By Matt Braunstein
On Monday, November 3, the night before the presidential election, Barack Obama did a televised interview with ESPN’s Chris Berman during the Monday Night Football half-time show. Though I’m sure he had a lot on his mind, he put it all to the side to talk a little sports with the Swami. Berman asked the president elect, “If you could change one thing in sports, what would that be?” Obama’s answer was simple, direct, and indicative of a brilliant and insightful president. He told Berman, “College football needs a playoff.” He elaborated further, but allow me to explain why our next president is undoubtedly correct. NCAA Division I College Football is currently the only widely popular and televised team sport that has no playoff system. The question we must ask ourselves is, “why?!”
Every major team sport, including high school and professional football, uses a playoff at the end of the regular season to determine which team in any given league, division, conference or region is the best. The number of teams that make the playoffs varies from sport to sport. In Major League Baseball, only eight teams reach the postseason, while in college basketball 64 teams are placed in a huge playoff bracket.
Just about every sport sees a playoff as the best way to determine a champion through the process of elimination. The teams that have the best records during the regular season fill up the bracket and are seeded from most to least wins. Then, the top seeds play the lower seeds in a progression of rounds. This allows the lower teams that have the smallest chance to advance either to be eliminated quickly or upset in an exciting fashion. Then, at the end, the top two teams play a game or a series and the winner is the undisputed champ. Even the dumbest sports fan understands this.
Somehow, college football has ignored this simple and successful method and instead has chosen a controversial, complicated, irritating, and downright retarded postseason system. I give you the BCS a.k.a. the Bowl Championship Series a.k.a. the pain in college football’s ass. First implemented in 1998, the BCS combines coaches’ polls, sports writers’ polls, strength of schedule, margins of victory and computer selection methods to determine relative team rankings on a weekly basis. This is done by computers throughout the course of the regular season, and it aims to narrow down the field to two teams who will play in the national championship game. It also determines which teams will compete in the Orange, Fiesta and Sugar bowl games.
The problem with getting rid of this system is that it currently is a huge revenue source for a lot of college programs. Millions of dollars are made through corporate sponsorship and advertising of games that are held every year by the same schools. The universities want the nationally televised exposure just as much as the corporations do. While supporters and beneficiaries of the BCS will defend it by whining about tradition, the truth is that cash rules everything around college football. Why should college universities be any less greedy than professional sports organizations?
This system is fundamentally flawed because it ignores enormous factors that determine the record and season of a college football team. Instead they use stats and number crunching to determine which two teams have the right to compete for a national championship. Over the course of a lengthy 13-game season, teams gain and lose momentum through crucial individual and team performances.
A team that starts the season strong can fall apart and finish poorly, but, teams that have rough starts can turn their season around and become title contenders. For instance, the NY Giants had an 8-8 record going into the playoffs before making their historic postseason run and winning the Super Bowl. In the same season, the New England Patriots were undefeated during the regular season, won all their playoff rounds but choked in the Super Bowl against the underdog Giants.
If the NFL used a system like the BCS, the Patriots would still have been in the Super Bowl, but the Giants never would have been given a chance. Today, we live in an evolving multi-media sports arena, in which games are broken down and analyzed on radio, television, and the Internet. Because of advances in technology, games are now computed and broken down by stats, almost in favor of the game film.
Anchors on ESPN can tell you how many times in the fourth quarter, with less than four minutes left, across a span of four seasons, a coach will go for it on fourth and short. Then, using data like this, some shmuck posing as an expert will predict who’s going to win the big game. But what these people have forgotten, and what the BCS blindly ignores, is that anything can happen on any given Sunday, or, in this case, Saturday.
Instead of using a team’s stats in what were considered big or close wins, over what are considered strong or weak opponents, just let it all be decided on the field—not in some computer, or from a collection of polls, but on the field of play. Let the top teams compete for who is the best. That is how you avoid the controversy that comes with top teams being snubbed from bowl games. Plus, it’s a lot more exciting for the fans. We love to see the best teams compete with each other, and since we are the driving force that has made college football such a monumental spectator sport, what we want definitely should matter.