Thursday, December 6, 2007

107. Determine champion with playoff

College football continues to be a mess. It has committed to, in my opinion, the biggest travesty in sports in using the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) to determine its national champion. It is simply a ridiculous system, and it is the only major sport that does not determine its champion on the field. Through a hodgepodge of factors, college football uses sportswriter opinion and computers to decide which two teams will play for the national championship. Just how ridiculous is it?

Consider that the number one ranked team in the country (Missouri) was an underdog to win its own conference on a neutral field (against Oklahoma). It should be noted here that if you ever really want to know who the (consensus) best team is, you just have to call Vegas and review the gambling lines. These people have the most to lose, and rarely does prejudice play a factor. (I would imagine that LSU will be a considerable favorite against top-ranked Ohio State.)

The Missouri and Oklahoma game was of considerable interest to us in Ohio because if Missouri (or West Virginia) lost, as both did, Ohio State would move up in the rankings and play again for the National Championship. As excited as I am for the opportunity to play for the National Championship, there is something very unfulfilling about sitting around for a few weeks and hoping that all the teams above them in the rankings lose. It also seems quite unfair that other conferences must play a conference title game, while Big Ten teams fill in the extra game with a team from the Mid-American Conference.

There is no other sport that I know where a team can finish the season undefeated, and not have a chance to win its respective championship. Consider Hawaii, which finished the season as the only undefeated team. Despite their efforts, they were not seriously considered for the National Championship. While it is probably true that they are not the best team in the country; what kind of competitive system tells a team that no matter what you accomplish- you will not have the opportunity to be national champions.

As had been noted the last few years, and especially in years when Ohio State (or any Big Ten team) is playing for the national championship, there is a ridiculous amount of time (about 40 days) between their last game and the championship game. That's over five weeks, which is nearly half a season. This fact is especially detrimental to sports, like football, where timing is so important. In addition, any momentum is sacrificed, as essentially teams rebuild for a one game season.

Surprisingly, many coaches, including Jim Tressel, do not favor a playoff system. There are several reasons for this, including the additional pressure to perform at a national level. In addition, it is a lot more work, as successful teams will have a few more games to prepare for. And, frankly, I think many of the coaches are afraid of losing such high-profile games. These coaches have grown accustom to recruiting premier athletes and simply outclassing five to six opponents per season. As much as Tressel will tell you otherwise, in most years, Ohio State starts the season with six to seven wins. Losing "big games," as John Cooper found out, will cost you your job.

Tressel is a very smart man, and without a Big Ten Championship game, and in the relatively weak Big Ten, his formula for success generally revolves around two to three big games- usually one major out of conference team, one difficult road Big Ten game and, of course, Michigan. He is playing the system, and who can really blame him? It would, however, be nice to hear him speak out in favor of a college football playoff.

In fact, I am disappointed that more coaches would not favor the opportunity to compete against the other top teams, whether it is eight or sixteen teams, to decide the championship on the field. Some do, and I respect their integrity. After all, it is about competition and striving to become the best. Every other sport fairly declares a champion, why should college football be any different?

The most preposterous argument against a college football system is that it would not work. High School football teams as well as other college divisions all play a sixteen team playoff. Rarely would one argue that the best team, or at least most deserving team, did not win the playoff. The state or national champions play a maximum of four additional games, against increasing levels of competition. It is this system which exemplified Jim Tressels's coaching ability in winning Division I-AA national championships at Youngstown State- and which makes his reluctance more surprising. To succeed at the Division I level, all that would be necessary would be for the top teams to scale back on the early season "cupcakes."

Another argument is from the perspective of tradition. I find this argument to be archaic, as times have clearly changed. The bowls could simply rotate different rounds of the playoff, with each game actually being much more meaningful that many of the bowl games that are played now. Could anyone imagine how exciting an Ohio State/Michigan playoff game would be? Each one of the bowl games would have a better matchup, instead of some the unattended, unimportant games that currently waste our time over the holiday season.

Finally, there is the issue of money. Of course, this argument inevitably drives most decisions. However, I cannot imagine a playoff system that did not make an enormous amount of money. For example, the college basketball tournament has grown into one of the premier sporting event. At the moment of its inception, a college football playoff would be the biggest event in sports. There must be somebody, somewhere, with a lot of influence, and a lot to lose, in implementing such a system. I do not know any other reason. It is complete and utter nonsense.

Do not get me wrong, I am very excited that Ohio State is playing in the National Championship. And I have a lot of respect for Coach Jim Tressel. And I love beating Michigan. But, as this year as proven, it is time to move the national championship from the business office to the football field.

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