It’s bowl season, so naturally we have everybody from politicians to sportswriters clamoring for a national playoff. There are multiple calls in the media for one, and there’s a bill in a House committee that would prevent the final BCS game from being called the championship game without a playoff.
Here’s a minority media vote to leave the system as it is. It’s working the way it was intended to.
And here’s a news flash: College football doesn’t exist for the media or politicians. It’s about the players and the fans who come to the games, as opposed to the couch potatoes who think of college football as just another entertainment vehicle.
College football is much different than the NFL, which needs to know the best team each year. The playoff system generally works well for the NFL because it’s easier to judge teams with an interlocking schedule. Teams with better season records have home-field advantage. There’s still no guarantee the best team will emerge, but the playoff structure makes it likely.
There’s simply no way you could structure college football the same way because there’s an enormous disparity between the best and worst. Because there are only a handful of intersectional games between top teams from different conferences, it’s impossible to evaluate the teams as accurately. So, there would be built-in errors in any playoff structure.
But that’s not the biggest reason not to have a college football playoff. The biggest reason is the players.
In the NFL, football is a business. Additional games simply mean more money. It’s not a business for college players. They’re on athletic scholarships, which are a bargain if they actually get an education, but too often they’re a fraud at schools that bring them in only to play football. Making them play additional games only means more chance of injury in a violent game.
Even the giants in college football have only a handful of players who ever make it to the pros; the overwhelming majority of players will end their careers in college. Unfortunately, many of them will suffer injuries that will be with them for the rest of their lives. Adding more games just adds to that risk.
The fans also should be considered. Fans at NFL games are straightforward in their desires: They simply want to see their teams win. If there’s no pro team in the area, these fans gravitate to the college games. But the great majority of fans are graduates of the colleges or spouses, relatives or friends of alums. They want to see their team win, too, but there’s an allegiance to the school that transcends the game.
One of the primary justifications for college football is that it’s nearly the only activity that brings alums and students together. When I walk through the Cal campus before a game, I see a tremendous range of ages, from alumni in their 80s to toddlers brought by their parents. There’s nothing like that at a pro game.
These fans don’t have the same obsession with the race to No. 1 that occupies much of the media and the couch potatoes.
They want to see their team in a bowl — and as good a one as possible — but they don’t have an obsession with the national championship.
The current system is working fine. Forget the playoff.