The real reason playoffs would ruin college football

Submitted by MichIOE01 on December 10th, 2008 at 10:15 AM

Ok, to start out, maybe ruin is too strong of a word, but college football would not be the same if we had playoffs. I know most of you will probably disagree with me, and that’s fine.

I’ll skip the obvious arguments that have been rehashed over and over (the regular season is a de facto playoff, the money from bowls, etc.) The real reason I don’t want to see a playoff is that it would take away what makes college football unique: chaos, controversy, endless debate.

Let me say that college football is, by far, my favorite sport. Especially Michigan football. Nothing else comes close. NFL? I don’t care. Outside the Super Bowl (is the NFL going to sue me for using its proper name?), there are no “must see” games, especially in the regular season. Pats-Colts? (of recent years, not necessarily this year) They’ll meet again in the playoffs, so I can miss the game. Basketball? Never been a huge fan. When Michigan was good, I watched, but never had the passion for it that I had for football. Hockey? Getting close, wish more Michigan hockey games were televised. NHL doesn’t matter at all until the playoffs, then it’s a crap shoot of whoever is hot.

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in believing that college football has the most passionate fans of any sport. And that’s why we shouldn’t have playoffs. Sure, the BCS causes controversy, but it’s that controversy that fans the flames of fans passion:

It’s the endless debate of which team deserves it more.
It’s that the stakes are so high, and the system is so subjective.
It’s that everything matters: It’s not just your record; it’s who you lost to and when you lost.
It’s that upsets matter. USC losing to Oregon State wouldn’t have mattered if there were a playoff, USC would have still made the playoff. But they lost, so it changes everything.
It’s the insanity of last year when top ranked team after top ranked team lost.
It’s the debate between co-champions. Michigan-Nebraska in 97-98? Yeah, it would have been great for them to play each other and decide it all, but if they did, we wouldn’t still be talking about and passionate about it now. Auburn in 04-05? They can still complain about being screwed. If there was a playoff, who would still be talking about that year?
It’s that columnists would be out of jobs (not that that would necessarily be a bad thing). If there was a playoff, what would they write about? What do they write about now? When in doubt, write about how the BCS sucks.
Yeah, even with a playoff there would still be some controversy about teams that missed the playoffs, but there’s much less passion when arguing about who’s #8 (or 4 or 16 or whatever depending on the playoff format).
It’s the analysis to the nth degree. Strength of schedule, style points, who’s playing the hottest right now, and on and on.
It’s the “what ifs?” What if Michigan had played Nebraska in 97-98? What if it had been Auburn-USC in 04-05? What if it had been Auburn-Oklahoma in 04-05? What if Texas had been in the Big 12 championship game this year?

Controversy, debates, arguments, unanswered (and un-answerable) questions, upsets that truly affect the big picture. These are the things that make college football the greatest sport out there. All that goes away (or is seriously diminished) with playoffs. All the mystique, all the debate – gone. There would be no questions left. There would be no debating events from 3, 5, even 10 years ago. Everybody wants a playoff so that everything ends up settled, nice and neat. And a good playoff system would do just that. But then college football is just NFL jr.

Let’s not fix the “flaw” that sets college football apart. Otherwise it’ll just blend in to the sports background.



December 10th, 2008 at 10:27 AM ^

You say that upsets matter and point to USC and Oregon State, but obviously Florida losing to Mississippi at home didn't matter.

Bottom line is that having a playoff wouldn't cheapen the regular season like basketball's regular season because the standard to make the playoffs would be pretty high, even if it was as large as a 16 team playoff. Yes, losing one game wouldn't kill the season, but then again, you wouldn't have teams like USC, Texas, Penn State, Texas Tech and Alabama, all of which have some argument as to why they are as qualified as the teams that are there.

The answer is to find a way that would still allow for the cash-cow bowl system to co-exist. All bowl games but one are essentially meaningless exhibitions anyway so I don't see how this can't be achieved.


December 10th, 2008 at 10:31 AM ^

But I disagree. Tell the Texas players that debate is what makes the sport great. Or the Penn State players, or the USC players. Or the '04 Auburn players. I bet they all love the debate about whether they deserved a shot at the title.

IMO, one of the biggest reasons that we should move to a playoff is that coaches and players are quickly becoming unanimous about what they want to do--and they want to settle it on the field.


