The Tournament Still Works
I'm not even going to check before I make this assertion: Get The Picture* has seized on last night's national championship game-type substance as an opportunity to tweak college football playoff advocates. Come on, baby…
Rainey on Charlie Weis’ excitement working with Florida’s pool of talent: “The first thing he said when he got here was that this is the most athletes he’s ever been around, so we felt good about that.”
Rainey on what to expect from the offense: “Fans are going to be happy again."
Well, if he's not going to do it I will: yeah, last night's game was a fiasco that resulted in a deeply unsatisfying champion. March Madness was too mad this year, leaving us with a 9-9 Big East team and a 13-5 Horizon team playing like DePaul and anyone else in the Horizon not named Cleveland State. I think we can say without qualification that the best team did not win this year. Whoever they were they didn't make the Final Four. At some point haters hating on a college football playoff will bring up whatever that was and say "QED."
That's a cost of a playoff, granted. But the NCAA tournament usually doesn't let it get that far. Over the past decade championship game participants have been almost universally great teams:
- 2009: Butler versus Duke. Butler was a Cinderella of sorts. They were also undefeated in the Horizon and had wins over
GeorgetownXavier and OSU; they were really good. They were 12th on Kenpom; this year's edition finished 41st. If having this year's Butler team make the final is a ding against playoffs, last year's Butler team making it shows a way in which basketball's system is vastly superior.
- 2008: UNC-Michigan State. UNC was a juggernaut that finished 34-4. Michigan State was 31-7 (with two of those losses to UNC) and won the Big Ten easily.
- 2007: Kansas-Memphis. Both one seeds from the chalk Final Four.
- 2006: Florida-OSU. OSU was 35-2 against teams not named Florida (like State they lost in the regular season to the eventual champion). Florida was 35-5. This was a very Kenpom final, as the teams were 2nd and 4th.
- 2005: Florida-UCLA. Florida was a three seed but finished the year #1 in Kenpom after their crushing tourney run. They ended up 33-6. UCLA was a two seed; they finished third.
- 2004: UNC-Illinois. Two dominant outfits, one seeds who finished 1-2 in Kenpom.
- 2003: Syracuse-Kansas. Kansas was a two seed that finished the year first in Kenpom. Champ Syracuse was a three that finished 7th. Their seeding was a little weird: they only lost five games before the tourney and had a couple of good nonconference wins to go with a very tough Big East schedule. It seems like they got dropped unfairly because they lost in their conference tourney.
- 2002: Maryland-Indiana. Kenpom ceases. Maryland was 32-4 and 15-1 in the ACC; Indiana was probably the most meh championship game participant in the last decade other than this year's duo, a 25-12 team that played a 12, a 13, Duke, and a 10 to reach the Final Four.
- 2001: Duke-Arizona. One-seed Duke ended up 35-4; Arizona was a two that beat one seeds consecutively to reach the final.
In the last decade three teams who shouldn't have been there reached the championship game, and one lost by 12 to a very deserving champion. The system has worked—found a more satisfying conclusion to the season than just having a poll—90% of the time over the past ten years. The BCS's strike rate… not so much.
Teams like Butler (last year), 2005 Florida, and 2003 Kansas who finished the year at or near the top of performance-based* computer rankings were given the opportunity to prove they were worthy of a title game appearance and did so; in football they'd have been shuffled off to some dork's personal fiefdom of waste and corruption. Fundamentally, the NCAA tournament works. It's not a system that makes sense for college football but it's the farthest thing from a failed playoff system in American sports.
*[I like Get the Picture a lot, FWIW, I just disagree with him wholly on playoffs. I poke because I respect. Disclaimers uber alles.]
**[As opposed to result-based. Margin of victory-ignorant systems like RPI and the BCS computers only consider results, not scores.]