LOS ANGELES, Jan. 6, 2012 – The national championship rematch between Louisiana State and Alabama on January 9 in New Orleans will mercifully bring an end to nearly three weeks of college football bowl games.
The media wailing about bowl games, their number and selection, however, won’t be stilled until the beginning of next year’s college football regular season. The complaints about the BCS system continue to stack up against the call for a playoff system to determine the national championship, and for the 2011-12 bowl season, questions have been raised about what teams “deserved” to be in the sub-championship BCS games.
Memo: stop whining.
A playoff would likely have resulted in an LSU-Alabama rematch
The moaning over a rematch of the November 5 game at Tuscaloosa won by LSU over Alabama, admitted by most as the two best teams in the nation, is loudest among those who demand a playoff to determine the national champion. What if we had a playoff?
If we use the BCS standings to create a 16-game playoff, the dream of playoff proponents, the match-ups would look something like this:
(1) LSU vs. (16) Georgia (a re-match of the SEC championship game)
(8) Kansas State vs. (9) South Carolina
(5) Oregon vs. (12) Baylor
(4) Stanford vs. (13) Michigan
(6) Arkansas vs. (11) Virginia Tech
(3) Oklahoma State vs.(14) Oklahoma (another regular-season rematch)
(7) Boise State vs. (10) Wisconsin
(2) Alabama vs. (15) Clemson
Right away we see regular-season re-matches, so any complaint from the playoff purists about an LSU-Alabama re-match are shown up as silly. In fact, the first-round LSU-Georgia and Oklahoma State-Oklahoma games would have teams playing each other two weeks in a row!
Moreover, the outstanding feature of this bracket is that LSU and Alabama are – by far – the best defensive teams in the field. And defense wins championships; my view is that both LSU and Alabama would make it to the title game without significant difficulty. Consider that among the 16 teams listed, only Alabama (8.8) and LSU (10.5) rank among the top five in scoring defense, and only five of the top ten (also Michigan-6th, Virginia Tech-7th and Michigan State-10th) would even be in the tournament.
LSU and Alabama are two great teams that proved their mettle during the season . . . and against each other. They should play for the title, and would have anyway under a playoff system.
Bowls are not in the business of picking “deserving” teams
Among the top-tier bowl games, the “experts” were ga-ga about match-ups like the Rose Bowl (Oregon vs. Wisconsin), the Fiesta Bowl (Oklahoma State vs. Stanford) and the Cotton Bowl (Arkansas vs. Kansas State), and generally enthusiastic about the Georgia-Michigan State (Outback) and Nebraska-South Carolina (Capital One) games on January 2.
Much less popular and subject to some withering criticism from high-profile commentators like ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit were the team selections for the Gator Bowl – Ohio State and Florida, both with 6-6 records – as well as two BCS games: the Sugar Bowl with Michigan (seen as deserving) and Virginia Tech (criticized) and the Orange Bowl, in which both West Virginia and Clemson were hissed at as champions of two weak conferences, the Big East and Atlantic Coast.
Forgetting for a moment that all of these teams – except Clemson (a 70-33 loser) – played in pretty exciting, close games, the critics missed one central point: bowl-game organizers are in the business of making money, or at least breaking even, and are not about rewarding “deserving” teams.
Bowl-game organizers are about promoting their destinations, selling tickets and filling hotel rooms.
The entire bowl-game concept was pioneered by the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association, which created its Rose Parade solely as a promotional vehicle for the little-known California city in the late 1800s, and then, in 1901, thought a football game would bring it even more publicity. And so the 1902 Rose Bowl featured the best team in the West – Stanford – and Fielding Yost’s point-a-minute Michigan team (a 49-0 Wolverine win).
The rest is history.
The proliferation of bowl games is more about ESPN’s desire for programming – it televises 33 of the 35 bowl games held today – than it is about the commercial appeal of the games. And with the lousy economy, bowl attendance is down about 2.1 percent from last season, but still about 50,000 fans per game. Pretty good.
Moreover, playoff proponents have not yet even tackled the critical question of how well their proposed playoff games would be attended. Unlike the bowl system, where a team plays once after its regular season (and conference championship game) is over, a playoff would involve multiple games. Are the games held on campus stadiums? Or are they so important that neutral sites are needed?
If that is the case, would fans of each team travel week after week to see their team play? Even in better economic times? The two finalist teams in an eight-team playoff would play three games; in a 16-team playoff, they would play four. Who bears the liability for less-than-full attendance? Can fans even get to the next game on the already-stretched U.S. air-travel system? No one has the answers for these questions yet.
So, what’s next?
If strict meritocracy is the goal, then a playoff is the only way forward. And it can happen as soon as the presidents of the NCAA’s major football-playing institutions decide to move that way, perhaps as soon as 2014, when the current BCS agreement concludes.
Those who desire change must aim their influence – and plans to meet the inherent issues of a playoff system – with the only group that can effect change. Start solving the problems, and stop whining.
(You can stay current with Rich’s technology, sports and Olympic commentaries by following him at www.twitter.com/RichPerelman.)