December 10th, 2008 at 10:43 AM ^

LJ nailed it..I love how the kids that put all the work on are never heard on the subject. As a competitor they want a chance to prove themselves..that is why they work out all year and go thru hell not to play Eastern Michigan they want to play aginst the best and see what happens, but these idiots who know nothing about football protect it. It's not the coaches or AD's protecting this stupid system it's presidents and commissioners many of which have never even played football or care.

The argument about the season is lame...for every 1 or 2 games that could possibly be rendered less meaningful..there would be many more games rendered more meaningful because teams would have a shot as opposed to someone like Ohio St. who was playing out the string the minute they lost to USC. As many have pointed out the prospect of traveling several weeks is unrealistic so with Brian's system of byes and home field advantage it would be hard to imagine too many scenarios where a regular season game's importance would be jeapordized.

chitownblue (not verified)

December 10th, 2008 at 10:46 AM ^

The argument, essentially, is "If the method of selecting a champion made sense, we wouldn't get to bitch up a storm about it, which would make it less fun." I disagree.

UofM Snowboarder

December 10th, 2008 at 11:17 AM ^

The method DOES make sense. Just because it doesn't 'remove all ambiguity' (which a playoff wouldn't do either) doesn't mean it doesn't make sense.

At some point, unless you want to do a 119 team playoff, you have to pick and chose schools. You are retarded if you think that you'll be able to design a playoff system that won't have teams bitching about who makes it in. Bitching is a part of sports, and unavoidable.

Now, with that knowledge, we have two options, maintain the bowl traditions of the last 100+ years, or destroy them, so ESPN can make more money, knowing full well, that it will not solve any of the bitching problems.


December 10th, 2008 at 11:28 AM ^

Sure, there will always be complaining that team X deserved to make the playoff, but I think we can all agree that the complaint is much less valid when coming from the number 9 team than it is coming from the number 3 team that is virtually indistinguishable from the top 2 teams. In the majority of seasons, team #9 that is complaining has some serious flaws on the resume and is definitely in a different league than the top 5 or so teams.


December 10th, 2008 at 12:45 PM ^

I think the number of teams complaining would increase under a playoff. Using the current system (which I am not an advocate of), there are generally only one or two teams in any given year that are on the outside looking in (e.g., Auburn 2004, undefeated mid-major).

In an eight team playoff, the bubble would likely get much larger. This year, for example, could have Boise St., OSU, TCU and Cincy all complaining that they should be the eighth team instead of Utah. That's not to say the arguments would be valid, but that's now 4 teams complaining. In 2006, there could have been as many as 8 or 9 teams vying for the 8th spot.

Saying that a complaint from a #9 team is less valid than from a #3 team isn't a valid comparison. They are vying for two very different things (i.e., the #2 spot vs. the #8 spot). I'm sure most would agree that there is a vast difference between the #2 team and the #8 team, but who's to say that the #9 team is decidedly inferior to the #8 team whereas the #3 team is roughly equal to to better than the #2 team? The #9 team may have significant flaws vis-a-vis the #3 team or the top 5 teams, but not so much when compared to the #8 team.


December 10th, 2008 at 8:31 PM ^

More teams complaining? Sure. But the injustice done by leaving out a possibly deserving bubble team is much less when you're leaving out the 8th best team than when you're leaving out the 2nd best team.

It might be an injustice to leave Boise State, Ohio State, TCU or Cincinnati out of an 8-team playoff, but I can live with it. It's even less of an injustice to leave BYU, Pitt and Sparty out of a 16-team playoff.


December 10th, 2008 at 10:52 AM ^

To your point Callahan, the answer IS to find a way for the cash cows to co-exist with some type of playoff format. I think this is best achieved (i would argue not the best method is the BCS, but I am a realist and can accept some level of compromise with the U presidents and ADs to make this happen) by using the BCS bowls with conference tie-ins, this puts 8 teams in the mix, and then running the BCS numbers again after the bowls and having one more game (plus 1). There will still be controversy that MichIOE01 loves with CFB, but it will be a better alternative.

To your meaningless exhibition comment....tell that to the Wolverine teams when they played Florida last year in the Citrus Bowl, or Alabama in the Orange Bowl, or Texas in the Rose Bowl..... meaningless, I think not. I saw them all in person and there was a helluva lot of passion in those stadiums. The europhia and chest thumping of all Michigan players and fans when they won and the agony of what could have been when that football split between Shazor's arms on the Texas field goal. Some of the best games in Michigan history.

