How Inertia and the BCS Could Kill College Football

I will lay out my bias up-front – I am a playoff guy. For reference, see my post from last December outlining what I believe to be a truly workable playoff system. This post – which I have been kicking around in my head for weeks – is designed to convince you why every fan of a power conference team should be wary of the current system. And why the ensuing “race to the bottom” that I predict could kill the goose that lays the proverbial golden eggs.

As you have no doubt noticed, college football polls are based largely inertia – not science, or even informed opinion. And the college football powers that be have stupidly continued to increase their influence, while diminishing (flawed, but still better) computer formulas that consider things like, say, who you beat. And whether you load up with seven or even eight home games. See the home cooking, cupcake-heavy OOC slates of Virginia Tech and Auburn (despite being burned by such a schedule when the formula gave more weight to computers). As I noted when the 12th game was added to the schedule, home games (or de-facto home games at “neutral” sites) should have been capped at 7. Watch for this to spread like wildfire as teams realize the revenue and record-padding potential, while greatly diluting September football (as SFN’s own TigerFan has already noted the past 2 weeks of this season). At least VT lost today, and won’t skate through a very weak 2006 ACC and into the national title picture. It would have been a travesty for an unbeaten Virginia Tech to be in the title game ahead of a one-loss team like LSU or the loser of Ohio State/Michigan.

But speaking of potential/likely travesties, the West Virginia Mountaineers lurk. Their “shining example” will likely lead to numerous copycats, all with the potential to destroy (or at least damage) college football as a spectator sport. Despite their consensus Top Ten status, you haven’t seen much of WVU on national TV – at least in prominent time slots. Wonder why? Check out this ridiculous excuse for a schedule. Note the two games against ranked teams, and one of those two (Rutgers) is only ranked due to their similar creampuff schedule (5 OOC games, only 2 against BCS opponents – perpetually futile UNC and Illinois). Despite playing in by far the weakest BCS conference, the Mountaineers’ best nonconference opponent is Maryland, which finished 5-6 in 2005, and looks even worse this year. It was also at home, of course.

So, what is the WVU formula? Instead of Fresno State’s “we’ll play anybody, anywhere” pledge, play nobody. Compile a nice 9 or 10-win season, so that (thanks to our old friend, inertia) you start the following season ranked. Maybe even in the Top 10 or Top 15. Then, continue to play nobody, so you climb slowly up the rankings as genuinely good teams lose to tougher competition. Finally, win the one legitimate game on the schedule you can’t really avoid (Louisville), and boom – you’re playing for the national championship. All of the tough 1-loss teams from the toughest conferences play meaningless exhibitions, while you play your second legitimate game for all the marbles. Could you imagine an NFL team playing only one game vs. teams other than, say, the Raiders, Titans, and 49ers – and then the Super Bowl? Unthinkable, but college football could see it this year. Because it wouldn’t be “fair” to rank a team with the loss ahead of an unbeaten.

Naturally, if and when this plays out, other BCS schools will adopt the same model, and further weaken the football product available for television. As the NBA has shown us, with weaker product comes weaker interest and ratings. But let there be no doubt – this is a race to the bottom that schools in the true power conferences can never win. It’s simply impossible for a Big Ten or SEC school to “out West Virginia West Virginia” – because their conference games will always be tougher. And the bogus system in place will continue to reward timidity, at the expense of those who compete on the highest level. Conference title games – which are good for the sport, fans, and revenues – will continue to place yet another hurdle in front of deserving national contenders. More risk for little reward.

The power conferences would dominate a 16-team playoff. And they wouldn’t have to worry about a September loss (or an early December one in a thrilling conference title game, a current risk that a West Virginia or Notre Dame never has to face) eliminating them from the championship picture becuase it’s so easy for a team like WVU in 2006 to not go undefeated. But don’t be surprised when systematic inertia keeps that from happening – at least not until college presidents face the specter of falling revenue. By then, it could be too late.

Late Notes:
Wanted to add some articles that are related to this and are definitely worth chronicling:

* ESPN has this article about scheduling and playoffs that is just fantastic.

About BJD95

1995 NC State graduate, sufferer of Les and MOC during my entire student tenure. An equal-opportunity objective critic and analyst of Wolfpack sports.

