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2006
14
Dec

Playoff Fever?

Got your bowl plans firmed up yet? Hundreds of thousands of college football fans have done or are doing just that, making preparations for that great New Year’s extravaganza, the bowl season. Planes, trains and automobiles will be ferrying those fans to destinations, mostly south [sorry, Canes], as we prepare for that annual vacation quite a few of us pencil in at the start of the year.

Bowl trips are great fun, a reward for both players and fans. If you have never made one, I highly recommend it. For those who make it a habit to follow the Virginia Tech football team around, this current bowl run has enabled, or provided an excuse, for sojourns to New Orleans, Miami, Jacksonville, Nashville, San Francisco, Phoenix and even a reason to sample the delights of Shreveport, Louisiana [it seemed like a lot of fun at the time].

Tech fans are now heading back to Atlanta on the twentieth anniversary of their last bowl game there. That was back when the Chicken Bowl was still known as the Peach and when Chris Kinzer’s game-ending field goal caused Tech to knock off NC State and create quite a celebration on Peachtree [has the name of that famed avenue also been changed to Chick-Fil-A Street?].

It was all great fun and I have no doubt that my upcoming trip to Atlanta will be too, no matter the outcome of the game. I enjoy bowl trips and see them as a perfectly reasonable way for college football to conduct its postseason. That does not seem to be a universal attitude, however.

As always happens these times of year, we see, read and hear the annual hew and cry for a playoff. The wails from media types are loud and long, complaining that college football is somehow incomplete because teams that did not find they qualified for the Final Two championship are not playing for the championship.

This year, the loudest calls for a playoff are coming on behalf of Michigan . The poor pitiful Wolverines are being jobbed, it is claimed, denied a shot at Number One Ohio State for no other reason than they have already lost to the Buckeyes.

It is claimed that an actual game between the two should not count and things should instead be decided with an actual game between the two. Settling it on the field is a very poor substitute for what the re-match proponents demand, which is that it be settled on the field.

‘Settle it on the field’ has become the rallying cry for those in favor of a playoff. It would seem that they are unaware that the previous three months a regular season was conducted in order to accomplish just that. Those screaming about the injustice of ‘computers’ deciding the participants in the MNC game obviously feel that the entire regular season was played out on a Playstation or whatever [the next time I play a football video game will be the first].

There are reasons that the popularity of college football exceeds that of college basketball and is pulling away. The football regular season carries a bit more meaning than simply serving as a tune-up for March Madness. By the middle of December, fully one-quarter of the sixty-four team NCAA basketball tournament has already been set and maybe more. About all Ol’ Roy is doing at Carolina is working out his player rotation for March and financing a good portion of the Tar Heels’ athletic budget through the sale of tickets to Dean’s Dome. Over at Duke, Coach K is doing little more than working through his roster of All-Americans attempting to find somebody, anybody, who can stick the ball in the basket. Chances are, by the time March rolls around, he will.

The college basketball season has become practically meaningless, even as it continues to lengthen. For all of the hype and hoopla that will surround the annual Duke-Carolina games, the only one that will really count will be if they happen to meet at the Final Four.

A college football playoff, or even an Ohio State-Michigan re-match this year, will and would have rendered the season-ending OSU-UM game equally as meaningless. ‘We’ll get them next time’ would have shaved quite a bit of the drama from that exciting game. The excitement of USC blowing its chance at the Buckeyes against UCLA would not have mattered, since the Trojans would certainly claim they were simply preparing for the playoff and in all likelihood would have; with the Pac 10 title already wrapped up, Pete Carroll would have been best served not risking anybody or anything against the Bruins. Mail the game in while getting ready for the playoff. All of the drama that surrounded all that was decided in season-ending games would have been wiped away. Is that what we really want?

Apparently so, according to the playoff proponents. The regular season? Screw it. It must be sacrificed upon the great altar of a playoff. That seems to me to be the quickest way to declining television ratings and empty stadium seats during September, October and November, but there seem to be those that feel otherwise, or don’t care. Even if it is not broken and all evidence seems to indicate that college football ain’t [ Michigan , after all, did play Ohio State- they lost], it needs fixing.

Despite the excitement and high drama associated with the college football regular season, it would seem some sort of enhanced method of determining a champion is coming, probably not long after the overnights from Boise State-Oklahoma and Wake-Louisville are gone over at Fox. Yikes! It likely won’t take long.

The first expansion is likely to be the much-ballyhooed ‘Plus One’ that was considered, then rejected in favor of simply adding another BCS game; will the Notre Dame ratings make up for the Boise State or Wake disasters?

Actually, the Plus One makes a lot of sense, other than what it would do to bowl ticket sales as fans held off on traveling to the first in the hopes of making the second, or vice versa. Do you notice that absolutely nobody yammering for a playoff ever, EVER, mentions how the economics would work?