Glen Masons Hot Wife

December 10th, 2008 at 11:29 AM ^

I agree with the post's part about every game counting. Everything is on the line every single week. If they had a playoff, the regular season wouldn't be quite as significant.

I also get the feeling, playoff or bcs, it's still going to be the greatest sport on earth.


December 10th, 2008 at 12:04 PM ^

With an 8-team playoff, you would still be talking about teams needing to have no more than one loss to guarantee a spot. Even that is no guarantee. Texas Tech would be sitting on about an 8 seed right now with only one loss and that is IF three teams from the same conference are allowed in. And most years if you lose two games you are leaving it up to computers and voters as to whether or not you will get in. All of the games still carry a ton of weight.

Comparing this to an NFL regular season game where two teams are playing for the difference between going 12-4 or 11-5 doesn't really make sense.


December 10th, 2008 at 11:30 AM ^

I agree that complaining about being "shafted" or who is truly the best team may be fun for the fans, but the players and coaches from Auburn, UM, Georgia, etc. undoubtedly wished they could have settled the matter on the field. And if an NCAA playoff of 16 or 32 teams was possible, then maybe it would work in crowning at least a more legitimate champion. That said, I've yet to see a viable plan for making that happen, and so I am dubious about any of the other proposed solutions (an 8 team playoff, +1, etc.) really fixing the problem. I will say, though, that I could do without the 2+ months of bitching and politicking about who should play and who shouldn't.


December 10th, 2008 at 12:10 PM ^

"Controversy, debates, arguments, unanswered (and un-answerable) questions, upsets that truly affect the big picture. These are the things that make college football the greatest sport out there."

These are not the things that make college football the greatest sport. These are the things that make me hate diving, gymnastics, figure skating, and boxing when it goes to a decision. The things that you believe make college football great do nothing for me but raise my blood pressure.

The BCS provides us with the greatest injustice in sports on an annual basis and you are grateful for this. I don't get it.


December 10th, 2008 at 1:11 PM ^

Different people like different things. Some demand certain, definitive results. Others, like myself, can live with and even enjoy the debates, arguments, unanswered and unanswerable questions. I didn’t need to know whether LSU was better than OSU last year. Or Florida-OSU before that. Quite frankly, those weren’t even very good games, IMO.

I don’t even need to know whether Michigan was better than Nebraska. It doesn’t lessen my life or that team’s achievements in any way simply because the two teams didn’t play or that someone will disagree with my opinion that Michigan was the better team that year. I still thought the Rose Bowl was a good game that year. Last year’s bowl game was also a good game, the 2004 Rose Bowl was a good game and the game against Wisky this year was a good game.

Good games will occur every year in the regular season and in the bowls. There might be more intriguing matchups, but that will always be the case, just as the particular matchups will always be debatable. And whether the game will actually be good will never be guaranteed no matter what the matchups are.

That’s not to say you or anyone else is wrong for wanting a champion declared. Some people are simply willing to live with the uncertainty and actually take some enjoyment out of it. I'm okay with that. If the playoff was structured right, I’d be okay with that as well.

But yes, gymnastics and figure skating scoring sucks.


December 10th, 2008 at 2:48 PM ^

The other thing I want is more good football games. Lining up 8 or more teams for a playoff right now would produce more great football games than the BCS any way you cut it. Imagine what the second round games and championship would look like? I don't understand why any college football fan would not want to see those games played.

We're just leaving the biggest potential match ups between teams playing their best football at the end of the season on the table. In our lifetimes, we are only going to get to see the very best of our Michigan teams play so many games against the very best teams that other OOC programs produce. I can understand people being over Michigan-Nebraska '97 and saying it doesn't bother them anymore. But if you could go back in time and replay that season and you were given the choice to play that game or not, you would, no? Of course.

For me, finding a champ and more big match ups at the end of the season are in a very close running. They're like reasons 1a and 1b.


December 10th, 2008 at 2:56 PM ^

"I don't understand why any college football fan would not want to see those games played."


Look, all the fluffy extra stuff in your football game sandwich is great. The bands are a good dressing. The fan bases are like good bacon. The heart warming specialness of it all is a nice bread.