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70 Responses to How Inertia and the BCS Could Kill College Football

  1. Tau837 10/01/2006 at 3:33 AM #

    I missed the original post last year and just saw it when it was linked today. I have long had the following idea about a workable playoff system, which I humbly submit is a bit better than the one posted by SFN:

    1. 8 teams.

    Why? Primarily because it mimics the number of BCS bowl teams prior to this year, and thus leaves the rest of the bowl system intact. Also because the driving reason for a playoff *should* be to ensure we crown the right champion… and it is unlikely that a team that does not qualify for the playoff in this system would have had a shot.

    2. BCS conference champs get an automatic bid.

    Why? Same as current BCS system. No reason to change it.

    3. One wild card must be from outside BCS conferences.

    Why? Keeps the Cinderella factor alive all season every year, and ensures there is at least one David vs. Goliath game every year. Also, from the flip side, provides more incentive to finish as the #1 seed. This also makes the regular season even more important to the BCS conference teams, as they can count on only one wild card per season. Note: Notre Dame does not enjoy special status, although they may well be in position to often fill this slot. But use of a committee should help to ensure that they earn it.

    4. A committee is used to select the wild cards and to seed the teams.

    Why? Because no formula, Sagarin ratings, etc., can automatically take all important factors into account. If the committee chooses to use BCS ranking formula, Sagarin ratings, etc., that is their choice. But they do not have to blindly follow any particular system. All the same reasons it is appropriate in basketball apply here. Also, it preserves a bit of the unknown until the final conference championship game is played, which should only add to the drama down the stretch of the regular season.

    5. Higher seeds play at home in the first round.

    Why? It is too much to expect fans to travel on three consecutive weekends. Also, this provides incentive for all contenders to impress the committee, via their scheduling and their play.

    6. BCS bowl sites are used for the “Final 4” games, with a rotation system used.

    Why? Primarily to appease those bowl committees and to try to retain a bit of the old bowl tradition while still facilitating a needed playoff. The odd bowl out could still be played, as the “NIT” bowl… or it could just be skipped. Or instead of a rotation system, we could just choose to cut the Orange Bowl and always use the other three, simply rotating which is the title game. Or whatever.

    That’s about it. Some of the commonly used arguments against a playoff system:

    *Too many games for the kids (academically and/or physically).* Not really. All these kids would play a bowl game anyway. Only 4 teams will play more than the normal amount. And only 2 teams will play 2 extra games. And it is done at other levels of football. As for the academic side of it, the extra game(s) comes right at the start of a new semester at most schools, so it is doable.

    *Will reduce the current emphasis on the regular season, which is what makes college football great.* On the contrary, the fact that at most 7 BCS conference teams can make it, with only one conference getting 2 teams, at least maintains the current sense of urgency. And the need to impress the committee for seeding purposes adds to it.

    *Will take away from the other bowls.* Not so. Already there is a distinction made between the BCS bowls and non-BCS bowls. It would simply maintain that same distinction.

    I am convinced that such a system would eclipse March Madness and be the most popular annual sports event other than possibly the Super Bowl.


  2. Woof Wolf 10/01/2006 at 9:05 AM #

    I agree that we need some type of playoff and I agree that the WVU schedule is weak this year. But to atribute the weak schedule to some contrived scheme to win a national championship is totally wrong.

    When the meat of this schedule was put together eight or ten years ago. Boston College, Miami, and Virginia Tech were all in the Big East and I’m sure figured prominetly in the planning of the schedule. When those three teams pulled out three years ago, WVU had to scramble to fill those holes in their schedule. I doubt they found any power schools from the other BCS conferences who were lining up to volunteer to play in Morganton.

    Boston College, Miami and Va. Tech may be a little down this year, but with them on that schedule four years ago it would have looked plenty tough.

  3. BJD95 10/01/2006 at 9:52 AM #

    When the 12th game opened up, WVU could have gone tough, and they didn’t. Plus, even if it was not a WVU “conspiracy”, others will see the end result and copy it.

    An 8-team playoff is unfair for power conference teams. When a conference has 4 or 5 legitimate Top 10 teams (like the SEC this year), it should not be limited to 1 or 2 slots. 16 works for 1-AA, and is the minimum number to be fair to the big boys while giving a shot to the little guy.

