The Great Playoff Myth In College Football

BCS - Bowl Championship Series College Football

College Football Playoffs System vs BCS Bowls

In sports as in life, we live in a world of knee-jerk reactions. The world moves so fast that we often fail to fully understand the magnitude of our choices. Dedicated, devoted and even casual football fans routinely desire to see a playoff system implemented in our sport. But there is much debate as to exactly what type of arrangement would fit in college football.

In regards to the NCAA Football National Championship, people repeatedly forget the purpose of crowning a winner. College Football is unique in their attempts to determine who their best team is. They aren’t trying to anoint a postseason champion. College Football, above every other sport, understands the true point of a championship. Year in and year out, they consistently award the championship to the best team in their sport. The same can’t be said about the NFL, MLB, NBA or even College Basketball.

The greatest myth in any sport is that there is a perfect system for awarding a championship. The truth is, a perfect system doesn’t exist. If we could all come to grips with this tiny bit of reality, we’d have an even greater appreciation for just how fun and exceptional college football is.

BCS - Bowl Championship Series College Football

BCS or BS?

Has the BCS ever really gotten it wrong?

Since the BCS’s inception, the team that’s won the National Championship has had my vote for the best team in the land. It’s hard to argue for a playoff when the teams who have finished the season #1 have been pretty well undisputed. You’ll often hear the same, tired argument when the pro-playoff crowd wants their voices heard. But Boise State deserves a chance!…How do you know Cincinnati’s not the best team in the country? TCU is better than Texas, etc… If anyone truly believed that Boise State, Cincinnati or TCU was better than Florida, Texas or Alabama this past year, it’s time to turn in your fan card. You’re license has been revoked.

If the #1 team is clearly in the BCS game, there is no need to play more.

The BCS gives every regular season week a playoff atmosphere because you force yourself to win. The pro-playoff crowd will tell you that a playoff would end all the debate about who the National Champion is. But even if you go to a 4 team playoff, the #5 team complains, in an 8 team playoff the #9 team complains etc. Where does it stop? Every system has it’s detractors because there is no perfect system.

Let’s take a look at the NCAA Basketball Tournament. The bubble teams who don’t make it in always gripe and complain about how unfair it is that they were left out. Yet does anyone really think a team that finished 19-11 has a legitimate reason for being given an opportunity to win the National Championship? And where does it end? 64 teams quickly turned into 65, then 68, and there’s currently talk of letting 96 teams into the tournament. This past year, Kansas vs. Kentucky was the match-up most of us wanted to see, yet we were robbed of that because of a silly post-season format. Yes the NCAA Basketball tournament is fun to watch, and yes it’s fun to fill out your bracket each year, but that doesn’t mean it’s without it’s flaws.

At this point, a football playoff would only incite more debate. The popular consensus is that the BCS system is unfair. But in a playoff scenario, if you allowed a 2 or 3 loss team a chance to beat an undefeated team, wouldn’t that also be unfair?

One of the major myths about a playoff system is that it works well in every other sport.

It works “well” because it’s the accepted system. A playoff only rewards teams who get hot at the right time. In MLB, of the last 8 World Series, 7 of the 16 teams have been Wild Card teams. Wild Card teams. The regular season is completely irrelevant. Some people can stomach that a 5 game series essentially erases 162 games worth of accomplishments. Sorry, but I can’t. The regular season is less relevant in every sport except college football. Every game matters, and that’s more valuable than many of us realize. Wildcard teams should be taken out of every sport. They were introduced into the sports world to make more money. Don’t let anyone fool you, the ONLY reason wildcard teams make the playoffs is to generate more revenue, it has nothing to do with “fairness.”

Even with a playoff how do you know you have the right Champion?

BCS College Football Bowl SystemDoes anyone really think the ‘07 Giants were better than the ‘07 Patriots? If the Arizona Cardinals had won two years ago, would anyone really have thought they were the best team in the NFL? They were 9-7 in the regular season. You can look throughout sports history and quickly realize that the teams who go home with the hardware are often not the best team in their sport, yet we’re quick to adorn them with greatness. The majority of these teams have one thing in common; They got hot or “gelled” at the right time. In College Football, the team who goes home with the Waterford Crystal has generally played to perfection against the stiffest of competition for 14 weeks. To me, that is the sign of a true champion. They’ve stood tall and weathered the storm for nearly 4 months, yet for many of us, that’s not good enough.

