BCS proponents have found their savior: The Arizona Cardinals
The Arizona Cardinals prove a playoff would devalue the college regular season
Imagine 9-4 Virginia Tech clinching its division, getting hot and then winning it all
After four mediocre months, four great playoff games were all that mattered
Each year, when fans, broadcasters and columnists engage in their annual hand-wringing over the lack of a college football playoff, the lords of the BCS defend their divisive system by noting a playoff would deflate the sport's uniquely gripping regular season. Playoff proponents never want to hear it.
Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to present the living embodiment of a devalued regular season: The Arizona Cardinals.
In a little over a week, the Cardinals, who finished the NFL regular season with a 9-7 record, will face the 12-4 Pittsburgh Steelers for the right to be crowned 2008 NFL champions. That seems like a misnomer, though, as Arizona will have earned its championship primarily in 2009.
Never mind that the Cardinals scored one more point (427) than their opponents (426) over the course of a 16-game season. Never mind that they lost four of their last six games, including three by at least 21 points. Never mind that 15 other teams -- nearly half the league -- finished with the same or a better record than Arizona.
Because the sport employs a traditional playoff rather than polls and computers, a Cardinals championship will be deemed far more legitimate than Florida's BCS title this past college season. Four great playoff games will override four months of mediocrity.
Much the same thing occurred last year when the New England Patriots beat the New York Giants in the regular-season finale to become the first team in history to finish 16-0. In the end, though, all that mattered was the Giants -- a 10-6 wild-card team -- beating the Patriots in a February rematch.
Peter King addressed this subject in his most recent Monday Morning Quarterback, asking "What exactly does the [NFL] regular season mean anymore?"
"If the NFL has now arrived at a strange point where regular-season performance does nothing to predict playoff performance, and every team has an equal chance to win if they make the tournament, is that bad for the league?'' Football Outsiders president Aaron Schatz wrote King in an e-mail.
It's certainly bad for the Tennessee Titans, whose league-best 13-3 record this season earned them ... bupkis.
On Tuesday, a reader asked King whether the two best teams were playing in the Super Bowl, to which King replied: "The two hottest teams at the end of the year are in the [Super Bowl], which is all that counts."
If that's true, why does the NFL even bother to hold a regular season? (Wait, I know -- for fantasy football and gamblers.) Why not stage one big, 32-team playoff? Heck, the league could hold three of those in the same amount of time it takes to bother with a regular season.
Three Super Bowls a year. Imagine the ad revenue!
In a story from last week's Sports Illustrated leading up to the NFC title game, Cardinals defensive end Bertrand Berry explained his team's late-season slump thusly: "Mentally we eased up a little bit because we had clinched [the NFC West division] so early."
That, my friends, is exactly what college football's powers-that-be fear most. Theirs is the only sport where every single game truly matters, where you can't afford to take your foot off the peddle for even one week. (Just ask USC.) Were there a playoff, the Gators -- which, like the Cardinals, clinched their division early (Nov. 8) -- could have tanked their last three regular-season games without jeopardizing their title hopes in the slightest.