Sunday, December 7, 2008

Plus-one is the way to go for NCAA

By Rick Morris

I hold what is the singular most unpopular view in America right now – coming in just behind those who advocate public cross-burning to protest Obama’s election and those who would nominate Michael Jackson for Babysitter of the Year.

My heinous belief? Advocating a plus-one system to modify the BCS rather than replacing it altogether with a playoff. I want to see the top four teams square off, with two BCS bowls serving as national semifinals on January 1 and the winners of these games meeting in the BCS Title Game a week later. To keep the number of BCS bowl spots constant, and to honor the past in a way that is truly necessary, I would add the Cotton Bowl as a BCS bowl to be part of the mix.

A few years back, FDH worked with another entity at that took very direct stands on a number of hot-button sports issues. This organization invited me to submit a guest editorial about the changes college football needed, with the clear expectation that my column would be advocating for a playoff. After all, don’t most reasonable people agree on the need for one? When I indicated that my preference was for a plus-one, these folks immediately stopped pressing me to editorialize about college football for them. The skunk at the garden party had struck again!

I understand that most people do not agree with me. Most people also, however, don’t have the ability to deal to separate a scoundrel making an argument from the validity of the argument itself. So when the fat, stogie-puffing good ol’ boys who control college football make their cynical-sounding arguments about “the sanctity of the regular season,” people are automatically pre-programmed to dismiss it as worthless spin. But the argument is valid, regardless of the credibility-impaired potentates who have been putting it out there. In other words, just because they said it, it doesn’t mean that it’s not true.

Frankly, the pro-playoffs crowd relies on cheap cliches to be able to make their points, the notion of “settling it on the field” being the most prominent one. Essentially, these people want to argue with buzzwords rather than the actual substance of the issue. They are actually much like Marxists trying to create a utopian paradise on earth, without the realization that perfection cannot be legislated.

What is undeniable is the reality that the regular season gets cheapened with a playoff system and that, yes, the regular season DOES presently constitute a playoff of sorts. The SEC Championship Game was a de facto national semifinal as ‘Bama and Florida battled for an almost-guaranteed spot in the BCS Title Game. FDH Senior Editor Jason Jones has argued with me that the college hoops regular season is not meaningless – and it’s certainly not completely so, I’ll give him that – but compare the lack of national buzz that the UNC/Notre Dame game (a clash of two Top 10 teams) got this past week – or Duke’s upset at the hands of Michigan. Neither of those games will matter one iota come March, whereas they could well have been national championship elimination games under college football’s system.

We can also stipulate that the bigger the playoff, the cheaper the regular season gets – see above examples. Now, even a plus-one can have a cheapening effect under rare circumstances (such as the Game of the Decade, #1 Ohio State vs. #2 Michigan in 2006, with the loser elimnated from the national championship picture instead of probably still maintaining a spot in a plus-one format), but again, no scenario is perfect.

Now, I freely confess that there would be a victim this year under my recommended system. It’s likely that Oklahoma and Florida would be joined by Texas and USC if a plus-one were to exist right now, leaving Penn State out in the cold. That’s not fair, right?

Well, how about what would happen with an eight-team playoff? You take those five aforementioned teams, add in Alabama … and then two of the following three: Texas Tech, Utah and Boise State. Oops! Either an undefeated mid-major team misses out altogether (hello, federal antitrust lawsuit!) or Texas Tech, a one-loss team from the 2008 Big 12 South (one of the toughest divisions in NCAA history) sits at home.

Okay, how about a 16-team playoff? We’re only going to look at this within the prism of what could possibly happen, rather than the naïve, “It oughta be this way!!!” drivel of the playoff partisans – because we live in the real world and there are limitations to what can be accomplished politically with the entrenched interests in place. Look at how little actual progress has been made towards crowning a real champion on the field over the decades as evidence.

Well, as FDH Dignitary Nate Noy correctly points out, under that system, there would surely be a mandate from the conference presidents (a parasitic group devoted to trying to advocate as many benefits for their members as the elite conferences earn with their on-field performances) to include all 11 Football Bowl Subdivision champions. How hyped up are you for a playoff that includes Buffalo (who beat out an undefeated Ball State team in the MAC Championship team, thus taking a supremely interesting squad out of the mix)? Or Troy? Or East Carolina? Or Cincinnati? What’s the point of a football playoff that would have half (give or take) of the first-round matchups serving as meaningless squashes year after year? And surely the asinine mandate that no conference have more than one at-large bid, which pollutes the present-day BCS and puts Texas Tech on the outside looking in while Ohio State gets in with few if any signature victories, would survive a conversion to a tournament, thanks to the aforementioned weasels working on behalf of the lesser conferences. So a “settle it on the field” bracket wouldn’t have the Red Raiders … or a one-loss Ball State team that bulldozed everybody up to their letdown in Detroit (because the MAC would never get an at-large bid in a million years) or Georgia or Oklahoma State. Allrightythen.

Playoff advocates will sometimes make the condescending argument that they would have no problem with bowls continuing to exist outside the playoffs. Wonderful. So now we’ll take a tradition that dates back several decades, one that allows a great many teams to end their season on a note of accomplishment and downgrade that officially to the level of the NIT. Why don’t we just award all bowl winners a trophy carved from dung while we’re at it?

No, for all the failings of the present system, it’s still far closer to the ideal than anything that the playoff fanatics are concocting on their Dr. Frankenstein drawing boards. With a plus-one, almost every big game would carry with it the notion of probable title elimination, just as it does now. While this year’s Red River Shootout would not have resulted in either team being squeezed out, isn’t that preferable to the mess we see now with Texas having a legitmate claim to a spot in the big game and the possibility of another split national title if they win big and Florida or Oklahoma wins ugly? When all of the possibilities are laid out, in the end, it’s the plus-one system that successfully bridges the gap between removing the damage (at least, as much as possible) of the present BCS setup and preventing the wholesale reduction in value of the regular season that a playoff would carry with it.

I only hope that I’m able to watch it if it gets implemented once I get shipped off to the leper colony along with any others who stand up to the “playoffs uber alles” crowd.

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