Right now the playoff dispute has momentum through uncertainty and “the grass is always greener” phenomenon.

The problem is, some fans are supporting a playoff that would not at all go along with what they’d want to see. I don’t think we should keep pushing for a change until we completely understand and agree with what that change will be. (insert Obama joke here)

College Football is distinctive and unique. Why shouldn’t the process in which it chooses its champion be distinctive and unique as well? The pageantry, the parades, the polls, the bowl games, the important regular season, etc… To me that’s part of what makes an extraordinary sport even more special. Why do we need to try and make it like all the other sports? Most of us agree that it’s the best sport around. Have any of you ever stopped and considered maybe that’s because it’s not like the rest?

Life’s not fair, and neither are sports. We’ve got to stop this attitude of “everyone deserves a trophy” just for being on a team. It’s what’s killing our country. I don’t like to end my articles on a political diatribe, but it’s an often stated fact that sports are a microcosm of society. We all want everything to be fair for everyone. Well it can’t be, and the sooner we learn to accept that, the better. Tough luck Boise State and TCU fans, but that’s the breaks.

BCS Trophy College Football Champions Alabama

These Trophies Were Awarded Correctly



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  • Well done Beau!!!!! As well written and as well argued as anything I have read concerning the foibles of a college playoff. This needs to be picked up nationally……

  • Great article. Thanks for sharing.

  • Good points, but all of them can be argued against with equally convincing support for a playoff. There’s no doubt that there is no perfect system, but my opinion is that a playoff is closer. There are not enough common opponents between conferences to determine who is better than who.

    My suggestion would be to have the conference champs duke it out at the end of the season. You can still keep most of the bowl games and venues and all the pageantry that goes along with them. Conference play remains fierce and teams would be more likely to schedule tougher non-conference opponents, making the regular season even better.

  • Playoffs sound more fun to casual fans. This is the best argument I’ve read for the BCS bowl system.

    Look at the smirk on Nick Saban’s face…

  • Great argument Beau! I applaud the simple fact that you ask everyone to really think about what they are asking for in a playoff. There is no fix all solution. Well written and as always well thought out. Thanks for sharing.

  • A playoff would ruin the best thing college football has going… and that is that it is the only sport with a regular season that matters every single week. Look at every sport, MLB, NBA, even NFL (8-8 teams can win the super bowl). College basketball has 3 weeks of relevance. Don’t change college football.

  • Kevin. I agree with you on this one. It would not be as intense every week. I have not thought about it looking from your angle before. Very valid.

  • Playoffs!!!???? Playoffs!? Who said anything about playoffs? About damn time someone agrees w/ me. I want to see a battle every Saturday. Drew is correct when he says the playoffs are for the casual fan. Unlike dawghouse23, I DO NOT WANT to see conference champs in a playoff b/c then the Mount West, CUSA, and WAC would all think they rate to play and we have the same argument as we do now; they play a crappy schedule w/ players who are not the same caliber as the SEC, BigTen, etc. And if they “were” the same caliber, there is no way they would not be playing for the SEC, BigTen, etc. I know Boise St beat Okl a few years ago and good for them, but if they played any BCS conference team’s schedule, they would end up 5-7 year after year, not 12-0.

  • Very interesting read. However I would like to see you concede a few points (full disclosure, I would like a playoff of some sort, 4 teams would suit me). First off, there should be NO preseason poll. You say if you do a 4 team playoff #5 would gripe, 8 team #9 would gripe. If a preseason poll came out, purely subjective, that ranked Ohio State 1, Oklahoma 2 and Alabama 3 and all three went undefeated and it came down to subjective voters as part of the BCS equation are you saying whoever finishes #3 in the final BCS poll obviously isn’t the best team because they didn’t make the championship game? I would hope that wouldn’t be your conclusion. So this argument applies as equally as your #5 gripes or #9 gripes. Add in a PAC 10 team going undefeated when they were a preseason #4.
    Just a few counter parts. Thanks

  • I see no valid reason to NOT have the 6 BCS Conference Champs and next best 2 at large teams play. IF the next are BCS Conference Members, so be it.

