Inside we close the door on Myth #1 and talk money.
Before moving on, let’s close the door on myth one. MattD SWFLNole (others too) are correct regarding the best mathematical way to determine a championship. I don’t by any means disagree with the basic principles of their arguments (that’s why some of my points sounded contradictory). To me their basic points are right, but the application of that information still points to playoffs. IF the 70 plus percent who chimed in on the article is a close representation of the rest of CFB fans, and these guys were to have a playoff “crammed down their throat” then they would at least agree to the following.
· A modest sized pool of applicants – George Mason and the likes have no place in a legitimate post season discussion. College basketball (which we are only comparing to, not discussing) gets this wrong. It’s heartwarming and touching, but they have not earned that right by playing and surviving tough regular seasons. A smaller sized pool of teams means that those teams will validate the regular season, not diminish it, by having played well enough to earn their way in. There will always be the really, really good teams and one or two questionable teams, but should not include the likes of teams not even good enough to make the top 10. I would rather have a size that adds just one too many teams on some years rather than cuts out a team that should get in on others. What size that pool of applicants should be is still up for debate. Bottom line: too big and unworthy teams get in. Two small and a quality post season team gets left out in the cold.
· Series determine the best teams – The premise is correct. That gives you a better shot at determining the better of two teams. The application, however is outlandish to me. I don’t think a sport of the physical nature of football leans in favor of having two teams duke it out 3 or more times. Also, this affects the math. If teams lose players to attrition from playing the same teams 2-3 times in a short amount of time before moving on, at some point you are not rewarding the best team, but the team who got beat up the least. I know that to a lesser degree that is always true, however that is to a lesser degree. I don’t think you can reasonably play series in football without bending the stats in the other direction. These things should at least be kept to a minimum.
· Strength of Schedule is a must – They are correct yet again! Teams SHOULD be rewarded for their play during the rest of the season. We are not yet fully discussing what size a playoff should be or how to select teams, but this is a basic must…with or without a playoff! In a playoff it could at least help to keep teams from sneaking in with no thought of a quality regular season opponent. It would be tough to regulate with scheduling, but perhaps a minimum SOS, or even a basic admittance requirement of playing a previous years top 25 team or a team from a top 15 bowl or something along those lines. It’s tough to know when you’re scheduling how a team will be in the future, so I’m not sure how to do this, but teams like Boise State seem like they aren’t even trying.
I will say that I don’t believe my myth debunking was…um…debunked, but then I never do. I DO feel that there were valid arguments on both sides and in the end it comes down to point of view. All of the above said let’s move on to Myth #2.
Follow the Cash! This is always true in life. I’m not certain we will ever get a playoff because of it. No matter how much fans want change, until they stop paying the bills, or management feels strongly that more cash is there to be made, management will carry on as usual.
So, where does the cash go in college football? It goes to conferences (some more than others) , TV networks, magazines, schools(same here), other sports, etc. The powers that be are raking in the cash, and the current system is doing quite well for itself. That’s one of the arguments against a playoff system. It would require a major change in the structure of how that cash changes hands, and ultimately is a risky venture.
Pause for honesty
I realize from the last “discussion” that I may not seem like the most open minded person. I’m not that bad, though. (If you don’t believe me I’ll prove it to you…and I’ll be right) I’m going to be honest about the fact that this myth dives into an area where I’m not all that strong.
Truth is I’m not a numbers guy. I’m no idiot. I understand statistics and big picture economic principles. I realize that numbers always tell the true story. (I’ll add that reading those numbers and what they mean is a huge part of that true story, and they must be interpreted correctly. I’ll even say that in my opinion a lot of those who are the best with numbers fall into a “can’t see the forest for the trees scenario”. They are SOMETIMES the best at doing the math, but NOT at making the best decision based on the findings) Numbers read correctly are where it’s at. I just don’t like to poor them out on my bed and roll around in them like others on this site. For that reason I’m going to lay open the argument, give very little definitive facts, and then throw out opinions based on sweeping generalizations. After which, I hope those with a talent for numbers will do some actual homework and then chime in.
Current Financial Structure:
There are four basic ways to make money in the current system: ticket sales, television, and merchandise, and sponsorship (bowls).
