Stewart Mandel, who I normally really like, launches a myopic (and kind of angry) defense of the current BCS system.
Each year, when fans, broadcasters and columnists engage in their annual hand-wringing over the lack of a college football playoff, the lords of the BCS defend their divisive system by noting a playoff would deflate the sport's uniquely gripping regular season.... Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to present the living embodiment of a devalued regular season: The Arizona Cardinals.
[Basing a broad argument on a sample size of *one* specific instance? Solid.]
Because the sport employs a traditional playoff rather than polls and computers, a Cardinals championship will be deemed far more legitimate than Florida's BCS title this past college season. Four great playoff games will override four months of mediocrity.
["Playing actual games" is an inherently more legitimate "polls and computers" means of determining which is the better team, right?]
"If the NFL has now arrived at a strange point where regular-season performance does nothing to predict playoff performance, and every team has an equal chance to win if they make the tournament, is that bad for the league?" Football Outsiders president Aaron Schatz wrote [Peter] King in an e-mail. It's certainly bad for the Tennessee Titans, whose league-best 13-3 record this season earned them ... bupkis.
[WRONG. Having the league's best record earned them (1) the privilege of playing one fewer game to win the championship (having to win 3 games >>> having to win 4 games); and (2) the opportunity to play at home (the Titans were 7-1 at home this year). Just because the Titans lost that playoff game does not mean that the privileges garnered by having the league's best record were devoid of value.]
[W]hy does the NFL even bother to hold a regular season? (Wait, I know -- for fantasy football and gamblers.) Why not stage one big, 32-team playoff?
In a story from last week's Sports Illustrated leading up to the NFC title game, Cardinals defensive end Bertrand Berry explained his team's late-season slump thusly: "Mentally we eased up a little bit because we had clinched [the NFC West division] so early." That, my friends, is exactly what college football's powers-that-be fear most. Theirs is the only sport where every single game truly matters, where you can't afford to take your foot off the peddle for even one week.
[Again, not always true. Both Florida and Oklahoma lost a game in the regular season. Did it ultimately matter? No. They still made the title game. Plus, the "every game truly matters" mantra results in embarrassing non-conference scheduling by the perennial powers (e.g., Florida hosting Citadel, Oklahoma hosting Chattanooga, etc.). *Winning* every game truly matters, so let's line-up as many non-conference cupcakes as we can. Now THAT'S a meaningful regular season.]
The Virginia Tech Hokies are a more appropriate college parallel to the Cardinals. The Hokies won the ACC last season with a 9-4 record. They were ranked 19th in the final BCS standings and hadn't entered the national-title discussion since the preseason. However, in a playoff, Virginia Tech would have been guaranteed a berth. (Every other major sport, college and professional, gives first dibs to conference/division champions. College football wouldn't be any different.) Who's to say the Hokies couldn't have gotten hot, pulled off a couple of upsets and won the whole thing?
[I don't understand why a team getting "hot" is dismissed as some completely arbitrary stroke of luck. If a Florida's blow-out win against Citadel is so meaningful, why wouldn't a Virgina Tech win over Florida in a playoff format be viewed the same way?]
A national champion with four losses. There goes your "meaningful" regular season.
[Yes, because in a system wherein the contending teams almost *never* share common opponents, win-loss records should be the sole basis for comparing teams' relative dominance.]
Don't get me wrong, the BCS is far from ideal. Now more than ever, it's an inherently ludicrous task to identify just two teams worthy of a shot at the national championship.
[That's kind of *my* point, right? But yeah, let's just stick with the inherently ludicrious approach.]
With a playoff in place, fans would inevitably lose interest once their teams were eliminated from contention.
[Another off-base blanket statement. Most teams (in the current system) are out of contention once they lose their *first* game. I'm pretty sure most fans continue to follow as the season goes along.]
Even if the bowls stayed in business, they'd become to football what the NIT is to basketball.
[This argument always confuses me. Isn't that what the bowls already are?? We have the National Championship game, and then all other bowls. Am I missing something?]
Meanwhile, the regular season would become just like the NFL's and college basketball's. Instead of revolving around the national-title race, the biggest games at the end of the season would be those involving potential wild-card or at-large teams.
[Which would mean that there would be *more* big games each week, right? I feel like I'm taking crazy pills here.]
In college football, there's always at least one, if not several, big "national" games each week (like the ones GameDay features). With a playoff, it would be more like basketball, where there are only two truly "big" games unaffiliated fans watch in droves: The two Duke-North Carolina games. Just substitute Ohio State-Michigan and Oklahoma-Texas.
[See the previous point. Opening up a shot to play for a national title to four or eight teams (instead of just two) would inherently create more important regular season match-ups. That *has* to be correct, doesn't it?]
Obviously, the NFL doesn't exactly suffer because of its playoff format. Fans will not be any less interested in next September's games due to the Cardinals' presence in this year's Super Bowl.
[Ugh. I'm glad we just wasted the previous ten minutes reading how much the NFL's system sucks...... just to come to the conclusion that the NFL system is actually fine.]
If the Cardinals played in college, they might have finished their season in the hometown Insight Bowl. Last month, two 7-5 teams -- Minnesota and Kansas -- played in that relatively low-profile game. It's funny. In college, we complain when mediocre teams like the Gophers and Jayhawks are rewarded with bowl berths. In the pros, the system rewards comparable teams with a shot at the championship.
[This is hyperbole. A 7-5 team would *never* qualify for a four or eight team college playoff. And a "shot" at the championship still requires a team to win games (three, for a team like the Cardinals)-- which is not exactly a hand-out.
P.S. Mandel, ask undefeated Utah how truly meaningful the college football regular season is. The BCS will remain in place because it puts the big schools at an obvious and distinct advantage, thereby making the regular season almost completely meaningless for everyone not included in that group.]