    How does this hurt the regular season? Unless you win your BCS conference, you are not guaranteed ANYTHING.

  • But then you have an unbeated untided Auburn a few years back, who played an extra game over USC, in the strongest conference in the nation, and did not get the oppertunity to play for the BCS. Whereas USC play the weak sisters of the Pac 10 and the even weaker sisters of the Big 10 to get to the BCS. Within the top 8 teams in the polls, there is the #1 team. Play all the bowls games as they are now. Then 8 teams play , then 4 teams , then 2 teams for the national chanpionship . The bowls will not loose a single viewer. I know that I will watch them..,……. and so will you.

  • The Auburn example is valid – altho i think its the exception to most years having everything work out right.

  • Here’s the video of Obama:

  • Every once in a while you’ll have someone like Auburn go undefeated and not get a shot at the title, but that’s life, it happens. I may be an Alabama fan, but I don’t say that out of spite for Auburn. They were a great team in 2004, much better than LSU in 2007 (possibly the worst National Championship team of the modern era.)

    The BCS isn’t perfect, and neither was the system that was in place before the BCS was put in place. But that’s what we’ve got to realize, there is no perfect system. No system gets it right, but the BCS gets it right more often than any other system. At least subjectively. With playoffs you end up having 9-7 NFL teams in the Super Bowl, or 90-88 Wild Card teams in the World Series, and that’s beyond absurd. The reason I’d hate to see a 4-team playoff is because it will inevitably lead to an 8 team playoff, and then a 16 team playoff, etc. Just look at the NCAA basketball tournament, it never ends. This is the NCAA tournaments format history:

    * 1939–1950: eight teams
    * 1951–1952: 16 teams
    * 1953–1974: varied between 22 and 25 teams
    * 1975–1978: 32 teams
    * 1979: 40 teams
    * 1980–1982: 48 teams
    * 1983: 52 teams
    * 1984: 53 teams
    * 1985–2000: 64 teams
    * 2001–2010: 65 teams
    * 2011-future: 68 teams

    It’s a never ending, always expanding process. Mark my words, in the next 10 years, it will be up to 96. If you look across other sports, it’s the same story. Every time a playoff is introduced, it’s only a matter of time before 8 teams turns into 16. So while a 4 team playoff sounds good in theory, it will always lead to more teams being included. To me a guaranteed 2 team BCS championship would always trump a playoff, because somewhere down the road, you’ll have something you don’t want.

  • Correction, I mistyped. I meant an 83-78 Wild Card team in the World Series (2006 St. Louis Cardinals)

  • The problem is they pick # 1 and # 2, and DISREGARD every other bowl game, ruining the bowl games.

    This is a playoff.

    It is a 2-team playoff.

    It is NO myth.

  • Absurd article

    Teams that win in the regular season and the playoffs are by default more tested than a team that just had a nice clean record from the regular season. Champions should be able to win in both formats.

    Also, most college football teams have only 4-6 tests per season. So you want to determine a champion who only plays a few good teams a year. The postseason, with the best teams, determines it on the field. You mentioned that you’ve agreed with the champion per year – beyond that fact that most of those teams were not tested, in just about every year when there has been 2, but only 2 undefeated teams from major conferences playing for the BCS Championship, there has been controversy who played in the BCS Title Game.

    You mention every game matters in college football. That might the biggest lie in the article. Many times, especially recently, a team has won the BCS Championship with a loss. Other times a team has gone undefeated and not on the championship. If every game matters, when a team has a loss, they are automatically eliminated. Wild Card means a team did not win their division/conference – just because a team does not have the best record, does not mean they are the best team.

    I believe the 07 Giants were better than the 07 Patriots. You know why – because I believe the best way to judge a football team is what they do on the field. You might want computers or graduate assistants to help determine a champion, I prefer it on the field.

    You said college football teams play a stiff 14 week compeition. You probably need to turn in that college football fan license, because you clearly have no idea what schedules these teams play.

    To me, the anti playoff proponents have a better argument in saying that what makes college football grat and unique is that their is no real champion; not this absurd argument that the current system is a better to determine a champion.

  • Here’s the real myth: “Every game matters.”