But the fucking football game is the meat, and without the meat, we've just got some bread and soggy shit.

How, in the world, can you be against the best teams play each other? Does it make the regular season "mean less"? I guess, maybe. But it doesn't change that those games will be great! The actual football, with football players, on the football field, will be the same, and who cares if Suzy Housewife doesn't get excited about it?


December 10th, 2008 at 3:28 PM ^

I agree that there are intriguing matchups that neither the BCS nor the previous Bowl system produced, whereas a playoff would provide us with those games. I just don’t think that necessarily makes for great games. The potential is there, but we’ve all seen many intriguing matchups between top teams that failed to produce, whether in college football or any other sport. Conversely, there’s been many matchups that weren’t very intriguing initially, but that provided some really great football.

Since we don’t have a playoff in college, I can only think of other sports (mostly professional) that have playoffs. Some of those matchups produced great games, others didn’t. Same thing with the BCS or Bowl system. Some of the games were great, others weren’t. I don’t have numbers to present, but there didn’t seem to be that much of a difference between the number of great games I’ve seen in a playoff system versus the BCS or Bowl system.

As for Nebraska-Michigan ’97, I’ll agree that I would have liked to have seen that game. But even then, I didn’t think the lack of that game lessened anything. Perhaps in the eyes of others (mostly non-Michigan fans) it did, but their opinion didn’t matter to me then and doesn’t matter to me now.

In any case, I don’t want you to think that I’m anti-playoff. I prefer either the old pre-1998 Bowl system or a playoff to the current BCS. I’ll even agree that a playoff is a better system for determining a champion. But as I said before, knowing whether LSU was better than OSU, whether Florida was better than OSU, or whether Michigan was better than Nebraska isn’t that important to me.


December 10th, 2008 at 12:28 PM ^

to see that this argument is deeply flawed. The excitement of the buildup to games like Alabama at Texas and Penn State at USC, then USC at Florida and a rematch of the Texas/Oklahoma game are worth ten years of chaos, contreversy and the actual BCS games that they would hopefully replace.

The current system is absurd. The bowl situation is totally out of control. Why does the Meineke Car Care Bowl matter? Hell, even the Orange Bowl this year will only be followed closely by fans of two small colleges.

Keep the bowls, but build in a tight playoff system involving highly sensible home field advantage.


December 10th, 2008 at 12:29 PM ^

What You Said:

"It’s the “what ifs?” What if Michigan had played Nebraska in 97-98? What if it had been Auburn-USC in 04-05? What if it had been Auburn-Oklahoma in 04-05? What if Texas had been in the Big 12 championship game this year?"

What I Heard:

"I'd rather argue with other football nerds about hypothetical games than actually get to see these awesome teams play each other."

If we had a playoff, we could have actually seen Auburn-USC play. I don't really care about determining the "ultimate" champion or anything - I just want to see good football teams play. In our current system, we get 4 super meaningful non-conference games against shit opponents, a conference season featuring half shitty teams, and, if you are a lucky, a competitive match-up in the bowl game.

I want football games. Between good football teams. Not bar-stool debate.


December 10th, 2008 at 1:12 PM ^

I think a playoff would be great, but only if the 1st/2nd round games are home games for the higher seeds, I really don't like the idea of using the current bowls as part of the playoff and extending the season into mid-January.

When I was in school the bowl games were some of the greatest road trips and fun times I've ever had. There's no way I could have afforded to go to the Rose Bowl one week, another place the next week and finally a third game the week after that. Call it nostalgic/naive/stupid or whatever you will, but I prefer the bowl game atmosphere filled with fans/students of the competing teams as opposed to the Super Bowl atmosphere of mostly indifferent fans who just want to be able to say they were at the Super Bowl.

Brewers Yost

December 10th, 2008 at 4:48 PM ^

If you had to be a conference champ to earn the automatic bid to the playoff then the Oregon State USC game still would have mattered. Oregon State had a chance to win the PAC-10 this year; in that event USC would have to hope to beat out Texas to get in to the playoff*.

*Based on an 8 team playoff where 6 BCS conference champs get autobids (I have outlined this before). The other 2 spots go to an at large. This year would be Utah and Texas. However, in this system there would be debate about letting in Alabama or USC or Texas Tech over Texas, which might change the current rankings.