Why A College Football Playoff Was Necessary

NOTE: This was written during the BCS era. It is only to show the reasons why the BCS was not the best system and why a playoff is. Now that we have a playoff this isn’t super relevant but remains for nostalgia’s sake to remind us of how bad the BCS was.

It cannot possibly be any more obvious how necessary it is to adopt a playoff for college football. Deciding a champion any other way is simply embarrassing to the sport. If the BCS is going to give us great bowl game matchups, then great, keep it up. But don’t dare to call one of them a national championship. The exclusive club of 65 or so teams that are permitted to play in the national championship probably love the system, but what about the other half of the teams in college football? Even if they win all their games, they’re still not invited to play in the championship. Doesn’t sound very fair to me.

I would like to go point by point over the common arguments against adopting a playoff system in college football. Before I start though, I would like to point out that every other level of college football has implemented a sixteen-team playoff to determine their champion. So for those who say it just can’t work, I beg to differ- it already works, and it works well…at every other level of the sport.

Myth 1: The regular season is already a playoff.

Truth: First of all, let’s get one thing straight. The definition of a tournament is “a sporting competition in which contestants play a series of games to decide the winner.” Ok, I can live with that, the regular season is a series of games. The only definition of a playoff that doesn’t require it to be after the regular season is “any final competition to determine a championship.” I say that because playoffs and tournaments come in different versions. Some sports use best of seven series to determine the better team. Some use single loss elimination models. Since college basketball and the NFL use single elimination, and since they are the most relevant to college football, we will assume that people referring to the regular season as a playoff mean the single elimination model.

So I ask, would Utah or Auburn in 2004 consider the regular season a playoff? Would Boise State in 2006 have considered the regular season a playoff, or Hawaii in 2007, or Utah and Boise State in 2008? My point is that if the regular season is a playoff, how can teams play the whole season without a loss and watch teams that did lose play for the national title? The regular season is a playoff between 65 or so teams, that’s all.

Let’s look at 2008 “playoff” then, shall we? At the end of the playoff, you had Alabama, Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, USC, Texas Tech and Penn State all with only one loss. What kind of fair playoff system has seven teams all perform equally and yet doesn’t allow them equal access to the national championship? That’s of course not even mentioning that both Utah and Boise State performed better than them all, not even losing any of their “playoff” games. So don’t call the regular season a playoff, it’s downright ridiculous.

Myth 2: The season would lose it’s meaning and go for too long with a playoff.

Truth: What meaning does a 5-6 Alabama and 6-5 Auburn game have besides the rivalry element? None. What meaning does an 11-0 Alabama and an 11-0 Auburn game have? Well, the winner gets to play for the conference championship and likely gets a spot in the national championship. That is pretty meaningful. Now assume there was a playoff system in place. Now what does it mean? Well, winner can likely secure a No. 1 seed and home field advantage in the tournament. Loser might go from a No. 1 seed to possibly No. 10. That means no home field advantage. Has the game lost meaning at all?

As far as the season going too long, let’s look at how long it currently is. The regular season and conference championships all wrap up the first weekend of December. The bowl games go until the second weekend of January. More on this later, but give teams one bye week, have them start the last weekend of August, and you can have a playoff with all your bowl games in December, with the championship game still being played on the same day. No playoffs would go on in the middle of December so as to accommodate finals. Bowl games would still be played at their normal times, and since on one seems to have a problem with that now, they won’t in the new system either.

And this garbage about too many games for the students holds no sway. The most games any team can currently play is 14. That would become 17, and for only two teams. Keep in mind, a playoff doesn’t extend everyone’s schedule, just those involved. And since college football is just a training camp for the NFL, it’s not a bad thing that they get used to playing somewhere in the vicinity of 16 games in a season.

Myth 3: The bowl games and all tradition would be lost in a playoff system.

Truth: You can have teams participate in a playoff and keep all the bowl games exactly as they are. Why would that have to change? The first round of the playoff goes the weekend after Army-Navy in December. The next two weeks can be your traditional bowl games. Then the semi-finals and championship game happen after they conclude. Why would we have to scrap the bowl games? In college basketball, teams that don’t get into the Big Dance can get into the NIT or the CBI tournaments. It’s not like the one big playoff is the only postseason that can happen. Relax, those precious Eagle Bank and Meineke Car Care bowl games can stay in tact.

Myth 4: People would lose interest in the regular season and fan attendance and viewership would go down.

Truth: People often cite the much larger audiences in playoff games as proof that people would no longer be concerned with the regular season. Quite the opposite would happen. With a meaningful postseason, the regular season would actually mean something. Say your team loses its first two games. What, if anything, could they possibly be playing for now? They can’t play for the national championship, so they best they can hope for is a meaningless bowl game where the winner gets nothing more than the loser except bragging rights. Yet, when that 0-2 starts off weak, do fans stay away? Do they lost interest in the season? No, they still watch. Whether your team is playing for a national title hope, a playoff berth or just trying to avoid a losing season, stadiums fill up and people watch on TV.

Myth 5: The college game would get professionalized and commercialized.

Truth: I’m sorry, but isn’t the driving force behind the BCS money? Would any coach, athletic director, school president or conference commissioner say no to more money? Of course a playoff would bring in more revenue. The bowl games still happen, so the current revenue stream is untouched. The only difference is more postseason games happen with high profile teams. People will attend those games, viewers will watch on TV, and corporate sponsors will flock. Yes, much more money is to be made in a playoff system, how is that a bad thing? The only ones who don’t benefit are the top-tier major conferences. They make all the money right now. Under a playoff, the revenues would potentially be more evenly distributed. Not completely evenly, just more evenly.

There’s probably plenty of other complaints about a playoff, but those are the big ones. I’d like to leave you with an excellent quote before moving on to the details of the playoff proposal:

“Those who impede the process of eliminating unfairness are those who benefit from its existence.”