Cardinals make case against a playoff (cont.)
The Virginia Tech Hokies are a more appropriate college parallel to the Cardinals. The Hokies won the ACC last season with a 9-4 record. They were ranked 19th in the final BCS standings and hadn't entered the national-title discussion since the preseason.
However, in a playoff, Virginia Tech would have been guaranteed a berth. (Every other major sport, college and professional, gives first dibs to conference/division champions. College football wouldn't be any different.) Who's to say the Hokies couldn't have gotten hot, pulled off a couple of upsets and won the whole thing?
A national champion with four losses. There goes your "meaningful" regular season.
Don't get me wrong, the BCS is far from ideal. Now more than ever, it's an inherently ludicrous task to identify just two teams worthy of a shot at the national championship.
Much of the angst directed toward the BCS is not about the format as much as the selection process, which puts teams' fates in the hands of sportswriters, coaches and computers. While no postseason format will ever be controversy-free, the proposed "plus-one" -- a four-team playoff using the bowls as semifinals -- would widen the pool of contenders without devaluing the regular season.
However, at the BCS meetings in Hollywood, Fla., last spring, several conference commissioners expressed their reservation that a plus-one would be the first step down an inevitable path toward an eight- or, eventually, 16-team playoff. And that's when the college regular season as we know it goes kaput.
Most playoff proponents refuse to believe that. Of course the regular season would still matter, they say. Alabama fans will always care about the Auburn game, Florida State fans the Florida game, regardless of record.
That may be true at first. But as with every other single-elimination sport, sooner or later, the playoffs would become the only thing that matters. As it is today, fans of all but the most woeful teams retain a vested interest until the very end due to the prospect of a bowl berth. With a playoff in place, fans would inevitably lose interest once their teams were eliminated from contention. Even if the bowls stayed in business, they'd become to football what the NIT is to basketball.
Meanwhile, the regular season would become just like the NFL's and college basketball's. Instead of revolving around the national-title race, the biggest games at the end of the season would be those involving potential wild-card or at-large teams. In college football, there's always at least one, if not several, big "national" games each week (like the ones GameDay features). With a playoff, it would be more like basketball, where there are only two truly "big" games unaffiliated fans watch in droves: The two Duke-North Carolina games. Just substitute Ohio State-Michigan and Oklahoma-Texas.
Obviously, the NFL doesn't exactly suffer because of its playoff format. Fans will not be any less interested in next September's games due to the Cardinals' presence in this year's Super Bowl. But the ebb and flow of professional football's season has been entrenched for 40-plus years. It's engrained in us that the regular season is merely a build-up to the playoffs.
For 100-plus years, it's been engrained in college football fans that every week matters, and that teams are judged on their season-long performance. The prospect of a 9-7 team (or 9-4 team, as the case may be) playing for the national championship flies in the face of the sport's entire tradition.
The single most common argument college playoff advocates make is that: "Every other sport does it." What they never bother to consider is that perhaps there's a reason college football is different than those other sports.
If the Cardinals played in college, they might have finished their season in the hometown Insight Bowl. Last month, two 7-5 teams -- Minnesota and Kansas -- played in that relatively low-profile game.
It's funny. In college, we complain when mediocre teams like the Gophers and Jayhawks are rewarded with bowl berths. In the pros, the system rewards comparable teams with a shot at the championship.