Thursday, November 29, 2007

Why You Want a Playoff

Tis the season for an endless supply of college football playoff proposals. I checked last week, and no less than 643½ of you columnists, sportswriters, and bloggers put forth theories of how we could make a playoff work. I counted them all – and they’re all different. It’s true, trust me. But behind all your systems, one idea remains constant. The main reason you want a playoff.

I know, I know. There’s more than one reason you want to see a playoff, and maybe I’ll get to those later. But first, we have to tackle the big thing that most of you playoff proponents have in common but might not have even thought about. And that is this:

Your team has no chance at winning the national championship.

Let me repeat that to make sure we’re on the same page.

Your team has no chance at winning the national championship.

You don't know how you know it, you just do. At the beginning of every season, you think “this could be the year!” And when you beat up on PoDunk U, Directional State, and St Mary’s Women’s College to go 3-0, you think it a bit more. “Hey, we’re off to a good start!”

But you don’t really believe it.

In your heart, you know that you’re going to lose at some point. It’s inevitable. The more games you win, the more you cringe, knowing the higher you go the further the fall is going to be. Of course that knowledge doesn’t help the pain when your team actually does lose, it just makes it worse because you saw it coming, like a train wreck in slow motion. Agonizing. I know these things because I’ve been there. But reality always seeps back in, just when you start to believe. It’s maddening, the stuff of Poe and gothic darkness suited up in pads on a brisk fall day.

But why? Why does your team have no shot at the title? Everyone starts the season 0-0, right? Your team has just as much chance to win the national championship as anyone else’s does, dammit! You’re right – it’s just that that chance resides somewhere in the range between extremely slim to nonexistent. You know it, and I know it. Deep down in your subconscious, at the beginning of every season you're resigned to the fact that your team is not going to win it all that year.

How do I know this? Let’s run through some of the different reasons, shall we, and you tell me when you see some that look familiar. You know your team won’t win the National Championship this year because…

…they can’t even win more than 3 games a season
…they always start out good but then inevitably trip up in the middle of October
…they play in a non-BCS conference
…no team is immune from the occasional down week
…it’s too hard to win every week in a conference where every game is a war.
…bad officiating will cost your team at least one game
…those damn rivalry games are so unpredictable
…the way The System is set up is too hard and uncompromising

Everyone has thought these things about their team at some point during the college football season. It’s true. I have too, I admit it. These are the reasons you come up with when you let yourself admit that your team isn’t going to win the title. They're also the excuses that you use when they don’t.

But your team has control over most of those reasons, don’t they? Sure they do, that’s partly what makes it so frustrating. If they just played better, or stopped turning the ball over, or played in a different conference, they’d make it to the title easy. Even the reason of bad officiating you’re willing to accept most of the time because you know that one play out of over a hundred doesn’t make or break the whole game.

But the reason of The System… hmmm… now there’s one. Your team can’t control that, can they? Of course not! It’s The System that gets the ultimate blame because The System screws everybody! It's all The System's fault! You say that you’re for overthrowing The System because it would be more fair for everyone, and you say that to make it sound like you care about other teams and sportsmanship. But you don’t. You’re lying. You’d gladly accept a ref’s bad call or an injury to the other team’s star player if it meant that your team would win. Don't look at me like that, I'm just being honest. Sometimes the truth hurts, doesn’t it? So stop pretending that you truly care about other teams. You care because if The System were different, then your team would have a much better chance of winning the title.

You're right about the challenging and strenuous nature of The System though. The System is a brutal monster, a beast that takes a near-perfect season to tame. It always has been (even before it morphed into it's current state about ten years ago). A vast majority of teams get swallowed whole by it at some point during the season, or are simply brushed away like a gnat before September even starts. Some of you probably think The System doesn’t even know you exist. Even when a team conquers The System on the field of battle, there’s still a chance The System will win out in the end. I’m looking at you, LSU fans. Thought you had beaten The System and reached the promised land, winning the title in 2003? That was actually The System’s biggest victory ever, swatting you down at the peak to make you *gasp* share the title. To Hell with The System!

I hear some of you. You’re fans of teams who have actually conquered The System and gained a true, pure national championship. You believed and it worked, didn’t it? You don’t just believe that your team can win a championship, you KNOW they can! Wow that was a great year, wasn’t it? They just played great ball, had a couple close calls maybe, but they won and that’s all that matters. You beat The System, and you're proud of it.

But let me ask you something, title-team fans – what happened the next year? It was back to the same old 10-2 season, wasn’t it? Back to the disappointment, back to the pain, back to The System kicking your ass. But this time it was worse because you had tasted victory. It’s called withdrawal symptoms. You knew your team could do it and they just didn’t get it done. At least you have your memories. But thinking back, that championship season wasn’t easy, was it? 13 or 14 grueling games, weeks of not knowing when you might lose, fearing the unpredictable right around the corner.

Wouldn’t it be so much nicer if winning a national championship were… easier?

Ah, I can feel the sand and the ocean mist now. If winning a title were easier, then you and your team would have a better shot at it, wouldn’t you? And you fans of title-teams would have a chance for victory every year, wouldn’t you? Of course you would. Your team would stand a much better chance than they do now. Imagine going through the season not having to worry about losing a game. Soooooo relaxing, (I’m about to doze off). You might even be able to drop two or three games, as long as you win your conference, right? I feel light as a feather, like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. A nice playoff-colada would taste so good right about now, wouldn’t it?

Now, you know that it’s only your perception fooling you into thinking that it would be easier to win a championship with a playoff. You know that's just an illusion, don't you? In reality it would be just as hard as it is now, if not harder. You’d have to play 3 or 4 excruciating games at the end of the season to claim a title.

But that’s what miracles are for, right?

You’ve seen them, you believe in them. USA vs Soviet Union 1980 NC State vs Houston 1983 Boston College vs Miami 1984 Kirk Gibson vs the Oakland A’s 1988 Boston Red Sox vs New York Yankees 2004. You know them all. And you believe they could happen to you. But a miracle won’t help you beat The System – you have to be flat out great to beat The System. (Or just better than everyone else in a down year. And if you’re not better than everyone else in that down year it hurts even more because you’ve probably dropped a couple games you shouldn’t have and KNOW that if you had just played a little bit better in those 4th quarters you’d be on top where you should be.)

Yeah, miracles mean nothing to The System. But if you can be just good enough to make it to a playoff… OH MY GOD IT’S A MIRACLE! WE WON THE CHAMPIONSHIP! WE FINALLY DID IT YEEEARRGGGHHHH! Miracles were made for playoffs, the two go hand-in-hand. Just as you know your team isn’t going to win the title this year, you know that you’ve got a good chance at getting to a playoff, and you know that once there you could somehow miraculously win the whole thing. It’s that glimmer of what could be, and it’s a lot brighter without The System blocking your view, isn’t it?

So this is your reason, this is why you want a playoff - because you think it'll give your team a better chance at a title. Slay The System that darkens the skies, and let light shine down on every team throughout the season. Give everyone fluffy marshmallow pillows to break their fall when they lose in October, give them lollipops and “A-for-Effort” stickers when they get beat in overtime. Most of all, give them hope throughout the season. Give everyone the hope that even if your team isn’t great, you might be good enough to win a National Championship.

The sooner you can all admit that this is the true reason you want a playoff, the sooner we can all move on.

Addendum: For all of you who say that you don’t cheer for anyone in particular and only want what’s fair and good for the sport, I say you’re full of it. There are no anti-homer true college football fans. You may have to be professional and keep your loyalties in perspective to do what you do, but if you’re a fan of the game you’ve got teams that you cheer for. You know that your heart beats a little faster when your alma mater is playing the rival. Everybody knows that Herbstreit is a Buckeye fan and he doesn’t deny it, which helps people understand where he’s coming from. If you didn’t feel the fire of cheering on some teams and rooting against others you wouldn’t be a true fan of the game.


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Anonymous said...

Your comment about The System making LSU share the title in 2003 is not exactly true. The reason stems from the fact that The System ( assuming it's the BCS ) was created, not to crown a national champ, but to get around the predetermined bowl tie ins that each conference had. The System was never meant to crown a national champ, but instead is was meant to pit a #1 vs. a #2 team against each other, something that wasn't really possible before, unless the two teams happened to match a existing bowl tie in.

USC got the split title in 2003 because the AP "crowned" them. Check out the list of other teams "crowned" by different entities:

In the end, the BCS title isn't even a NCAA endorsed national champ. It's a crystal football awarded by coporate sponsors.

Like the blog, btw.