  4. tvp 10/01/2006 at 10:38 AM #

    16 is waaay too many. The only thing worse than an undefeated WV playing for the championship is a 9-3 team that gets in as the 15th or 16th seed winning it. Sure that could lead to tougher scheduling, but it would also lead to those games meaning a LOT less than they do now.

    Look at the OSU-Texas games the past two years. One of the things that made those matchups so huge was the stakes: winner has the upper hand on a national title game appearance; loser is in big trouble. Oh, an Texas won last year and OSU may win this year – so the big names may see this trend and start moving in the opposite direction (towards scheduling a marquee game every year).

    Usually at the end of the season you can cut the list of teams that have a legitimate claim to the national title to 4 or less; I’d be fine with a 4 team playoff at the end. And if a WVU with a pansy-ass schedule makes it every now and then into the “Final 4”, so what? They’ll probably get crushed, and if they win it, then they deserve it.

  5. stejen 10/01/2006 at 11:25 AM #

    What I want to know is why the argument that a playoff system would not work? The amount of interest (and money) that would be generated from a playoff system would put the basketball playoffs to shame. Look at it this way, these small bowls that have 6-5 teams playing that can’t sell half of their tickets and why? Because both teams know the game is meaningless. Now, if the winner of that game advanced further in the playoff’s I guarantee you that every bowl game would be sold out. And the final game? I can’t even imagine what the ratings would be. So, in essance the Meinecke Car Bowl game of last year would have been a total sell out, tn ratings would have gone through the roof and scalpers probably would be demanding hundreds of dollars for tickets and the crowd would have been very much into the game to cheer State on to the next game. As it was the game was just an extra game and everyone knew it.

  6. Mr O 10/01/2006 at 12:25 PM #

    Nothing is going to kill college football.

  7. Woof Wolf 10/01/2006 at 1:34 PM #

    After thinking about this and considering everything that’s been said, I like the eight team format the best. The six BCS conference champions get automatic bids and the other two go to champions of the other conference or an independant.

    As for highly ranked teams in a power conference like the SEC is this year, if they don’t win their conference they do not deserve to play for the national championship. If LSU beats Auburn during the regular season and Florida in the conference championship game, they shouldn’t have to face them again in a national championship game. Also this would leave some highly ranked non coference champions for match ups in other bowl games.

    The eight team format would encourage more competitive OOC scheduling because the overall record doesn’t mean anything. Teams could schedule competitive OOC games without worrying that a September lost could cost them a shot at the national championship.

    I think a sixteen team play off would probably totally destroy the existing bowl format, and there are too many people who for some very good reasons don’t want that to happen.

    But having said all that, there may not be enough support to get even the eight team format in the short term. A four team format with one playing four and two playing three in the existing BCS format would be an improvement. The national championship game could be scheduled the week after the final bowl games.

    This would keep everything we have intact, add a blockbuster revenue game and get us closer to a real national champion. Then when this is sucess for a year or two we can say, “This works so good maybe we should expand it to eight teams.”

  8. banders2 10/01/2006 at 4:09 PM #

    Talk about inertia! In today’s Coach’s Poll, Virginia Tech is ranked AHEAD of Georgia Tech. One day after th Jackets put up 38 in Blacksburg. And BC! WOW, I guess after they visit Blackburg, they will either solidify their 25th spot or fall out. I’m sure glad that 15th ranked Clemson scheduled (and beat) the powerhouse that is the 1-3 La Tech (they beat Nicholls St) this week to carry the banner for the ACC as the premier conference in college football.

    The ACC’s only hope of having a National Title contender this year is Wake Forest, so I’m glad they beat Liberty this week to give them some street credibility. Unfortunately, they have 4 ranked teams ahead of them, Clemson, FSU, VT, and BC. At 15, 17, 21, and 25, at least for now.

    10 of the 12 ACC teams don’t have a win over a non-conference opponent from a BCS conference!!! Only VT and WF. They Big East has 6 of 8 that actually have a victory over a BCS non-conference team. Only South Florida and Cincy don’t.

    If WVU were to make it to and win the National Championship, they will have beaten 2 top 10, if not 2 top 5 teams that will include the #1 team. Likewise, if Louisville were to sweep, they will have defeated 2 top 5 teams, including the #1 team. Any team that does that deserves the National Championship trophy. The only other potential NC contenders that can say that are Ohio State and whoever makes it out of the SEC.

  9. VaWolf82 10/01/2006 at 4:16 PM #

    The amount of money that would be generated from a playoff system would put the basketball playoffs to shame.

    This claim is often made, but is not based on anything real. Companies pay alot of money to have their name attached to a bowl game…especially a BCS bowl game. You will start off your playoff system by losing this sponsorship money. So the blanket statement, with no supporting evidence, is not convincing.

    As far as selling out the playoff games….I’m not convinced here either. The travel plans would be substantially more difficult than for the normal home game schedule. Some schools could always guarantee that their allotment would be sold out….but how many?

    I am not against a playoff system. I just have never seen a proposal that will generate more money than the present system. Until you can guarantee more money….then it’s just not even worth discussing.

  10. joe 10/01/2006 at 4:23 PM #

    I’m sure some people in college FB like the arguments over who is #1 or #2 when it’s not clear cut. In every other sport , everything is settled on the field/court/ice so there is no controversy.

    The TV networks probably have to really push for a playoff for it to get done and they probably have to offer a lot more money.

  11. WolfPup35 10/01/2006 at 4:42 PM #


  12. Woof Wolf 10/01/2006 at 6:42 PM #

    1AA teams only play 11 regular season games. Their regular season ends this year on Nov, 18. The BCS conference champiopnship games generate more television revenue than 1AA gets all year. To do it like 1AA does each team would lose the revenue from one regular game plus the BCS conference championship revenue. Then there is all that bowl money.

    The money from football and basketball supports all the other non revenue sports. If we dropped the non revenue sports we would have put women on the football ane basketball to be in compliance with Chapter 9.

  13. Woof Wolf 10/01/2006 at 6:47 PM #

    Wow I need to start using my text editor.

    …we would have to put women on the football and basketball teams…

  14. Woof Wolf 10/01/2006 at 7:05 PM #

    And that should be “Title IX” not Chapter 9.

  15. Wolfpack4ever 10/01/2006 at 7:49 PM #

    A play-off system would guarantee a champion, it would not guarantee the “right” team would win or the best team would win – think NCSU in ’83 or Villanova in ’84.

    If the purpose of a playoff is to improve the product and popularity of college football, I say eliminate the championship in football altogether. The bowls would be popular because your team was playing.

    Want to be fair? Let all teams practice until the bowls are over. The blue Balls Bowl in Boise might lose its popularity for some teams.

    College football is following NASCAR’s is lead with commercialism. The Chase — comparable to what is proposed as the playoff system — has a side effect of “irreleventizing” racing for some teams during the Chase. NASCAR is commericalism run riot — the JC Penny White Sale Pontiac hit a Quaker State, That’s one tough motor oil, slick and slammed into the Sakrete concrete wall and had to be towed to the Zagnut infield — and College football is not far behind.

  16. crpagpalp 10/01/2006 at 8:40 PM #

    “the JC Penny White Sale Pontiac hit a Quaker State, That’s one tough motor oil, slick and slammed into the Sakrete concrete wall and had to be towed to the Zagnut infield”

    Someone must be a huge John Boy and Billy fan 😉

  17. Wolfpack4ever 10/01/2006 at 11:17 PM #

    Yeah, but not recently. I had to pull over whenever they aired this guy. This red-necked Pack fan could wreck his pick-up truck driving and listening to Marvin.

  18. noah 10/02/2006 at 9:20 AM #

    If you go to a playoff system, half of the teams in Division I football might as well give up their program altogether. It would be a complete waste of money.

    However, there will be a playoff in college football….the day that someone puts together a business plan that shows that it would generate more money for the TV networks and another group of people review it, look at the numbers and say, “Yep…we’re missing out.”

    The TV executives want MORE games, not fewer games. The three hours of the day that get chewed up by a football program are three hours that FSN and ESPN and ESPN2 and NBC and ABC and CBS *don’t* have to come up with original programming for.

    The cost of putting the Nevada-Boise St. football game on Friday night is minimal. Nobody watches TV on Friday night. You put it on ESPN and suddenly, you’ve got an audience you can sell to advertisers.

