Fight on, playoff wishers. Fight on.
Man, nothing takes your mind off BCS-bitching like having your team work within the system (without shooting the bastards) and winning it all. Okay, except for maybe having to then defend your national championship winning team from every out of left field attack that comes down the road. That really takes your mind off of the BCS and, more importantly, the playoffs. Remember those? Hey, don't take your eye off the ball or I'll have you running stadium stairs by the end of this post.
As is becoming tradition around here, we discuss the fate of a FBS playoff right after the season ends, with the results of the latest BCS equation having just recently been played out for all to see and analyze. It's bad manners to discuss the subject during the season, as those who might be superstitious may believe, and no one really cares right before the season, as most fans think it's their team's year and no playoff will be necessary for them. No, immediately following the season is the perfect time for moaning about how unfair the whole system is, but admittedly, we have heard nary a peep out of the east side of the state this go around.
Naturally, being an SEC fan, playoff talk sometimes falls on deaf ears, as we believe our conference schedule to be one de facto triple-elimination playoff onto itself. (drop more than two regular season conference games or the CCG and you are virtually guaranteed not to win the conference) Playoffs are what's needed for all those other conferences to sort their posers from the players. In other words, SEC fans may have their desire for a CFB playoff diminished because we believe the SEC champ to be a truly credible and deserving champion in their own right and everyone else is just playing for the right to meet us and play for all the marbles. And with our conference winner playing in the last five national championship games, apparently SEC fans aren't the only ones who think that. But playoff, schmayoff, southeasterners? No, not quite.
I truly believe that a playoff will be most beneficial to our sport when we finally get one, and to our conference in particular. As we've discussed before, there are a few basic tenets that must exist in FBS college football for a playoff to have any chance of taking root. That's not to say that even those aren't subject to modification, revision or outright reversal. Some of my own thinking has done a 180 recently and we must always realize that CFB is constantly evolving--something so very epitomized in the Great Conference Land Grab of 2010.
Conference Championships Will Be the First Round of any Future Playoff: This is what I've been preaching for years now, and the light was finally seen by two of the old-guard BCS conferences in the biggest move to hit our sport in decades with the Great Conference Land Grab of 2010, as the Big 10 and PAC 10 expanded--to the detriment of the Big 12 and possibly the rest of us. Expansion for those two wasn't as big a story as the defection of Nebraska and Colorado from the Big 12 (and the subsequent whoring out of itself by Texas, but that's another story).
Simply enveloping mid-majors like Utah wouldn't have ruffled any feathers, but with BCS conferences being redistricted, a panic almost ensued as the rest of the great powers looked to protect their turf in an attempt to form mega-conferences should the expansion have gone supernova. Wasn't that how World War I erupted? We may never know how close we came to essentially halving the number of BCS conferences into geographically-incorrect Pangea blobs, but I think it's safe to say that expansion for the sake of having the conference championship game and it's requisite share of the limelight was finally realized in one great-big pigskin epiphany.
Perhaps we should consider ourselves lucky that the Big 12 was the only big casualty, and console ourselves that the net gain of only one CCG in FBS was probably worth it. With Texas flirting with any and all suitors in order to preserve itself the lion's share of revenue from the reborn remnants of the conference it more than anyone tore apart, those who believe in karma might see justice in their 5-7 season. Regardless, the Big 12 didn't have time to draft additional teams and it might behoove the big two teams in the Lone Star state to drop their snobbishness and consider allowing some of the old Southwestern conference stragglers and other quality state programs to form the reconstituted Big 12. A playoff might depend on that very scenario. However, the defection of TCU to the Big East says more about the perilous politics of Texas football than just about anything else and we might not want to hold our breath waiting for our Lone Star brethren.
Will our first playoff be a round-robin of strictly conference champions? It's hard to say because there's still such a lack of parity between the BCS conferences in any given year. One conference could have 2-3 teams that are capable of playing for and winning a national title, like the Big 10 last year. Maybe a playoff might grant at-large teams when a conference pares it's participants down to two schools--like the current BCS bowl rules allow. Otherwise, it might not be beyond the realm of possibility to have a conference like the SEC to have three schools in a 8-team playoff.
