Seth MacFarlane once did a cartoon about the coyote finally catching and eating the roadrunner. After finally completing his 20-year mission, the coyote rapidly lost all meaning in his life and even came close to attempting suicide. Today the sports media world faces a similar conundrum after completing its decade long crusade against the BCS.
Fewer topics than the college football postseason have created such a unified front in the circles of media and journalists. Backed by the tens of thousands of columns written for every major media outlet via print and online over the years, the drum beat has been loud and consistent from the world of sports media: the BCS is one of the world’s greatest tragedies.
It’s fascinating that we could have a consensus view that the BCS system gets it right the vast majority of the time while at the same time having a consensus view that the system that gets us such a result was crafted and conceived in hell.
Just prior to the Auburn-Oregon BCS Championship Game, Allen Barra took the opportunity to explain in a WSJ column that the upcoming championship game will be great, but just imagine how great things would be with a playoff:
Not to temper your enjoyment, but while you’re watching, consider what might have been. Fans could have gorged on as many as 14 more games just as good as Auburn and Oregon, and all of them more significant than the plethora of postseason bowls—if college football had a playoff system.
14 more games as good as Auburn and Oregon? That’s quite a statement and one I’m not going to dignify with a response. Let’s take a moment to recognize that Auburn and Oregon were the clear #1 and #2 teams in the country this season, and the BCS Championship Game was incredible. Barra continued to go out on a limb and bash the BCS in the same column:
Dan Wetzel, co-author (along with Josh Peter and Jeff Passan) of “Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series,” has a simple answer—one that finally resolves many of the complaints that opponents of a move to a playoff system, including myself, have frequently voiced over the years.
“There is no one in charge of college football,” Mr. Wetzel writes. Not even the National Collegiate Athletic Association? “The NCAA is there to regulate college athletic revenues,” he says, “but there’s a group of people—many of them in a couple of the conferences with the most economic and political clout—who have a vested interest in maintaining the current system.”
What’s wrong with the system the way it is? Apparently everything. As Tex Noel of the Intercollegiate Football Researchers Association puts it, “The one thing that all its critics agree on is that the game would be better off without the BCS.”
Yes, “apparently everything” is wrong with the current system. Is there a more clear example of the complete absence of objectivity when it comes to the college football postseason?
While I understand the allure of the playoff, I’m shocked at how few members of the sports media reference any negative aspects of such a plan. Ask your favorite journalist and their answer will be that a playoff is perfect! The only well known member of the sports media I’ve heard speak of the playoff in an objective fashion is ESPN Radio’s Colin Cowherd who has said that a 4-team playoff doesn’t solve everything, but instead just introduces new issues to complain about. Exactly. How long until the media calls for an expanded playoff field? Just wait. It will come.
If you listen to the media, there is not one redeeming quality of the BCS and there is absolutely nothing wrong with a playoff. I’m not going to argue the merits of the BCS since it’s irrelevant now, but I will cite some legitimate concerns of the upcoming playoff format.
Whether it is the NCAA basketball tournament or the FCS football playoff, expanding the field always happens in a playoff. If a playoff is a good thing, why wouldn’t you want more of a good thing? It’s too easy of a temptation for the leaders once a playoff is already instituted. Thankfully, we have 12 years of a 4-team playoff format that will stretch until 2026. Unfortunately, I plan to be a major college football fan well past 2026, and I fully expect a larger playoff field after the 12-year stint.
It’s shocking that more media members don’t warn against a future expanded field when arguing the move towards a playoff. Media members never acknowledge how irrelevant 90% of the college basketball season is. Allowing the possibility of filling out a March Madness bracket apparently is much more important than having a watchable sports for three months. College basketball is a season full of exhibition games.
College football has the best regular season in any sport, and while this is often acknowledged, it’s not a trivial matter. It’s the core of why college football is so great. A playoff seriously has the potential to erode this core tenant of the sport we love so much.
A major factor in future expansion will likely be the continued lamenting of structural unfairness. The BCS was unfair in that it apparently only gave two teams a chance to win the national championship. Well, a four-team playoff unfairly restricts opportunity for only four teams. Just wait until TCU and Boise State go undefeated. The fairness calls will come.
Much of the energy in the sports media world that has been channeled towards the BCS for so long will have to find a new cause. Unfortunately for such crusaders, the calls for an 8-team playoff will have to wait until the end of 2014 for a potential postseason controversy. Interestingly, as SDS contributor Skip Oliva points out, the same folks who are now whipping up the frenzy over concussions and player safety are having orgasms over the thought of players being subjected to even more games — without any change in their compensation or employment status. Yes, we need more concussion regulations combined with a 64-team playoff.
A 4-team playoff will be great, but so were the championship games produced by the BCS. I’m often skeptical when there’s ever such a complete consensus view. “The BCS sucks” goes down as one of the biggest memes pushed by the media in the last decade – right up there with “home values can only go up.”
There are reasonable criticisms of the BCS system, and there are reasonable critiques of the upcoming 4-team playoff format. Here’s hoping the sports media embraces a higher degree of objectivity over the next decade.