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There is no reason to have a two team playoff in college football this year

December 2, 2011 Leave a comment

I am someone who supported the BCS prior to the year 2006, and the genesis of the BCS National Championship Game.  Since then, I have become someone who advocates for the abolition of the system that the NCAA adopted to name its champion for college football in 1998.  To me, the BCS was something of a lateral move from the system we had prior to 1998 in college football.  College Football used to be special because there was no universally recognized “National Champion,” but rather a series of Bowl Game champions and a post-season AP poll vote to determine which school got rights to use the unofficial title “AP National Champion” for public events and for recruiting pitches.  This was always plenty adequate: for all the complaints about what computers and schedules would say, college programs pretty much got to control their own destiny, and the national champ was by definition a popular choice.

There was no requirement for consensus prior to 1998.  It was college football.  The goal was clear: schedule tough, win those tough games, get to a bowl, win the bowl.  Initially, I think the BCS may have added an element to that with their standings, because college football didn’t have inter-conference standings, and the Bowl Championship Series brought that, and plus with the proliferation of mid-tier bowl games as a revenue source, it did become relevant to differentiate between the prestige of certain bowls.  The BCS changed college football’s postseason forever.  But it wasn’t until 2006, and the advent of the college football playoff, that things got bad.

You may be wondering why I keep arguing that College Football has a playoff, but if you define playoffs as any postseason field where teams play for the exclusive right to eliminate one another on the playing field, this is exactly what the BCS National Championship Game is: a two team playoff.  And this is the worst possible ending to a college football season.  Prior to the BCS, it was obvious that playoffs were not necessary.  Just award the USA Today Coaches Poll National Championship to the team that finishes first overall in the BCS standings following the bowl games.  That would work great as a national champion.  In some years, I think the AP national champion could differ from the Coaches Poll champ.  But that, in my opinion would be a good thing.  You have standings and you have a poll, and because they use different methodology, they do not necessarily have to agree.  I think that makes perfect sense in the realm of college athletics.

The national championship worked great last year, as it pitted undefeated Oregon: the team with the most impressive regular season resume, against undefeated Auburn, who didn’t have quite the number of impressive wins, but had overcome the playoff field that was the SEC to get there.  That was a great match-up.  In any year, if you take the best undefeated team: the undefeated team that plays the toughest schedule (so either the SEC champ or the Big XII champ), and you pit them against the team with the largest margin of victory, so like an Oregon, Boise, TCU, or a Oklahoma/Oklahoma State type, I think having a BCS National Championship game makes great sense.

But in a year where the LSU Tigers so thoroughly dominated both criteria, there’s no point to even having the game.  You’ll either end up with a blowout (in all likelihood), or a close game where a far less qualified team can steal the title from LSU.  Such is the downside of having a playoff field at all, something the conference presidents are obviously trying to avoid.  LSU, Alabama, and Oklahoma State would all be playing in BCS bowls this year in any system, but the idea that two must play each other at the end of the season to have a satisfying end to the college football season is pure lunacy.  And its a logical fallacy based on an awful premise: the two team playoff field.

Really, with the unbalanced schedule in college football, any type of playoff would be based on a dumb premise, but at least opening up the field to eight teams gives considerable margin for error (instead of screwing over the third best team in Oklahoma State, you screw over the ninth best team in Arkansas, or Boise State if you’re in the business of giving automatic qualifying bids).  But a two team field, particularly this season, is pointless.

LSU is college footballs best team by any measure, but the one loss teams are pretty indistingulishable, as are the two loss teams.  The computers basically say that Alabama and Oklahoma State are equal teams.  The pollsters do not think so, but polls are notoriously fickle.  Stanford’s last game against Notre Dame was a seemingly more impressive and complete win than anything that either Oklahoma State or Alabama has done this year, but Stanford other opponents were so generally weak that we went to the last week of their season without a good idea as if they should be ranked second or twenty second.  Boise State is having another really impressive one loss season, but Boise plays in a stronger conference now, and the pollsters have yet to adjust to that.  Oregon may once again be the most impressive team in college football.  Houston hasn’t lost.

I will make the argument below that Kansas State deserves to be in the national championship game as much as any team.  They are sixth in the computer ranking.  They would be playing in the Big XII title game this week, except that the conference no longer has one.  They dominated the state of Texas this year.  Their losses look good in hindsight, and I’m not sure any team’s wins look as good as KSU’s this year, exception of LSU.  They will lose the Big XII championship on tiebreaker no matter what, but stand a decent shot at a BCS bid if Oklahoma State beats Oklahoma.

The biggest thing about Alabama this year is not that they aren’t a great program having a great year, but the LSU loss makes their resume totally indistinguishable from other programs having great, but not unblemished seasons.  If Oklahoma does go on the road and beat Oklahoma State (something I expect), no team is coming particularly close to Alabama in the BCS standings.  But I think that outcome flies in the face of the logic that the BCS was founded on.  It was founded to create and settle arguments at the top of the standings.  And the way things are calculated, unless the human, fallable polls have a significant change of heart, LSU and Alabama will play for the BCS national championship because they are the two best teams in college football.

I have no doubt that of all the random matchups of potential BCS pairings, LSU-Alabama remains more interesting and will be a higher level of football than Oregon-Michigan State, or Houston-Michigan, or Louisville-Virginia Tech, or Oklahoma-Stanford.  That’s not a particularly good draw of BCS games.  But don’t act like we couldn’t take those ten teams and create three or more compelling match-ups for generating bowl revenue simply by being willing to split up the deserving BCS teams.  I want to see Stanford-LSU, Alabama-Oregon, Michigan State-Virginia Tech, and Kansas State-Michigan.  Every one of those games is a more intriguing matchup than LSU-Alabama, which right now stands as the one BCS game to look forward to.

And the reasoning to justify this is incredibly specious.  The BCS is not helping college football, and that’s a shame because I think for five or six years after its inception, it did help college football.  But now, it’s combined with other well-funded ideals to become a highly-publicized justification for defending the continued dominance of certain conferences over other conferences, and if I’m not a Big Ten, Pac-12, or SEC fan, I can’t help but think that the BCS is hurting (both financially and competitively) the college football postseason.