    Couldn’t be more wrong. As soon as a team who is not ranked in the top 5-10 preseason poll loses a game, their season is finished. Done. Kaput. There is absolutely no nationally compelling reason to watch that team play another football game the rest of the year.

    For the teams ranked in the top 5-10 preseason poll, as soon as they lose their second game, their season is also finished.

    This means that as we go further into the CFB season, there are fewer and fewer games worth watching. Every game does not matter. By early November, there are only a handful of teams still “alive” and the vast majority of games scattered throughout the nation are completely meaningless at that point.

    In the other sports with playoffs, teams are working to position themselves late in the season to get that shot at the title. Whether that means doing enough to get into the playoffs or working on obtaining the highest possible seed (and home field/court as well as geographic proximity), there is actual, relevant meaning to those games.

    No such similar thing in CFB. When the games in September are by and large more important than the games in December, there’s a major problem with that system. You guys have just invented a mythos to justify what in some years amounts to a figure skating contest (Team A looks technically better than Team B, even though they’ve never played each other).

  • “Does anyone really think the ‘07 Giants were better than the ‘07 Patriots?”

    Ummm Actually I KNOW the Giants were better than the Patriots. Why? They WON THE SUPER BOWL!! The Patriots didn’t finish when they had to. Like you said, win all you games. Guess what? The Spygatriots didn’t. Maybe they should have videotaped more Giants Practices.

    Say it with me. SCORE BOARD!! The better team ALWAYS WINS!! Giants 17, Patriots 14! NY Giants Super Bowl 42 Champs, and there is nothing you NYC haters can do about it!!

    PS… Sorry you lost money on the Spygatriots!! haha!

  • In my opinion the whole TCU BSU argument isn’t about a playoff. It’s simply about whether or not they even get a chance to play a tougher schedule to prove their way into the BCS Bowl. Right now they couldn’t prove themselves if they wanted. Undefeated two years in a row and they still won’t get a chance…. That’s all they’re asking for.

  • Skizzy
    Most top teams really can not afford to come to Boise and play in that 33,000 seat stadium . It is a matter of money . Boise State’s coach has said that ” If you wont come to our house and play us , we will come to your house and play you . All we ask is that you pay us ” . The trouble is , his pay demands are completely out of reason . No one will pay them . In his early days , Bobby Bowden took his Florida State team ” Anyone , Anywhere , Anytime . For whatever guarantee he could get . He built a great program and never had to beg for games . Boise State needs to follow his example .

  • If Boise St runs the table and gets into the BcS national title game against TCU…those are the best two teams in the nation?!? Kidding me? Just a few years ago UGA was the hottest team in the nation but thanks to 2 losses instead of 1 they couldn’t compete for a national title. Playoff is the best option no doubt. How many teams is the only thing that’s unsettled.

  • The current ranking system works fine till said and done and there are 2 plus undefeated teams. One says BSU beat Oklahoma and can’t hang. Not many mention the spanking Utah put on Alabama just a couple of years ago , in a bowl game , and the fact they are as consistent as BSU , TCU , and many a like. The SEC had a lot of bowl wins last year but only beat one “big name” school in all of the wins with losses to the Clemson , Penn State, etc. …..Look it up , I did. I like the plus one system and don’t like the fact they take almost two months off before playing the “big” games. I am sure that there are several games where we don’t get the team we saw all year after that much time only practicing and scheme changing. With the plus one everybody still plays a bowl game, every game counts , there is only one un defeat in the end , and no excuse for the whining or boasting about the toughest schedule. Va. Tech was a one loss team with the fourth toughest schedule in the nation and got left out for two one loss teams with “softer” schedules a few years back . So again best team with best schedule or most popular and pretty….. Let them play ball. Don’t be mad when they whip your favorite team.

  • Auburn 2004 completely invalidates this whole article.

  • What happened to Auburn in 2004 is the perfect example of why we need playoffs. Last year, Boise State felt let out. Granted, their schedule is reason enough to pass them up. Auburn’s is another situation altogether. They had a tougher season and deserved to be in the NC that year.

    And wait for it……I’m a Bama fan.

