Another year of the BCS system has passed again, stumbling to an unsatisfying end. The horrendous game played by LSU and Alabama (the second abortion not the first) can hardly be blamed on the lack of a playoff system but one is left wondering what manner of games we might have seen if the teams were pitted against other schools. Using an 8-team playoff format with the final pre-bowl BCS rankings, we would have seen these games:
This would have produced at least one contest that already had taken place: Stanford-Oregon, in which Oregon won handily 53-30. Assuming LSU would make quick work of Kansas State (who fell to Arkansas 29-16 in the Cotton Bowl, a team LSU had beaten earlier in the season), the Tigers and Ducks would meet in a repeat of the season opener LSU took 40-27 and was played in a less-than-even “neutral” location due to the relative proximities of Baton Rouge and Salem to Dallas. So, for all the hand-wringing over a rematch game, that might have occurred multiple times in an eight team playoff.
This isn’t to say that such a playoff isn’t warranted as much as a BCS produced replay in and of itself isn’t a sufficient argument for one. Five games with championship implications after the regular season can be said to be better than one meaningful game that takes place after a month-plus hiatus for both teams and when non-affiliated fans forgot that this college football business was still trudging along. Why the bowl system, for all its harangues about tradition, has seen fit to fuck the historical schedule of an orgy of New Year’s Day bowls for a splattering of pomp and circumstance contests punctuated by an anticlimax during early grey days of another dismal January when resolutions’ luster has already jumped the shark, is a question only the hypocrites don’t fully appreciate. Speaking of tradition, having not myself, nor having anyone in my immediate family, attend a university known for football is probably why the tradition aspect is lost on me. The universities in closest distance to my childhood home have fielded mostly mediocre teams, albeit with a memorable instance of a number 1 ranking lasting less than a fortnight. While I enjoy it when this team succeeds, I hardly call myself a fan of any particular school, or even conference. I find the trumped up traditions of any conference annoying, though it’s always fascinating to see institutions of higher learning administer themselves a rimjob by naming divisions “Legends” and “Der Furhers”. My focus is then mainly on watching compelling football games—which does not include, ex ante at least, virtually any bowl game outside the national championship—and is why I find a playoff scenario so enticing: teams that wouldn’t normally face-off playing each other for a shot at the national title rather than the Chick-Fil-A trophy.
(Please don’t ban me Chick-Fil-A. I need you so much. IN ME.)
There is always the old bromide that college football has the most compelling regular season because “every game counts”. A playoff system can account for this to some extent; for instance it could mandate that the first round of games be played at the higher seed’s home field (an option suggested by Sports Illustrated years ago). The Wall Street Journal’s Darren Everson referring to college football’s regular season as “unique” doesn’t tell us much other than the system is singular in its idiocy. Indeed college football’s regular season, now with the BCS rankings in place, is in fact a convoluted playoff system in which major conferences are favored by the humans and algorithms that eventually spit out two top teams from the hash. Its uniqueness lies in its obvious arbitrary nature and, while even an eight team playoff would be subject to questions surrounding which teams were and were not included, distinguishes itself by conspicuously avoiding highly ranked teams from different conferences face off from one another in games bearing on the national championship.
Everson addresses the eight-team playoff in a fictitious universe that intends to poke fun at this supposed alternate system of do-overs by demonstrating how devoid of meaning Iowa State’s upset of Oklahoma State, Oregon’s loss by USC, Boise State’s loss to TCU would be in a world of playoffs. This excludes from the argument that in the BCS system, ALABAMA GOT A FUCKING DO-OVER, which was becoming apparent at the time the article was written. More than that, LSU was disadvantaged in victory by having to play another game (the SEC championship) in which it could have lost again, possibly excluding it from BCS contention or, even in a win, could have suffered major injury to key players. Everson doesn’t seem to have a problem with this bonus ball as it was, to rearrange his phrase, without question the best possible match-up based on a qualitative judgment, which, as far as I can gather, is like saying “it is without question that this is in my mind the best possible match-up”. Peter King would be proud. I think. Then again aren’t we all just making subjective statements of preference here? (see two paragraphs about on my lack of conference allegiance)
FUCK IT ALL.
My point is here if you’re going to make a snide commentary about the ludicrous nature of the do-over playoff clusterfuck, don’t promptly praise a do-over championship two weeks later. And pointing to the fact that Alabama took advantage of its second chance is a fantastic way to miss the fucking point.
Going for broke, Everson also assumes that all playoff games will be at bowl game locations (which isn’t a terrible assumption given the primacy of the bowl system but contradicts some playoff suggestions) and that many fan bases wouldn’t sell out early games out of fear they wouldn’t have money to travel to later games. This is after the sell-out in Dallas (a good seven hours away from Baton Rouge) in LSU’s season opener. If they can sell that out, why couldn’t—oh fuck it.
Then again this is the person who earlier in the fall wrote another satirical column in which begins:
The initial Bowl Championship Series standings came out Sunday, and the evil lords of college football are at it again. Their polls, their computers and their fear of Kellen Moore are once again disenfranchising undefeated teams across the country. Where does one even begin outlining the myriad outrages?
