All the TV guys and the pundits just know that Oklahoma is going to beat Oklahoma State this week. And how do they know this? Because they believe the football gods will ordain it in order to usher in the new era of the college football playoff. An Oklahoma victory would force a 3-way tie for the Big 12 South and presumably make such a mess of things that, as a nation, we will have no choice to but to make the transition. I wouldn’t be surprised if Congress got involved. (After all, all this bailout stuff is really hard.) People get giddy talking about it. They talk in superlatives reminiscent of messianic prophecies referencing future realities of certainty, peace, the end of hardship—yes, the playoff system would make all our problems disappear.
And I’ll never understand. Although our present system is less-than-ideal, there are so many reasons to leave things the way they are and drop this whole nonsense.
- Epic. Why do we watch football in the first place. You can tune into Sportscenter for the highlights and see the whole weekend’s results in a matter of minutes. We watch because we’re drawn into the epic struggle; with so much at stake with each snap and handoff. As people, we long to be invited into the epic and, sadly, “The Game” is as close as many of us are going to be. But from August to January we’re able to experience something close, at least. A playoff system totally removes college football’s king-of-the-mountain approach to sport. The season the way it stands is very masculine. It’s the only pure competition left in which crowning a champion is easy: you must beat all comers. The playoff is wimpy.
- Regular Season. A playoff completely removes the epic feel of each Saturday afternoon and makes it more like a weekend basketball game during which Dick Vitale is forced to manufacture his own excitement … constantly. Think about it, only the most ardent fan tunes into college basketball before February. And even then it’s due in large part to the perennial bubble watch. College football is the last frontier of pure competition. The college football champion must “bring it” every game. There are no off days—at least off days without recourse. That’s great drama. That’s great life.
- March Madness. A friend of mine once said, “You like March Madness don’t you. Wouldn’t you want to have the same thing for football.” My answer is simple. “Yes. And I’ve already got it.” March Madness last three weekends in March. The format is win-or-go-home. The college football season currently lasts, what, 12 weeks from August to late fall with a bonus bowl season … all without Dick Vitale (and a little something extra, also without Billy Packer and Mike Krzyzewski). It is also something very akin to a win-or-go-home format. Why would I want to give that up?
- Conference Champions. A playoff would render conferences stupid and meaningless. You’d see traditional rivalries slowly go away—a lot like college basketball. Instead, everything would point toward the end-of-year playoff. And, by the way, you’d still have teams complaining that they didn’t make the playoff field regardless of whether it’s twelve teams, eight teams, or four teams.
- Tradition. Is nothing sacred. Inter-league play in baseball is weird—even after several years. I think every NBA team actually goes to the playoffs. Same with hockey except there’s no one watching. No more Jim McKay and Acapulco Cliff Diving. OK the old bowl system is gone. It was either archaic or timeless, neither of which matters now. But is it asking too much to leave one of our national pasttimes the same for my children and grandchildren; something to tie the generations; some constant? I think college football is a good place for that.