  • Your argument to keep the BCS system is a house of sand. First, the whole idea that the best team has been the champion because you picked them is not only stupid, but gives away your ability to think logically. Granted, sometimes the BCS may get it right, but it can leave several undefeated teams out on a given year, and that is BS. The players dont pick their schedules and some coaches run the scores up and some teams win because of defense etc…. The only people who want to keep the BCS are the big conferences who like to pretend they can beat any team from any other conference at will. I think it makes them feel important that they are associtated with a conference that has a good track record and somehow justify not having to win the championship on the field. Very much like 5a schools who think they can beat every 4a school in hs. It has been proven wrong a million times. You say that every game would not matter- yeah sure, thats why we get to watch top 25 schools play Eastern BF school of the blind so they can pad their schedules. That is pure bs. The truth is, if you set up the playoffs the right way, every game would matter and matter even more. 16 game playoff, conference champs are in, next 5 in based on BCS. Rearranging the conferences would make it even better. Nobody could complain, because you could have won your conference. Seed it based on BCS rating. Eliminate the crap games, finish the season a week before Thxgiving, Playoffs start 1st week in Dec. championship game is New Years week. Have your stupid bowl games pitting 6-6 teams that nobody cares about. You would generate enough excess money with the playoff to pay all these stupid bowl teams to stay home and study. By the way, overall, you would have much less student hours missed, because less teams are away This system would quickly pass the Super Bowl and NCAA bb as the best sporting event in the US. Any team that won 4 in a row to win this playoff would deserve to be the champion. The current system is like 10 mens golf clubs voting on who the best golfer is based on hw they played at totally different courses and different competition vs. actually bring the golfers together and playing it off. That is how stupid it is.

  • This regular season argument just got obliterated when Stoops acknowledged defeat and quit with two minutes left in the 4th quarter against Mizzou and only being down 9. His theory, and I am paraphrasing here, “well, Bama lost by 14 on the road so this will be a ‘lesser loss’ and who knows what the voters will think as they do not watch the games and merely look at scores.”

    The mighty regular season…the head coach of OU…decided to QUIT and play the system in the hopes of being the best one loss team which is selected by humans and 6 computer formulas, 5 of which will not publish their formula. How anyone in their right mind would support such blatant hypocrisy and criminality is beyond help.


    Great book telling you every reason in-depth why the BCS doesn’t make sense. Death to the BCS by Dan Wetzel

  • “If the #1 team is clearly in the BCS game, there is no need to play more.”

    Not a valid statement. This can neither be proven True or False based on the information provided. And this is why a college football playoff of the conf championps should occur.


    The goal is to find #1, therefore Mathematically, we can prove that everyone who finishes 2nd or worse in their conference is not deserving of being #1 overall. If they are not #1 locally, they can’t be #1 nationally. This leaves only the conference champions left. The problem is, it’s impossible to determine which of these is the best.

    Unlike the NFL, college football is a not a league where 75% of all teams play one another, therefore win-loss records can only be used is a guide, a not a final determination of who’s better. It’s entirely possible for two teams in one conference (who play each other and therefore 1 has a loss) are both better than an undefeated team in another (who has played lesser opponents). This is because there are 130+ teams playing in highly divided, separate conferences. Every team only plays outside their conference a couple times a year and many of these games are the top conferences playing bad conferences for easy wins. This means only a handful of games determine who’s the best. This is not enough to be statistical relevant. For example: One annual Ark/Tex game is not enough to determine if the Big12 or the SEC is a better conference.

    As of right now, we have playoff of two teams. That means only 2 of the remaining conference champions are chosen. It is entirely possible, the 2 chosen are not the best, because we have no way of eliminating the other 10+ teams. Now, it is likely that we can accurately judge who is likely to be the best based on a collective poll of experts using their knowledge of football and statistics, however this is only an educated guess. Given enough years of using this method, it’s is mathematically certain that a wrong team has been selected to play for the title. And it’s even likely that many wrong teams have been selected. This is the problem.

    With every additional conference champion added to the already 2-team playoff, the odds increase dramatically of selecting the true best team. To say otherwise, is foolishness.

    Now, if the goal is to maximize profits, stay with traditional, not add additional games, or some other goal, then this argument is not valid. But if the goal is to find the true best team in football, with all else being equal, then an expanded playoff of conference champions is the only way.

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