A whole lot of people get pretty worked up about whether college football should have a playoff. So, it’s good the debate doesn’t carry the stakes of U.S. foreign or financial policy. It should be fun. Hence, please do not take up any pitchforks with this exceedingly courageous statement: a playoff is a bad idea.
Just about everyone feels that the current system, where both computers and humans determine which two teams compete for the national title, is a joke and the matter should be settled on the field. If Wall Street occupiers were instead focused on the college gridiron, they'd say a powerful 1% is running roughshod over the rest of them by denying a cherished playoff.
Playoff backers have some new grist with an emerging paradox. College presidents are conceding football is driven by money as they switch conferences to get more of it. So then, why would they continue to put the kibosh on a playoff that would only bring them more dough?
Crazily enough, their greed is limited.
With Fox now a significant player in college football (weekly games on FX and rights to the Big Ten championship game) and Comcast maybe wanting to muscle in further, both are possible bidders should a playoff be implemented. At the very least, they could get the leading candidate, ESPN, to pay a lot more.
The lucre for colleges might top some countries' GDP. It just might be enough to afford a studio apartment in Brooklyn, maybe a small bungalow in the Catskills, too.
While it's hardly a new argument, it is the right one: why mess with a good thing? There is simply no perfect playoff proposal, so keep the status quo.
Frankly, playoff proponents should realize there is a virtual playoff now: the regular season. This one lasts three months, with playoff-style conference championship games following.
For the top teams now, every game carries win-or-bust stakes. Last Saturday night, there were back-to-back examples: undefeated Wisconsin lost to Michigan State on a spectacular final play, and potent Oklahoma inexplicably got manhandled by Texas Tech.
Are both Wisconsin and OU eliminated from the national championship? Probably. They might still be able to climb back into contention, but they lost what should be considered crucial playoff games.
The two highest-ranked teams in the country, LSU and Alabama, will meet Nov. 5 on CBS (a gift for the network). Both know a loss could eliminate them from any trophy this season. Would the game be as riveting if both were assured a defeat could be easily overcome?
There is no regular season with excitement start to finish like college football. Some breaking news: the NBA is canceling weeks of games with its labor stoppage, has anyone noticed, does anyone care?
Network executives can't say so publicly and alienate the fans who want one, but they should be quietly rooting against a playoff. It would bring the risk of ratings declining in the regular season.
There is a credible argument to be made that wouldn't be the case since a playoff would be a tournament with few teams, but why would CBS or FX want to take the chance?
ESPN, in particular, should be rooting against one beyond ratings issues. While it will cost the network a fortune in a few years to keep rights for the current BCS games, ramp that up to a mint if it wants playoff rights.
One of the arguments for a playoff is teams from lower-profile conferences, notably Boise State, can go undefeated and have little chance of playing for a title. As new contracts are negotiated, efforts should be made to address that.
But there is no foolproof method. The maximum number of teams that could reasonably be part of a playoff would be eight. So, just like the NCAA basketball tournament, some teams -- arguably deserving ones -- will always get left out.
Arguments would move from should there be a playoff to why isn't the playoff working.
Life is not fair and it’s a good lesson for college kids to learn. And, if a team goes undefeated like Texas Christian last year and is denied a chance to win it all, then players will always be able to boast about how they easily would have blown out the champion.
That will make for great talk in sales pitches and otherwise as their careers progress. And, their grandkids will love to hear their bravado.
Maybe that’s worth as much as winning on the field.