Why I Think the Playoff Debate is Off-Track

Reading an article posted this afternoon by the Chicago Tribune's Greenstein, entiled "SEC swipes at Big Ten undermine spirit of compromise", I was bothered by the nature of the article. Not by Saban's comments or really any of the SEC's coaches comments; after all, they're acting in their own self-interest. If I was a SEC coach, the last thing I'd want to do is play Wisconsin at Camp Randall in late December.

No, what bothered me was that the SEC/Big12 and the Big Ten/Pac-12 are being portrayed as unwilling to compromise over who gets into the playoffs, among other things. (Which really isn't quite accurate - simply put, both parties are acting in their best interest.) The thing is, while fans will flock to support their home conference's view points while pointing out all the horrible flaws in the opponents views, or make derogatory remarks and cry "scoreboard" and what have you, we have to be cognizant of the fact that if either side "wins", we all lose.

Ignoring the fact that any and all unpleasantness will likely result in hurt feelings, grudges and future turmoil, I think we're losing track of what's really at stake here.

College football shouldn't be so complicated. It's an amateur sport, or at least it's supposed to be. For all intents and purposes, college football serves as our US equivalent to the European football (soccer) leagues. We have our local teams and we should get excited when those teams earn bragging rights over another region. (Find me a Texas fan who DOESN'T enjoy reminding Nebraska fans that they're 9-1 over Nebraska since 1996 and 10-4 all time.) We should be excited to debate who is the best team (other than the 1995 Cornhuskers, of course). That's our privilege as fans. It's our culture. That's what being a fan is all about - bragging about your team! (FIVE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS.)

Both the SEC and Big Ten have to know that if either was to disappear, the other's product would lose some of its shine. College football isn't exciting just because the SEC is front-loaded with LSU, Alabama and a third team to be decided each season. College football isn't exciting just because of the scrum that is the Big Ten or the bat-shit insanity of the Pac-12 (Lose to Washington State and beat USC? Sure!). College football is enjoyed for ALL those reasons. Who hasn't spent a full Saturday in the fall watching, starting their mornings with the Big East and the Big Ten and going to sleep on Sunday after a triple over-time Pac-12 or WAC game?

People can wax poetic about trying to inject some rationality into the post-season. But we're talking about a sport with such things as AIRBHG or the Purdue ACL problem. Where Kansas hires Charlie Weis. Where Les Miles' LSU Tigers can dominate the field in 2011 and lose on the 9th day of 2012, after winning the MNC in 2007 despite having two losses. Where Nebraska can dominate Michigan State but lose to Northwestern. Where the Heisman winner is voted on the virtue of a single game. Where rogue seconds reappear on clocks and extra players show up at the worst times.

There is nothing rational about outcomes in sports. Gamblers have tried to prove otherwise for years and have yet to succeed. Trying to perfect the post-season will only result in insanity. It's an impossible task - someone will always be upset and some team will always find a way to break the system.

I think in the end all we the fans should really want is an exciting post-season filled with exhibitions of good quality. Because the post-season should be a celebration of football, a fond farewell to a season of unpredictability and new stories of heroes and legends or of failure and goats. We want mismatches in philosophies, not talent. We want hard fought games. We want the speed of Oregon going against the speedy defenses of the SEC. We want to see the Big Ten and Big 12 tango. We want to see Nebraska and Texas in a bowl game.

This is what the old BCS lacked and what the new format, whatever it is, must address. Surround your headliners with good opening acts. Make the post-season a five star restaurant, not Old Country Buffet. This is what the SEC and Big Ten and the rest of the powers that be should be focused on. If the rest of the show is better, it becomes harder to pick out the flaws in the final number.

Is it September yet?


I acknowledge that I'm writing from what could be perceived as a position of weakness. After all, the Big Ten has had its troubles taking on the SEC on the field.

I'm personally a fan of the top 4 team model (SEC-like), with the stipulation that selection is done similar to the NCAA tournament, using an RPI-like formula and a selection committee formed of INFORMED individuals (not the Harris or AP voters) to decide the top four teams. (The AP, Coaches and Harris polls can go back to being subjective water-cooler discussion points but the final decision on who the TOP 4 teams to compete in the miniature tournament should be made by a selection committee taking into account strength of schedule, margin of victory, common opponents, etc. )

OH. And both semi-final games (if they must be played in a bowl game) must be on January 1st. Surround them with other good games. And the national championship game cannot be any more than a week afterwards.

However, that makes entirely too much sense so it has no chance in hell.

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