SARCASM. I HAS IT. Keep in mind this is before many teams were into the heart of their schedules. Witness:
Kansas State Wildcats (6-0, No. 11 BCS): The Big 12 has a true round-robin schedule—that is, all 10 conference teams play each other—so, in theory, Kansas State has its chance to upset conference mates Oklahoma and Oklahoma State and move up. But still: 11th? How are the undefeated Wildcats supposed to feel good about themselves with such an insulting ranking? If the Sooners or Cowboys drub K-State like they have in recent years, that’s what I’m blaming it on. (Not the 114th-ranked passing game.)
How can you get an insulting ranking before playing the strongest teams on your own schedule? Who would ever make this argument? I suppose this is meant to be a corollary to small conference teams (e.g. Houston this year) never being able to play a top tier team, going undefeated (not so much Houston) and then complaining about a lack of respect but in K-State’s case they are going to play top tier teams. This lack of respect is moot by the time the BCS rankings decide the national championship contestants. Everson more or less admits this in the same paragraph. You can’t poke fun at a situation or team if your trenchant observation makes no sense. Everson basically says, “well if K-State runs the table, they deserve to have a national championship shot but now they might feel some disrespect even though they likely don’t care and…I have no comment”. As far as I can tell, he wrote this column to take the opportunity to disparage any team not in the SEC and used the BCS as cover. This paragraph in particular makes sense only if used as toilet paper. For your mind because the paragraph itself is in your mind–
Wait, hang on, the hell is–
Hmm. Hopefully that paint’s non-allergenic. She could get a nasty rash.
Where was I, oh–
Having finished trolling Darren Everson, who is probably a good and decent man that gives substantial amounts to charity while I shop for a new pair of boots so the poor and downtrodden don’t get my feet dirty when I trod on their backs, other daring scenarios for a true playoff system, separated cleanly from the regular season as opposed to the +1 circle jerk we knock one out in presently, could include either of the following:
Although the eight team playoff with the first round played at the higher seed’s home field is likely the best, or at least the most feasible, format, a sixteen team playoff (or something very close) is used by other college divisions and lends us an extra week of football—much like how traditional bowl systems and Barney’s film had heart, playoff systems have more football and “Football in the Groin” had a football in the groin. Any more than this and the playoffs become almost another season which would only serve to fuel traditionalist criticisms of regular season games losing gravitas and might perhaps create too much of a workload for supposedly amateur athletes.
Along the same lines a 12-team format (so it would include all the top ten teams) would mirror the NFL’s practice of giving the top four teams byes, thus making their reward considerably higher:
Finally, a more ambitious scenario would move further in the direction of the current trend of mega-conferences that have little to do geographic location or even traditional rivalries, but more with money in the form of TV contracts and potential bowl appearances. Starting from the old conferences prior to the shifts of Colorado to the Pac-10 and Nebraska to the Big Ten (but keeping Utah in now the Pac-11), the six primary BCS conferences (Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10, Big East, ACC and SEC) would absorb the remaining 54 FBS teams to form the major conferences. Below is a possible resulting realignment. Although the conferences aren’t symmetrical in terms of number of teams, conferences could be split into two divisions (most already are) and games could be played so that every team plays 10 games entirely within their own conference mainly against teams from their own division. Exceptions would include those conferences with 8 teams in each division (would have to play 2 teams from the other division). For those with an uneven number of teams between divisions, the 8/9 conferences would have the 8 division play one team from the 9 while replaying one team from the 8 (or possibly going out of conference) with the similar rules for the 9/10:
The winners of each division would then play a conference championship game (possibly all in one weekend given all teams play the same number of games). Conference winners would then be placed into a Champions League consisting of six teams that would all play one another one time. The team with the best record would win. In the event of a tie record, the head to head match-up would determine the winner. For any one team, the maximum number of games is sixteen, two or three more than many teams played this year, with most ranked teams between 12-13 regular season games and a bowl game.
Bold, novel and disastrous. Even if the six conferences could be created (highly unlikely given the money at stake in television contracts), it would be even less likely that teams would agree to a round robin that would likely create a number of throwaway games, not to mention what the remaining college teams would do in the meantime (bowls are always a possibility—not like they’d be of lower worth than they already are). Moreover, with six teams and five games apiece, this would leave an uneven number of home-away games, which could be solved with neutral site games, although there isn’t an obvious way in which this would be decided. This is the hardest to conceive of not only because of the unorthodox schedule but also the gargantuan realignment that would have to take place. However, the primary, and possibly sole, compelling aspect of this design is that rankings would not play a role at all in determining either playoff entrants or a national champion. It would all be decided in conference and champions league play. This wouldn’t necessarily completely relieve complaining as many might argue that one conference (or even division—as was often the case in the Big 12 or SEC) was stacked with several teams that cannibalized each other while weaker divisions were able to send teams to the Champions League. However, the counterargument would follow that this assertion would be confirmed by dominance in the Champions League by the team from the power conference.
The BCS has driven me to madness, my babies.
As a postscript, don’t weep for your loss, Boise State, the world will always have Blount-Hout 2009: