Playoff Or Not?

Cam Newton, Andy Dalton and LaMichael James are on the cover of the latest Sports Illustrated as the magazine’s writers clamor for a playoff.  Personally, I’m not a fan of the BCS system, but I think a playoff would kill the integrity of the regular season–if not right way, then eventually.  Can some smart tweaks be made to the system?  Absolutely.  But I’d rather be back in the old bowl system than make college football more like the NFL.

What say you?

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Chris Huston, A.K.A. ‘The Heisman Pundit‘, is a Heisman voter and the creator and publisher of, a site dedicated to analysis of the Heisman Trophy and college football. Dubbed “the foremost authority on the Heisman” by Sports Illustrated, HP is regularly quoted or cited during football season in newspapers across the country. He is also a regular contributor on sports talk radio and television.

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19 Responses to Playoff Or Not?

  1. Ed Newman November 9, 2010 at 5:29 pm #

    I’m in the playoff camp. I can’t think of a sport that has been ruined by a playoff, even ones where playoffs don’t fit like golf and NASCAR. The other football divisions have playoffs. No valid reason why Division 1 shouldn’t as well.

  2. JMB November 9, 2010 at 5:52 pm #

    Tired of all the whining about a playoff. There was never anywhere near this much of it prior to the BCS, even during the Bowl Coalition/Bowl Alliance era (basically the BCS minus the Rose Bowl). What set everyone off on this post-1998? Is it the formulaic way in which the title game participants are decided?

    At any rate, there’s no reason why sports have to be completely homogenized. College football places an emphasis on the regular season and winning conference championships, rather than making everything about who is the “champion”. The BCS is a good system for maintaining the traditional structure of college football while also giving games a “national” significance. For instance, who outisde of SEC country would have cared about the result of the LSU-Alabama game if its only significance was determining who might win the SEC west? Now, how many people cared about it because Alabama losing changed the landscape of possible BCS title game matchups? Clearly a lot more.

  3. Solon November 9, 2010 at 7:59 pm #

    Here is one issue where I am in 100% agreement with you, HP – give me back the old system.

    An 8-team playoff is excessive, and a 16-team playoff is simply insane.

    I can *maybe* get on board with a plus-one, but I think if you run through the seasons since the BCS has been around, by and large the old bowl system would generally be better than a de facto 4-team playoff in most seasons.

  4. David November 9, 2010 at 8:25 pm #

    Forget the NFL analogy. College basketball started this week. Who noticed? Who cares?

    I’m a Tar Heel, so I definitely DO care – especially with half the football team under investigation for the better part of the season. But honestly, nothing matters until March. The pod system even takes some of the intrigue out of seeding and geography, which used to give a few regular season match-ups some meaning.

    I’m sick of playoffs. Baeeball playoffs, basketball playoffs, football playoffs, more rounds, more entrants.

  5. Ed November 9, 2010 at 9:20 pm #

    A plus-one would create just as many conflicts as, if not more than, the BCS over the last twelve years – here’s the blow-by-blow…

  6. Sean November 9, 2010 at 9:23 pm #

    While a large part of me wants a playoff- I can’t help but wonder what it would do to the regular season- I mean its college football and sure the fans in attendance would still be super passionate- but watching at home- I mean why would a fan of a Florida or a USC or a Texas really care if his team is down in the 4th if he knows that said team is basically a lock to finish in the Top 16 that year (and you’d have to do it that way– its what FCS does I believe) because simply granting bids to conference champions and say 4 at large bids would be ridiculous- sorry but seeing a Sun Belt champion that was a Week 1 patsy for the team that finished 5th in the SEC and a WAC champion (after Boise leaves) that UCLA beat by 4 TDs get autobids while a 2-3 loss Ohio State, Oklahoma, Florida or USC sits home because they played 6 Top 25 teams and beat 4 of them would be no better than the current system.

  7. Roby November 9, 2010 at 9:54 pm #

    The plus-1 model is so simple and I don’t know how anyone can argue against it as far as being an improvement over the current model. (The “they are college kids and they are missing too much class already” excuse is absurd.)

    Play the 4 BCS bowls and pit the top 8 teams against each other (matching up the unbeatens to whittle down the field).

    No guaranteed conference spots. You cant leave out a 1-loss LSU (assumed) in favor of 3-loss Pittsburgh just because they are the best in a shitty conference.

    After that week of BCS bowl games, take the top 2 BCS formula teams that emerge from the bowls, and they can play for the BCS Title.

    There will not be a bunch of undefeated teams claiming a right to the title, because even though there were 5 before the bowls last season, after the bowls played out, there were only 2. Only once was there more than 2 undefeated teams after the bowls, and that was because Auburn played a 2-loss Virginia Tech team instead of unbeaten Utah. In my system Utah would have played either Auburn or USC, and there would have been 2 or fewer unbeaten teams.

    After the bowl games, it is usually pretty clear who the best team is. This way makes it possible to prove it completely.

    fake complaint:

    “That’s not fair, what about MY really good 1-loss team who I think would beat Boise on a neutral field. Why don’t they get a chance?”

    They had a chance to be undefeated. They didn’t get it done. Yes, Boise had an easier conference schedule, but if they end their unbeaten season by knocking off Auburn and Oregon in back-to-back weeks, then they earned it. You say they don’t play anybody, but they just did. Better luck next year.

  8. Roby November 9, 2010 at 10:46 pm #


    That link was a good look back, but a lot of the problems he found with each system were along the lines of “…that leaves 4 spots for 5 teams. So-and-so will be mad that they got left out.”

    specific examples:

    2003 Big XII champ Kansas State gets left out.
    -They had 3 losses. They have no business playing for a title. They were lucky to even get to play in the conference title game.

    2006 ACC champ Wake Forest gets left out.
    -They also had 3 losses and were ranked #18. No argument whatsoever.

    My point is, no matter what system you use, short of having a 120 team tournament, you are gonna have complaints that someone got the raw deal. But there comes a point where you have to say, sorry, you don’t “deserve” anything. And in my opinion, that is at 1 loss. Sometimes a 1-loss (#2) team gets a chance to play for a title, and they should just consider themselves lucky. To the #3 team who also only lost once: Sorry, just win all your games. If you still get left out, then complain.

  9. Roby November 9, 2010 at 11:19 pm #

    I guess the problem with the plus-1 is if there is only 1 unbeaten team then it seems unfair to ask them to play an extra game after they already beat the #2 team. That does kinda suck, but at the same time they know what is expected of them from the beginning of the season: to be the champs, beat 2 of the top teams in consecutive bowl games.

    In the NFL, when a 12-4 division winner loses to a 9-7 wildcard, they don’t complain. They know that it doesn’t matter how they got to the playoffs, once they are there, it is win or go home.

  10. DVG November 10, 2010 at 12:04 am #

    I have gone back and forth on this every season for two decades now. Sometimes I think that a playoff would be awesome. Sometimes I think that a plus-one is the way to go. Sometimes I think the system “works” as it is now. I have no idea.

    And that’s really the greatest part of it. After the BCS topples — and it will eventually — there will be something else and there will be a ton of people arguing. It’s why college football is the best sport there is.

    My wife loves to mock me after the Gators first loss every year (when there is one) because I wail and moan about how there’s no chance of us getting anywhere as a one-loss team. Or a two-loss team. Or a three-loss team. And even now, this season, with three losses there is still a chance (remote, sure) that we could play in a BCS bowl!

    My only real issue with a true playoff is that there are only three or four places where it could happen: Los Angeles, New York, Florida. There’s no way a fan base is going to travel en masse to New Orleans one week, then Arizona the next week, then LA the next week, etc.

    You’d have to have a place — like one of the few areas in the country with multiple stadiums large enough — where a “true fan” could spend a week (or two) and vacation with the fam *and* see three or four games in ten days.

    Take LA, for example. The 7 and 2 seeds could play at the Coliseum on Saturday afternoon. The 3 and 6 teams could play at the Rose Bowl in the night game. Then Sunday the 4 and 5 seeds could play at the Coliseum, and the 1 and 8 seeds could play at the Rose Bowl. Then the next Friday you have the winners and Tuesday (or whatever) you have the National Championship.

    In Florida they could play at Florida Field in Gainesville, Raymond James in Tampa, the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, and All-Tel (or whatever the hell they call it now) in JAX.

    Now THAT would be some crazy tailgating week.

  11. Roby November 10, 2010 at 12:12 am #

    My wife mocked me after a Gator loss once.

  12. Chris November 10, 2010 at 5:11 am #

    I don’t see the problem with a plus-one format… other than the Pac 10 saying they’d run away if it was discussed. A playoff removes the bite of the “we should have been there” argument. A 5th place team typically has a marginal case at best for actually being champion.

    I suggest a twist that would help alleviate the complaints from non-AQ teams. The top two non-AQs should have a play-in game at the end of the year. Obviously they’d have to elevate their ratings enough to earn a spot, but that often is the case with end-of-the-year big games. A non-AQ team could also improve their seed in the 4 game playoff. This removes the complaint that the system is somehow rigged against non-AQ schools and makes it more of a argument about which two should play.

    The other appeal of having a non-AQ play-in is that it alleviates concerns that non-AQ power houses can float for months without playing a tough opponent.

    But can we ban Boise State until they get rid of their clown-like blue field?

  13. philnotfil November 10, 2010 at 8:28 am #

    I couldn’t support anything past a plus 1. When is the last time we had 5 teams that were national title contenders going into the bowl games? We often have three, and rarely have four, but five?

    The plus 1 is intended to get that third team into the mix. The fourth team is just the lucky leftover most of the time.

  14. Jon November 10, 2010 at 12:21 pm #

    I agree with David about college basketball. This is my number one argument against a playoff—from the wiki page for March Madness:

    * 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 (four play-in games before the tournament)
    * 1984: 53 teams (five play-in games before the tournament)
    * 1985–2000: 64 teams
    * 2001–2010: 65 teams (with an opening round game to determine whether the 64th or 65th team plays in the first round)
    * 2011-future: 68 teams (four play-in games before the tournament, the nominal first round)

    How long will it take for a plus one to turn into eight teams, then 16, then I care about college football as much as I do about the NFL. I realize that college basketball has about three times as many teams, but still-it will never be just a plus one, if and when it comes to that.

  15. Brian November 10, 2010 at 7:00 pm #

    “Personally, I’m not a fan of the BCS system, but I think a playoff would kill the integrity of the regular season–if not right way, then eventually.”

    Why is the regular season more important than the postseason?

  16. Ed Newman November 11, 2010 at 7:51 am #

    I just don’t buy the argument that the regular season gets killed like the basketball season.

    1. The season is only 10-12 games under this format (assuming they’ll have to sacrifice a regular season game or two for a playoff game) so each will remain very important for determining conference champs, seeding, and yes, lesser bowl representation (same as today).

    2. I know how much everyone here seems to hate the NFL and are loathe to see college football become the NFL, but consider this: this morning I am listening to sports talk radio and they are talking at length about what an important game the Vikings (3-5) have against the Bears (5-3). Wait, what? This year these two teams are the college football equivalent of Northwestern vs. Illinois, yet it gets national attention. The playoffs haven’t made the Bears/Vikings game less important or less discussed, in fact they’re more discussed than we get for NW/ILL fighting for the right to maybe eventually go to the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

    3. How important/relevant is TA&M vs KSU (just an example, don’t get your undies in a bunch) anyway? Unless you are a student or alumni or live nearby, no one cares all that much. Let’s not pretend that EVERY college football game is sacred and relevant. It’s not.

  17. philnotfil November 11, 2010 at 10:48 am #

    The sports talk radio guys have to talk about something. Check out the TV ratings on those games versus the playoff games. That is a better measure of how “important” the game is.

  18. Ed Newman November 11, 2010 at 12:07 pm #

    OK, sports talk guys DO have to talk about something but they don’t HAVE to talk about the NFL, and they certainly don’t have to talk about a specific crappy game. They could have talked about last night’s “relevant/important” Miami (OH)/Bowling Green game, but they didn’t. They talked about a “meaningless” NFL regular season game.

    But let’s look at the ratings as suggested:

    Regular season NFL game avg rating 2009: 16.6 million viewers. 2010 Super Bowl rating: 106 million. Regular season is 15% of the biggest game of the year.

    Regular season 2009 CFB rating: Somewhere between ESPN2’s 1.5 million and CBS’s 5.5 million viewers (no aggregate available). 2010 BCS Championship game rating: 28.5 million. Regular Season is somewhere between 5% and 19% of the biggest game of the year.

    So I think it’s hard to say the regular NFL season is ruined by the playoffs. At worst it is a little less important than the CFB regular season and at best it’s more important (based on the ratings). This isn’t even taking into account the specific nature of the Super Bowl (as an event watched by people who have absolutely no interest in football) skewing the numbers.

  19. Stephen of the Ducks November 11, 2010 at 1:24 pm #

    I am conditionally in favor of a playoff system. It would work best with 8 teams. While I personally don’t put a lot of stock in winning a conference, others do. So while there should be no actual AQ conferences, the highest ranked (in case there are more than 8) conference champions ranked in the top 12 should be in. No conference is to exceed two members in the playoff, and the remaining (non conference champion) teams selected are the highest ranked teams remaining. Seeding is based on rank. This system would still use a BCS style ranking system, though it would also work with just human polls.

    The playoff should also start earlier so it finishes around the same time. Say 2-3 weeks after the conference championship games.

    The entire point of having a championship game is to determine who the best team is. When worthy teams are never given a chance there is ambiguity and no clear champion. BTW, this year a 12-0 3rd-4th ranked Boise St. could miss out on a BCS game entirely, while a 3-4 loss Big East “champion” will go the Fiesta Bowl. System doesn’t work.