Basic Economics aside, the mechanics of a Plus One would be fairly simple: take the top four ranked conference champions. Yes, Michigan would get jobbed again, but, tough- win your conference, Wolverines. This year, the rankings would be:

1] Ohio State

2] Florida

3] USC

4] Louisville

That would certainly put an end to all of the howling, eh? Since the Rose Bowl would likely decline participation in this arrangement because they are the Rose Bowl, Ohio State and the Cards would meet in the Orange J2 and the Gators and Trojans a day later in the Sugar. The winners would get together a couple of Mondays later in the Fiesta.

That is the simplest form of a playoff that should satisfy most everybody except for those it would not, which would be the entire state of Michigan and most of the same ones now clamoring for a playoff. While it would actually decide a national champion and begin the process of regular season devaluation by shifting the focus of season-ending games from the Number Two spot to Number Four [that DORKS-Cousins game would have had a bit more meaning- rather than going in as a favorite over Wake, either RUTSgers or Louisville would have had the honor of being served up to Ohio State]. By including only conference champions, it would have preserved a good chunk of regular season integrity. Again, Michigan- if you want to play for the national championship, WIN YOUR CONFERENCE. Otherwise, quit bitching.

Even with the Plus One and its making a stab of preserving the primacy of the regular season and the bowls, there will be still be loud moaning for a full-blown playoff. The sanest plans call for the champions of the six BCS conferences, plus the two top at-large entries. Taking a gander at the BCS standings, that would provide:

1] Ohio State

2] Florida

3] Michigan

4] LSU

5] USC

6] Louisville

7] Oklahoma

8] Wake Forest

Under this system, Wisconsin [BCS #7] and Boise State [#8] were ditched in favor of conference champions Oklahoma and Wake. Ah, Boise State . Going by current BCS rules that allow a mid-major to shine in, the Broncos would bump at-large LSU, which would certainly do wonders for the notion of the best teams ‘settling it on the field.’

The revised playoff would be:

1] Ohio State

2] Florida

3] Michigan

4] USC

5] Louisville

6] Boise State

7] Oklahoma

8] Wake Forest

The crying on behalf of LSU and, even more, Notre Dame, would continue to be deafening. The loudest would be from Notre Dame, which would maintain that the rules by which the rest of college football operates do not apply to them and their arrogance demands that they be treated separately. Since this is my system, I would offer simple advice: you want in, finish in the top 8 or join a conference. Notre Dame AD Kevin White’s announced decision to further dumb down the Irish schedule [mostly with teams from the Li’l E, although not the good ones] in order to go undefeated every year cuts little ice in my book, or ratings system, which would assign a heavy weight to winning a conference [regular season, regular season]. These rules do indeed apply to you too, Irish. Don’t let the tears from your crying smudge the NBC checks.

The logistics of getting fans to make two bowl trips would be difficult- if the potential for three games were there the first-round games, if held at neutral sites, would cause so many empty seats that the Wake-GT game would have seemed a packed house in comparison. They have to go on-campus. Adios, bowls, and all of those fun bowl trips.

This Saturday, D16, would seem the logical time for first-round games. After all, since we have a playoff, what difference do all of those exams held this week matter? Chances are better that at least a few more fans would attend than would next Saturday, two days before Christmas. All of those Anthropology exams would just have to wait.

Of the first-round games, Oklahoma-Florida looks like a good one, but the rest would not exactly be compelling television. Jim Grobe may be a coaching genius, but Wake’s smoke-and-mirrors would likely have even less success against Ohio State than it did against Virginia Tech. Boise-State-Michigan ain’t a game I would spend much more than a quarter watching, nor would I be all that interested in observing Petrino’s offense hit the stone wall of the USC defense.

Given the four top seeds won the first-round games and the second round shifts to bowl sites, New Year’s would find USC playing Ohio State in the Orange while Michigan and Florida got it on in the Sugar. The Fiesta would again await the winner. These games would certainly be interesting, every bit as much as would the Plus One format of the top four.

There would be those playoff aficionados demanding that a first-round game of Boise State and Michigan would not be bad enough. They claim to desire the excitement that would come from a sixteen-team playoff. Gee, I wonder how much the networks would pay for the right to televise a first-round game between Ohio State and RUTS Belt champion Troy ?

Suffice it to say, that won’t happen any time soon. What likely will and maybe very soon [read: Boise State ratings] is the Plus One. It might not be a bad idea. In the meantime, the Internet-renowned Clubhouse Tailgate will be taking time out from its Atlanta preparations to pitch camp this Saturday at a place where an actual college football playoff will be concluded. That would be the D-III Stagg owl in Salem . Come join us. Plenty of good seats still remain.

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