What nobody is saying about the playoff argument

Now that BCS conference commissioners have universally shot down a playoff system, the internets are full of bloggers offering their two Abe’s worth on the matter.

Some, of course, argue for some type, any type, of playoff. Plus one, four team, six team, eight team – it doesn’t matter as long as the BCS gets replaced. Others argue against a playoff, either by sticking with the BCS or moving back to the bowl alliances entirely.

But in all the arguments for and against, nobody has yet stated what the actual root problem in CFB is:

It’s the poll system that’s the problem, people.

It’s the poll system that’s broken. Unless the polls are fixed, any changes to CFB will be an exercise in futility.

The primary issue with the BCS is not that it’s unable to match up nos. 1 and 2 – it does that just fine. The problem is that it contains no institution to ensure that the teams ranked number 1 and 2 are in fact the two best teams in the country, as the BCS rankings themselves are compiled using a flawed poll system.

Playoff advocates bleat on about “settling it on the field,” but their own systems are just variations of the same flawed concept: “we’ll just seed the top X teams…”

Top ‘X?’

Whatever the ‘X’ is, what institution decides who those teams are? What decides exactly where those teams relatively lie in that list of four/six/eight/etc.? What if different polls have differences, e.g., USC at #1 in the AP, #2 in the Coaches’, #3 in the Harris, and #7 in the computers?

Most advocating for one of the three options (Playoff/BCS/Pre-BCS) are ignoring this most important issue.

For example, consider MGoBlog’s solution to worldwide peace:

“But I would like to argue that, conceptually, the right playoff is a net positive for college football in all ways. Arguments like “but it will soon be 16 teams” won’t be addressed; I am advocating my [MGoPlayoff] system, not other, stupid systems.”

Brian’s MGoPlayoff system (which, btw, was written right after OSU knocked UM out of contention for the 2006 title) is very typical of most playoff ideas, in that it doesn’t require nor ask for any changes to the poll system to be made. They’re largely just variations of the same flawed idea. It’s always assumed that playoff seeding will happen automagically, and that even if it’s imperfect,

“…just because a playoff is still a little broken does not mean that it is not a preferable option to something that is almost always broken”

“Still a little broken” is the elephant-in-the-room understatement, as it minimizes the reality of the CFB playoffs being a lot broken most of the time.

For the record, I am against a playoff. Mostly because of the damage it would do to the bowl system. No, I’m not arguing about “bowl tradition,” just the reality that the bowls serve a very good purpose, by financing schools’ athletic programs. Jeff Snook:

“Ohio State for example, fields 36 men and women’s sports. Most major programs have somewhere in the 20s. From women’s field hockey to lacrosse to synchronized swimming, etc. You know what helps pay for those women’s sports, etc.? That‘s right — bowl money.

“Frankly, my daughter is a pretty good fast-pitch softball player. I want her to go to college. I wouldn’t mind if she received an athletic scholarship. She has a better chance of getting one at a BCS school because they have the means to pay for it, because there are 32 bowls generating almost $200 million annually.”

El Kaiser disagrees with me, and would run over his grandmother to get a playoff. However, whichever side of the argument we advocate, the one thing we both agree on is that the problem with either solution lies in the CFB poll system.

Do I have an answer? No. I do have a few ideas, though:

Get rid of preseason polls entirely. In fact, forbid all polls until at least one month of CFB has passed.

I’d support a poll-less system until week six (or even eight) of the season. Even if the BCS was never changed again, this step alone would solve the majority of the problems with the system. Never again would the high spots be choked up with teams whose rankings were dropping because they were ‘failing to meet their preseason potential.’ Precious weeks are lost, and teams that start in the preseason ranked around 20 will often never have enough time to rise high enough to earn a title shot – no matter how good their season may be. Starting the polls later in the season, and perhaps limiting the number of “ranked” teams to 12 or so (instead of 25) will give a better picture of who is actually going to be competing for the title.

