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James's Latest Thoughts
Why Do We Stand Alone?
02/03/03

I actually wrote this about 6 months ago, right before the start of the college football season. So I apologize if it seems a little dated. I also apologize for this having nothing to do with the Dolphins or the NFL. But I figured with the football season over, and Dolphin news being rather slow right now, I'd go ahead and publish it.

Baseball has it. Basketball does as well. In fact, every organized team sport in America has a structured playoff system except for Divisional I-A college football. But for some reason, the top division in college football does not. Well, I say it is time to join the rest of collegiate and professional sports and adopt a playoff system for division I-A college football.

Why should there be a playoff system? Would it really be that much better than what we have now? To answer both questions, I say yes. There are numerous reasons why a playoff system should be installed in I-A college football.

The first reason is fairness. In 1998, the NCAA tried to install a more legitimate system for determining the college football champion. From 1990 to 1997, college football had co-champions four different times. (1997 - Michigan and Nebraska, 1995 - Nebraska and Penn State, 1992 - Washington and Miami, 1991 - Colorado and Georgia Tech.) No other sport has co-champions, so this caused some controversy. It left fans feeling that there was no true champion. And in my opinion, it was not fair to the two teams that were named as champs in those years.

There were also numerous controversies surrounding several teams that were crowned National Champions. According to the article, "Stressing the Need for Division 1-A College Football for a Playoff System to Determine a True Champion" from the website of Sports Fans of America, "For example, in 1984, BYU went through the regular season undefeated. They faced a 6-5 Michigan team in the Holiday Bowl, which forced W.A.C. champion Brigham Young University (12-0), due to the conference obligation to that bowl, against the University of Michigan (6-5). Believe or not, BYU barely won by a touchdown over a .500 team and was crowned national champion! Wow! What a true champion? ABC conducted a poll after the bowl season and 53% of the viewers deemed BYU as unworthy champions. The University of Florida, which was ranked third, was polled against BYU and viewers chose the Gators by a whopping 75%." *

While the BCS has tried to end a lot of the controversy, it does not go far enough. So far, the BCS has been extremely lucky. During it's short existence, there has been a clear-cut, undefeated team playing for the National Title. And each year, that team has won. But the opponent's of the eventual champion has be less than equitable.

In 2001, Miami was undefeated and was rightfully in the National Championship game. Nebraska was determined by a computer ranking (the BCS) to be Miami's opponent. But that decision was arguably unfair. Oregon had only one lost, as Maryland and Illinois. Yet they were excluded from the National Championship game.

The same thing happened in 2000. Oklahoma was undefeated and was rightfully placed in the National Championship game. The opponent was Florida State, who had lost only a single game that year. But the controversy began when the team that beat them, Miami, was not included in the game. Miami itself had only one loss. And to top that off, the team that beat Miami, Washington, had only a single loss as well.

In 1999, the 10-1 Kansas State Wildcats found themselves not only out of the National Championship game, but out of all BCS Bowl games completely. Was that fair? Certainly not.  

It is only a matter of time before the BCS finds itself with an even bigger controversy. At some point, three teams could find themselves undefeated at the end of the regular season, thereby leaving one of them out of the National Championship picture. Or, even more probable, the BCS could find themselves without any undefeated teams, and with several schools posting a 10-1 regular season. Another scenario is that the undefeated team loses to the 10-1 team. Both would end the season with the same record.

The second reason for a playoff system is that it would not penalize teams that face a tougher schedule due to conference championships. Teams from the Big 12 Conference and from the S.E.C conference, for example, usually face a tougher schedule than teams from other conferences because they must play teams within their conference. And traditionally, those conferences (the Big 12 and the S.E.C.), have better teams. In the past, a single loss often eliminated teams from National Championship contention. But with a playoff system, many teams will be given a second chance. For example, in 1999, Nebraska lost a regular season game to Texas.  After that loss, the Cornhuskers went on to win all the rest of their games, including a rematch with Texas in the Big 12 Championship game. However, they were not selected to go to the National Championship game. Instead Virginia Tech went to the National Championship game, and lost to the Seminoles, 46-29. Nebraska went on to beat defending national champs Tennessee. Could Nebraska have beaten Florida State and won the National Championship? It was very possible. But we will never know.