    The great thing about the bowl system is that stations like ESPN and FSN and other smaller networks can gobble up those minor games and completely fill in the last three weeks of December with basketball and football games.

    I doubt very seriously that Mickey Mouse would be willing to give that up.

    Let’s say that you do go to a playoff system. Let’s say that an early #2 vs. #7 game features Texas against Auburn. Good game. Is the audience for that game going to be bigger than it would be if that was a regular season game? Or the Cotton Bowl?

  19. cfpack03 10/02/2006 at 9:45 AM #

    A great example of the ‘wvu’ scheduling trend is Louisville canceling on us, instead opting for the easier win, the Tarheels.

  20. joe 10/02/2006 at 10:40 AM #

    Mickey (ABC) is no longer involved in the BCS TV – Fox now has the rights

  21. BJD95 10/02/2006 at 11:33 AM #

    I don’t see how a playoff system could possibly not get MONSTER ratings.

  22. packpigskinfan23 10/02/2006 at 11:41 AM #

    I agree that a playoff system would and could work… and one reason I really hope it does is for those of you who keep talking crap about teams like WV being in the top 10. Sure they dont play anybody… but damn, after they have dominated everyone they have played so far(with the exception of an excellent game versus another team that you all count out as pie- ECU), why should they not be a NC calliper team? I guess it all comes downt o the Louisville game, right?! I mean, if they win… they should be in the title game. I am tired of reading all this crap about their schedule… They have undeniable talent…

    and would everyone get off WF’s ass already!!! they are not a top 25 team at all, and we will all see that soon. VERY soon.

  23. packpigskinfan23 10/02/2006 at 11:41 AM #

    ^and either is BC!!!! it makes me sick that they are still ranked.

  24. noah 10/02/2006 at 11:59 AM #

    “I don’t see how a playoff system could possibly not get MONSTER ratings.”

    Monster ratings aren’t the issue. It’s not going to get super bowl numbers. It will probably get a little bit better numbers than the bowl system produces for the Jan. 1 day games. The college football audience is what it is. The Super Bowl gets people who aren’t football viewers to watch it. The college football playoff won’t do that.

    What the networks would be giving up is the volume of games that the bowls give them.

    For me personally…I wouldn’t watch many games in the playoffs. I’ll watch NC State when they’re in a bowl game, but if they aren’t playing, I’m an extremely casual observer.

    I imagine a significant part of the college football audience would simply disappear from the sport completely. My father-in-law is a lifetime supporter of Marshall University football. He knew a bunch of the guys who died in the 1971 crash (he served as an advisor for the forthcoming movie on that event), he’s always had season-tickets, he goes to every game, home and away. But he’s said plenty of times that if Marshall isn’t playing, he hardly every watches. I know plenty of people who are like that with their college team.

    Furthermore, I would be willing to bet that a sizeable chunk of the college football audience would probably just move from college football to pro football. Half of the schools in D1 would never have a single thing to ever play for. Probably 80 percent of the schools wouldn’t have any reason to give a crap after the first week of the season and 90-95 percent wouldn’t care after about week five.

    The second half of the season would be utterly meaningless to the overwhelming majority of schools that kept competing at a D1 level (and that number would drop considerably) every single year.

    If I were the AD at Dook and a playoff system was in place, I’d probably talk a lot in ACC meetings about dropping football completely. I imagine Wake would do the same. We’d both be trying to convince the ACC that doing should be allowed without impacting our standing in the conference.

    I imagine the college football landscape would be a pretty dreadful place until the playoffs began. it would be like hockey and the NBA….hardly anyone would care.

    Say what you want about how the NFL wants everyone to go 8-8. There are 18 regular season weeks in an NFL season. NFL fans care about every single week. There are significant games every single week. Even in the last week of the season, you have 10 teams that are still in contention for the playoffs.

    You won’t have that in college football. You’ll have the direct opposite.

  25. westwolf 10/02/2006 at 12:05 PM #

    Ohio State and Mich. made careers out of having only one, maybe two meaningful games a season. It’s only in the recent past that the Big Ten has more than two good teams in it.

    Same goes for Nebraska and OU of the old Big Eight conference.

    A playoff in college football is a bad idea.

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