Yes, this will upset the networks who like to use the rankings to compete against each other, but we all know that ratings are not going to suffer. College football is getting more popular every year, and ratings are increasing accordingly. And besides, to heck with the networks, anyway.

Revamp which polls are used at the end of the season.
Value opinions that come from informed sources. Ergo, Coaches’ poll – out. AP poll – out. The former is comprised of votes cast with five minutes of scanning the ESPN win/loss column. (Even the Master Coaches’ Survey would be more accurate.) The AP rankings are largely derived from of ill-informed, uneducated, agenda-driven view of reality created in the head offices at SI and ESPN and driven into voters’ conscious with a style of brainwashing so effective it would excite George Orwell. Do we allow the music industry to tell us what music is the ‘best?’ Then why do we allow the sports industry to tell us which football teams are the ‘best?’

The argument goes like this: because these folks are ‘journalists,’ they know more about the sport than most others. Plus, there are some amount of internal ethics that require an unbiased viewpoint. Reality? BUNK. The primary audience reading this post knows the truth. How many times have you read a Stewart Mandel column and thought, “man, that cat has NO idea what he’s talking about.” Or maybe you’ve been puzzled on the numerous occasions when another writer would mention ‘so-and-so’ having a sub-par performance when that player had been out with injuries for weeks. Or maybe you’ve been wondering as to why it took the media so many years to stop pushing Notre Dame’s dominance down our throats, when the rest of us knew that ship sailed a long time ago.

The reality is that modern ‘journalists’ are so distracted by other matters (other sports, deadlines, being first with bad news, shiny things, etc.) that they often only have time to give superficial consideration to analysis. All that’s left is a rhetorical method that I call Sound-Byte Logic – phrasings and opinions that misinform and contain little accuracy but still manage to stick in collective subconsciousness because they sound witty.

For example, consider the ‘SEC Speed’ myth, or the current flavor-of-the-month of calling no-huddle, pro-set, and empty backfield offenses ‘Spread Offenses’ (whether or not it’s actually spread). All examples of Sound-Byte Logic.

Contrary to what appears logical, I think that using a biased source isn’t all that bad, so long as it’s balanced out. Ergo, BlogPoll – in. Especially if we keep the computer poll averages. BlogPoll voters are biased, of course, but for the most part cancel each other out. Also, sportsbloggers are extremely informed of the contextual realities and nuances of the sport – something that is not happening with most of the folks who are casting their votes in the other polls. The opposite is true of the computers, which don’t rely on subtle contextual cues at all – a good counterpoint to something like the BlogPoll.

Any other ideas on improving the poll system?


  1. sportsMonkey- Great eye-opening article…lot’s of us (fans) don’t realize the importance to why CFB is looking for a change..! You bring out some good points, although some of them seem to have a reverse argument. Take away the opinion of the journalist, “they know more about the sport than most others”, and replace them with the “blog-poll”, who is often looked at as “mis-informed” or “un-established” (rumors, if you will). The journalist (A.P.) needs to be held accountable for their contributions…or apply a more rigorous screening method before extracting content from that source? Like you said, where is the institution that monitors the poll’s rankings? Great article…!

  2. As a blogger I shouldn’t admit this, but I’m not sure using the blogpoll is better than the AP. While I totally agree that AP writers typically don’t know what they are talking about, I would argue that the loyalty and much larger bias of a blogger might be the same problem in a different form. The intelligence level will rise but so will the homerism. Regardless, I don’t have a problem with the AP or the Blogpoll as long as you work working with a very large and very diverse set of voters.

    As for the coaches poll, I totally agree. Every year I look over the recently public coach by coach ballot and just shake my head. The voting habits of guys like Weis are amazing and totally transparent.


  1. […] on MotSaG, another huge issue (other than money) is highlighted: The major problem with the BCS, Bowls, and (ultimately) any […]

  2. […] on MotSaG, another huge issue (other than money) is highlighted: The major problem with the BCS, Bowls, and (ultimately) any […]

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