Polls Ain't Going Anywhere: Face it. Most of the complaints about the BCS are actually complaints about the polls, as the BCS just uses the data the polls provide. We're never going to have a true playoff, won on the field--like in the NFL. With 120 teams and counting, the polls will be around with us forever, to sift through and seed the teams properly, so get used to them. As a matter of fact, every time you complain about a poll, another one is born, to give us more choices and consistency in the results. Learn them, live them, love them. I'd be happy with a dozen polls in the BCS formula, but not stand-alone ones that crown their own champion. It could be like 1973 again.
The BCS is here to stay, too: In a strict interpretation, the BCS has been wildly successful in what it was designed to do--pair the two top-ranked teams in the nation in a bowl game that is essentially a 1-game playoff. Although a future playoff will be a little bit more complicated than the binary BCS code we're currently stuck with, the power of the BCS cannot be ignored and I do not believe it will be scrapped to be replaced by a different governing body. The name-recognition it currently enjoys, for better or for worse, makes it the ideal mechanism to remake itself into a rudimentary playoff when it is time.
The First Playoff We Get Will Be 4-6 Teams:More than likely four, as sufficient time must pass for CFB to grow at a desired pace and not diminish the product by over-doing it. Hey, March-Madness didn't start out at 64 teams, and those who think that the sport of football is ideally suited for a playoff where the national champion has to play and win six games--half the current regular season--are delusional. We'll start with one that has two or three games, possibly with two byes, and we may stick with that for years before expanding to a field of eight. Then we'll be there for decades or forever, whichever comes first. It took over 100 years to get to the forerunner of the BCS. Before that, it was just pot-luck.
The Playoff Must Follow the Money: Money is the lifeblood of any sport, and an eventual FBS playoff system of sufficient size will financially make the basketball tourney look like a booger in comparison. TV revenue will obviously guide the hand of the formation of the playoff and will begin in 2014 when the BCS broadcasting rights will be up for renewal. By then, everything will be on the negotiating table and I think we will finally see college presidents start to open up to the idea of a playoff.
Could we possibly see a move by a bigger player, such as ESPN/ABC, to wrap up the TV contract for a very long time? Raise your hand if you were thankful that the BCS had been moved from Fox and their predominately NFL, clueless-about -college-football crew over to ESPN who makes CFB feel more at home. Naturally, consolidating power in just one network could foster the implementation of an agenda, one that some fans feel is already there with some of the networks, and we'd all have to wonder about what was best for the sport and our conferences, with some whose contracts might rival a new BCS deal. Regardless of which of the major players wind up with the contracts, you can bet that the desire to possibly double-down by adding a playoff will be discussed in earnest.
The Bowls Don't Have to be Part of a Playoff:Except for the last round(s). Initially, it sounds nifty to try and work every no-name bowl to be the sponsor of one round of a mega-tournament, but the logistics of having teams travelling constantly to unfamiliar areas of the country to advance in the playoff just doesn't work for football. It would be like playing 2-4 bowls back-to-back, and would wreck havoc on fans' and schools' wallets, not to mention the players, whom the college presidents would protect from such a fool's errand.
Besides, we have two many loser bowls as it is. This past bowl season, with games swollen with TV revenue and palty attendance, it would be embarrassing for the sport to have the first round of 16 games played in the San Diego County Credit Union or Boise Humanitarian bowls or whatever the name de jeur was. Besides, all the bowls we need are already in place. The Sugar, Orange, Fiesta, and Rose could serve as venues for the semi-finals, with the rotating plus one for the championship game. The other bowls could operate as usual, with the earlier rounds of the bowls having been provided by conference title games and home football games for higher-seeded teams. Only a possible break-out by a bowl such as the Cotton or maybe the Chick Fil A bowl to ante up enough to qualify as a BCS venue could alter such a proposal.
So there are my continuing thoughts about the present situation and conventional wisdom of our eventual playoff. What are some of yours? How close will any of us be by the time the first one rolls out? I'm pretty sure we'll all still be here when the time comes. War Eagle!