And so it begins again.
has the honor (as best I know) of being the first columnist of the current college football season to raise the cry for a playoff. With the ACC's raid of the no longer so Big East, Barnes says we finally have an opportunity to make a playoff work.
The five big conference winners would get automatic berths: Big Ten (which has 11 teams), Southeastern Conference (12), Big 12, PAC 10, and the ACC (12). The other three would be wild cards. Football independents like Notre Dame would thus be able to get into the playoffs. Strong teams that didn't win their conference championship game would still have a chance to compete for the national title. In fact, one conference might have three or even four teams in the playoffs.
While the ACC expansion does make construction of an eight-team playoff a bit easier, it is not the "missing link in the creation of postseason playoffs" as Barnes would have you believe. I therefore give you:
The Indisputable Reasons Why College Football Should Never Have a Playoff
Where Will it be Played?
- The most basic question that no one backing playoffs, in my opinion, has ever satisfactorily answered is where these games will be played. An eight-team playoff requires 3 rounds. Where are the preliminary rounds going to be played? One theory thrown around is to make the non-championship major bowls (rotating like the BCS does) host the 6 prelim games. Unfortunately, this simply won't draw fans. I was at the Florida-Miami Sugar Bowl a couple of years ago and it was nowhere near a sellout despite it being the final game of the season for 2 teams from a nearby state. Do you really think University of Washington fans are going to travel to, say, Miami for a first round game the weekend before Christmas? And please don’t compare it to the NCAA tournament – in that case 4 teams have to fill up a stadium 1/5th the size through significantly lower-priced seats.
OK, so what about playing them at the higher ranked team's home stadium? Won't that solve the problem of attendance? Maybe, but there are a couple of problems this plan, not the least of which is that Southern schools would never agree to it. You want to talk about a home field advantage, how about Florida State playing in South Bend not on November 1st like this year but at the end of December? Have you been to South Bend in December? Not fun. Bowden would never put his team in that position - and why should he? SEC, ACC, and other Southern teams are, generally speaking, built for speed, an advantage totally negated by a blizzard.
And the second problem with playing it at a host college? Money.
- The bowl season, as much as anything else, is about making money. Changing to a playoff, despite a potentially more lucrative TV deal, could have very negative, financial ramifications. If the prelims are played at neutral sites, as explained above, attendance would likely be lower than it is for that site's current bowl. To fill these seats, would the NCAA require participating teams to guarantee, say, 20,000 ticket purchases for each round
as current bowls do? Schools could never afford this.
Moreover, community and corporate involvement will be dramatically reduced. Locals would no longer be supporting "The Orange Bowl" but instead "The Quarterfinal Game." Not quite as good for community pride, is it?
So what if we play the games on one of the participant’s campus? Forgetting about the fact that many of the potential teams simply don’t have significantly large stadiums, it would destroy the highly lucrative first tier bowls. Not only would this cause howling from those cities, it would negate much of the financial advantage from a playoff.
Looking further, who would control ticket distribution for these games - the host team or the NCAA? If the host runs ticketing, not only does it reduce the game's revenue potential (lower ticket prices, guaranteed tickets for students), but also raises the question of profit distribution - I'm sure the NCAA and the visiting team aren't going to allow the host to keep all of the money. Therefore it is logical that the NCAA would collect all profits from these games and institute a guaranteed payoff to participating teams, much like what the BCS does today. But the difference would that the $13mm BCS teams get today is not from the NCAA but from the bowl committees. This is important because it is the bowls themselves that have the task of running the operation and take the lion’s share of the game’s fiduciary risk. Does the NCAA now assume the risk and responsibility involved with actually running these games? How would this work? The NCAA, I suppose, could subcontract operations to the locals who run the regular season games at that stadium. But in taking over operations and ticket distribution, many of the same problems would arise as do from neutral sites. Do you really think 20,000 Gainesville residents will travel to Madison, WI for a first round game in December? Of course not, which means that to attract fans the NCAA will have to attract a fan base similar to who would attend a regular season game. Thus ticket prices would have to be far lower than they are for a current first-tier bowl, further reducing any financial incentive for a playoff.
It Won't Stop the Bitching
- But what about all the good that will come from a playoff? Barnes says “No one would doubt that team's claim to the title. There would be no conflict in polls. There would be nothing for Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon to disagree about on ‘PTI.’”
Not a chance.
Look at the NCAA basketball tournament. Fans bitch about their team not getting the 65th
slot, and you don’t think we’re going to complain when our team doesn’t get one of three at large bids? And, if home field goes to the higher ranked school, imagine the fights over the fourth and fifth seeds, especially if that means the difference between playing in, say, Miami or Ann Arbor.
Will a playoff eliminate some of the post-season fighting? Sure – but we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking an eight-team playoff is some sort of meritocracy panacea.
- So what if we do solve all the problems above? What if they do find a way to solve the financial hurdles and the NCAA does convince Mark Richt to play in the snow? I say – so what? What is so bad about the current system? Yes, teams get screwed. The Irish beat Florida State in 1993, both teams finished with one loss, and yet the Noles got the national title. ND fans had a right to be pissed, and a playoff would have given them a chance to win the title. But so what? The arguing is fun. One of the things that makes college football so much fun is that, in the regular season unlike with basketball, every game matters. Why do we want to change that? If an eight-team playoff is a success, how long do you think it will take them to add one more round? Pretty soon, the regular season becomes meaningless.
Critics say the current system is broken. No way. The bowls are one of the true highlights of the sports year. The BCS has already taken away some of their glory - why do we want to eliminate them completely? So until someone can not only answer these objections, but also present a better affirmative case for a playoff than “Miami got screwed in 2000,” I say we keep the current, and fundamentally unbroken, bowl system.