A College Football Playoff is Officially on the Horizon, So Why Am I Not More Excited?
By Tony Gerdeman
Let me first just say that I am happy that college football is moving to a four-team playoff. It was the right thing to do and it's a move in the right direction. Even though it was an inevitability, I still have a bit of disbelief in me that this is happening because for most of its existence, college football has been more about NOT giving the fans what they want, rather than giving them what they want the most.
Remember back a couple of decades ago when there were actual limits on how many times a team could be on television in a season? Could you imagine such a thing today? Now we have billion-dollar networks to make sure that that never happens again.
While not everybody wanted a playoff, it's fair to say that the majority did. Whether the majority did or not, for the presidents and commissioners, "the money was too much" to turn down.
So here we are with a four-team playoff. Why four teams? To protect the regular season, they say. Who says it? The people in charge say it. In other words, the people who will be participating in the four-team playoff every single year.
The powers that be didn't protect the regular season, they protected themselves.
College football's rallying cry is that every week is a playoff and every game counts, except that's just not true. If every week is a playoff, then we're living in a double elimination world—and sometimes triple elimination.
Granted, college football is a weekly playoff when it comes to the have nots, and I don't have a problem with that. If a MAC team wants to earn a bid to any type of playoff, then schedule four BCS teams and beat them. Then win your conference games. It's the easiest formula out there. A win over a good BCS team is more impressive for a MAC team than it is for some other good BCS team. If a MAC or CUSA or Mountain West team can't do this, then they have no argument.
If those teams don't want to play four road games against BCS opponents, then they need to go away, because that's what real BCS teams have to do every year. Their road is easy enough, it shouldn't be made easier.
But college football is not a weekly playoff in the SEC, because a loss in the SEC is about as important as a split squad game between the Twins and the Gophers in spring training, and I'm okay with that.
I don't think a close loss to LSU should end Alabama's national title hopes. In fact, I don't think a quality loss should end anybody's title hopes—and it generally doesn't. This is one of the best things about college football, and people act like it simply doesn't exist.
That first loss is always devastating to a team, but they still remain hopeful that they can stay in the hunt as other teams around them lose. It's the second loss that kills teams.
Before a team loses, they control their own destiny. Once they lose, however, their future is in somebody else's hands as much as it is in their own. This makes more games more important to more people. It is not a bad thing.
Then once a team gets that second loss, where does the importance of their games rank? Unless they're playing a team with one or fewer losses, it doesn't rank at all. College football fans will watch it because college football fans love college football, but in the overall scheme of things, the game is meaningless.
In reality, a four-team playoff takes away as much meaning to the regular season as it gives. What does the regular season mean to fans of a 2-2 team that had high expectations?
An eight-team playoff would make the season more meaningful to more teams for a larger percentage of the time. In reality, that second loss is still going to be a killer, except in rare circumstances, which then allows the fans of quality two-loss teams to continue to stay focused on the regular season.
When commissioners say that they don't want to lessen the importance of the regular season, they are selling their product incredibly short—which is something that they have always done.
The importance of the regular season comes as much from the fan and media attention as anything, and that's not dwindling any time soon.
With the money being poured into the sport, networks can't afford to have college football lose any importance, so it would never happen. If you're going to invest billions of dollars in something, aren't you going to do everything you can do to make that investment pay off?
Let's not forget that even though strength of schedule will play a part, the easiest route to making the playoff is to be undefeated. How long are teams going to continue playing interesting out-of-conference opponents knowing that while a loss may add character, character isn't always rewarded?
There are already some Pac Twelve teams who reportedly want to back out on the agreement with the Big Ten because they don't want their schedules anymore difficult than they already are.
In theory, an eight-team playoff wouldn't necessarily encourage top-flight non-conference games (because most teams will always look for the easiest path), but it would certainly discourage them less. Based on that thinking, an eight-team playoff would produce more exciting regular season games, thereby making the college football season more meaningful for more teams, whereas a four-team playoff makes college football most important for just a select few.
It's that select few who continue to hold back their sport from those who crave it. Like De Beers worrying about devaluing their product, the decision makers will give college football fans just enough of what they want to keep them from getting unruly, but never actually giving them everything that they deserve.
After all, it's not the commissioners or presidents that made college football America's second-favorite sport. In fact, college football became America's second-favorite sport in spite of the commissioners and presidents. The fans made college football what it is. If people weren't watching it, networks wouldn't pay for it.
But at least we're moving in the right direction. The new four-team playoff contract starts in 2014 and goes for twelve years. However, that contract can be rewritten whenever the need arises, so the have nots shouldn't lose all hope just yet.
It may take those in charge a while to hear the fans, but you have to remember that ivory towers are built to be soundproof.
If college football fans want an eight-team playoff, they just need to keep doing what they're doing—watching every game like it's a playoff.
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