.
After Week 1
As mentioned before, the current system has already eliminated title hopes for six of the top 25 teams. We're down to 19 teams who will strive for an undefeated season -- that being the best path to the final game of the year. Additional teams eliminated on the field after week one include: Virginia Tech, Clemson, and Tennessee, which brings us to 16 viable teams.
With a playoff, all 25 teams remain alive for the tournament, and a chance at a title.
After Week 5
Further teams have been eliminated in the current system: West Virginia in week 2, Kansas and Ohio State in week 3, Oregon and Auburn in week 4, USC, Florida, Wisconsin, and Georgia in week 5. This leaves us with only 7 legitimate teams. That's 7 teams after barely one third of the season has been completed.
Our playoff system does see some teams fall by the wayside, but to a much lesser degree. The first team to suffer two losses is West Virginia in week 4, followed by Clemson and Illinois in week 5. Potential playoff teams? 22
After Week 10
Of the 7 remaining teams with any hope, we've lost another 3 under the current BCS system. Oklahoma, LSU and Missouri in week 7, have all kissed their hopes good bye. With 10 weeks now in the books, the most likely teams with a shot to win a title have been reduced to Texas, Texas Tech, Penn State and Alabama.
Some teams in our playoff system also saw their hopes dashed. Auburn lost their second game in week 6, as did Oregon and Wisconsin. Other teams with two losses include: Wake Forest, Missouri, Virginia Tech and Kansas in week 8, Pittsburgh, LSU, Ohio State and South Florida in week 9, and Georgia in week 10. We're now left with 10 teams.
Penn State's loss to Iowa in week 11 leaves us with only 3 teams in the BCS system. Truth be told, Penn State had been talked about for a while now as possibly winning out, and still watching the championship game from the sidelines. Also, to be fair, teams such as Florida and Oklahoma have pulled off the rarity, inching their way back into the picture by virtue of their losses coming earlier in the season. As it stands now, 5 teams can visualize a BCS championship game. That's a mere 5 fan bases with a glimmer of hope to earn a title. 5 teams whose regular season games have any meaning left.
As for the playoff system, there were no additional two-loss teams since week 10. But since we considered some additional teams to our BCS hopefuls, we would be remiss to not add new teams that have played their way back into a potential 8-team playoff.
This is where the playoff system would maintain fan interest for several teams across the nation, and overall interest in the tail end of the regular season. These teams include: Utah, Boise State, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Missouri, Georgia, and Ball State. Going on records, you could even include BYU and Tulsa in the mix. With a playoff system, we see roughly 19 teams whose fans have a reason to get excited, and actually pay attention to the remaining schedule.
An eight-team playoff would clearly maintain interest in regular season games for many more fans, much like any good drama being played out. BCS supporters will claim that some of the regular season games would lose the elimination game feel that they currently have. This is false, as the playoff atmosphere in the regular season would simply be shifted to the bubble teams. It would also eliminate the empty feeling for certain teams that happen to have one bad week, and realize that their season is already over. The significance of regular season games would be held as they are in any sport, with teams jockeying for a better seeding, home field advantage, possible first round byes, and so on.
The debate between a BCS or playoff system is incredibly one-sided as it stands, but one thing is certain: the current system is one of diminishing returns, with the regular season becoming less interesting to most fans as the season wears on.
But more important, a playoff system would eliminate the single most irritating element of the BCS, an element that keeps the casual fan from caring quite as passionately about college football as they do for other sports -- the champion will be crowned on the field. And that's no myth.
Rusty Weiss is an Editor for the sports Web site, LameSports.net, providing a unique look at the sports world, as well as a writer for the media watchdog site, NewsBusters.com. Rusty can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.