There are obvious advantages to the traditional powerhouse teams. They have tradition and a multi-generation deep fan base from which to draw ticket sales, TV interest, and even sell a minimum amount of merchandise. And, all that is BEFORE we consider whether or not they are actually popular at the moment. Cash also can ebb and flow based on teams trending up or down. Winning certainly doesn’t hurt. It takes winning over time to climb to the top, though. Boise State (since we are using them nowadays) for example has got to have more cash for their football team than at any point in history, but they are new on the scene and there is no way they can compete with the big boys and their, deep pockets, conference affiliations, and old-money fan bases.
How does this affect the Post season? The BCS is probably composed of most of the better conferences and teams in the sport. Probably, but they are definitely comprised of the most lucrative teams and conferences in the sport, because they can draw the ratings, sell the merchandise, and have more cash on hand than lesser schools and conferences. In the current system they are receiving preferential treatment.
We can argue whether teams like TCU and Boise State are worthy to play with the big boys yet or not. We cannot, however, argue whether or not they wield the same kind of power financially. Even IF Boise State were as good as the big boys (they are not) they still would not get a fair shake at the moment.
The Big boys are locked into Bowl bids, and TV deals. They are scared of supporting any system that might let someone else have a piece of the pie. You numbers guys know that there is only one pie and only so much to go around. If others get a bigger slice, then those with the biggest slices will end up getting smaller slices in the end.
The teams and conferences who know this don’t want to talk about it that way. So, what they do is use fear to hold back the change.
The truth is they don’t want to share, but what they say is, “if we change it interest and ratings might go down.” I don’t know how they can really believe this. People watch football almost every night of the week now. Not because the teams on TV are good, but because there is football, any football , on TV. Lesser bowls are not watched because of tradition, half of those bowls didn’t even exist 20 years ago. They are watched because we really, really like football. We would rather watch two bad teams in an over hyped bowl game than whatever else is on TV at the moment.
Even opponents of playoffs have commented over the past week how entertaining playoffs are. I think a playoff could actually spike TV ratings.
The tickets argument:
I know ticket sales will be next to impossible for teams when fans won’t know where their teams are playing until the last minute. I think this is the biggest obstacle of using bowls for playoffs. I’m pretty sure the NFL system is the only way long term. High seeds play at home. This makes it possible for fans of the higher seeded teams to sell out the stadium. Yes they will have home field advantage, but they’ve earned that with…you guessed it… their play in the regular season. This further emphasizes the importance of regular season play in a playoff scenario.
We still haven’t discussed how the bowl split verses the home/away split might be different. To me that is easy enough to solve. Work it so that it is similar to the current system. The home team sells out the tickets, but the money is taken up and distributed similar to the bowl structure per winner, and loser.
Another ratings issue with playoffs is regular season games. If playoffs get to lengthy then the amount of regular season games might get chopped. Teams in the playoffs will not be affected, nor those with tiny fan bases. But, teams like Michigan or Tennessee could still sell out one or two more home games at 100,000 seats a pop whether they make the playoffs or not. I’m honestly not sure what the answer here is except to say that keeping the Bowls as a sort of NIT for the rest of the FBS might at least make up some of the difference.
Sponsors are not that big a deal. You may even get more sponsors for the “FBS playoffs” than for “whatever individual bowl game” as it will reach a wider audience. Merchandise need not be discussed in the playoff debate, as it is more based on a team’s popularity than the current structure vs. the old one.
A Viable Solution:
To me a viable solution is to make change slowly. We already have a title game. Next, add a plus one that uses the current major 4 bowls in some sort of rotation. Then move to 2 major bowl play-ins , the other 2 as semi’s, and a final in the title game. If at some point you run into a ticket sales issue THEN discuss separating the playoff teams from the bowl teams. Notice I think Bowls can still make money as a quasi-NIT sort of deal. Other solutions are possible here, but I’m saying take it one step at a time… 4 teams then 6, though I don’t personally support one much bigger than that.
We can really go to town discussing structures from the competition/fairness standpoint, but let’s do that in a future post. For now keep structural talk relevant to how it affects money.
Let the shredding begin!