The third reason, is that it would ensure that the best team in the country will be crowned as National champs. My example with the 1999 Nebraska Cornhuskers is a prime example. Although it is debatable, it was believed by many fans and sports writers, (myself included), that Nebraska was the best team at that time, and that they could have beaten Florida State. A playoff would not only give teams with one loss a second chance, but it would ensure that the best team would win the National Championship.

Opponents of the playoff system list several arguments, believing that the playoff system would hurt college football in the long run. But I believe these arguments are flawed.

The first argument is that the BCS is fine, and that it draws more media attention and TV coverage than a playoff system would. I find this argument preposterous. Division I-A college basketball draws huge TV ratings, as does college baseball. I believe a playoff system would actually increase the TV ratings of college football as well. In a poll by Sports Wire "it was revealed that 80% fans were in favor of playoffs. But it's not just the fans who are in favor of this transition from bowls to national playoffs, 75% of Division I players want to see a national championship playoff too (Business Wire)." **

Another excuse is that it would trivialize the regular season, making many of the regular season games, as well as "rivalry games" meaningless. But according to Breck Brewer in his article, "It's Time to Bring on the Brackets", a playoff system would not harm the regular season. "The ongoing rivalry between Florida and Florida State is a good example of this. Since 1990, each has entered the game ranked in the top 10 and it is always a very meaningful clash that often eliminates one team from national contentionwww.seminoles.com. Though with a playoff this game could mean less than it does now, since it doesn't necessarily eliminate a team's chances, both teams would still have many incentives for winning, including momentum, ranking, perhaps home-field advantage, not to mention pride. I can guarantee you that no Gator fan or Seminole fan will ever see a UF-FSU match-up as "trivial." Plus, examples such as this create a unique opportunity for the beloved "rematch" game in the playoffs." **

A third argument is that a playoff system would take too much time, and would do more harm than good to student athletes who need that time for studying. But playoff systems could be installed to keep the number of weeks needed to play the games to a minimum.  When Oklahoma faced off against Florida State in the Orange Bowl in January of 2001, there was almost a five week lay-off from their previous game in the  Big 12 Championship. With a 16-team playoff schedule, only 4 weeks would be needed to play out the playoff bracket. In addition, each team could be limited to 11 regular season games. Many teams now find themselves playing 12 regular season games, plus a conference championship game, as well a Bowl game. This equals 14 games over the course of the season. This is only one less than what the two final teams would be playing under a playoff system.

The BCS proponents also argue that a playoff system would hurt the Bowls, and that traditional Bowls, such as the Rose Bowl, would become a thing of the past. But most of those that favor a playoff system have suggested that the Bowls could be incorporated into the playoff system, with the lesser bowls making up the first round brackets and the major bowls making up the final rounds. And a playoff system would guarantee that the Bowls would feature the top college football teams, which would draw larger crowds and more revenue from TV.   

They also argue that a playoff system would negate the polls, ie. the AP poll and the ESPN/Coaches poll. But I contend that the polls would still play an important part in determining which teams would make the playoffs. If the top 16 teams make the playoffs, then it would be the polls that help to determine that group of 16 teams. But in the end, the championship would be determined on the field, not by sportswriters who sit in front of a computer.

The NCAA took steps to try and ensure that division I-A college football would be more impartial. The BCS was a step in the right direction. But there will continue to be controversy until a playoff system is implemented. I don't see a playoff system being established anytime soon. But I think it will only be a matter of time before the growing opinions of fans, players, and coaches will be heard.


Works Cited
* - "Stressing the Need for Division 1-A College Football for a Playoff System to Determine a True Champion." Sports Fans of America, 21 December, 2001 Online

** - Brewer, Breck. "It's Time to Bring on The Brackets." Online

James has retracted his statement on Zach Thomas. E-mail him at Webmaster@jlsdolphinsite.com to congratulate him on pulling his head out....

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