As a longtime playoff proponent/BCS hater, it’s tempting to do a victory lap right now. It would be easy to go through each year of the BCS era and question how often a different team would have won the title in a four-team playoff system. It would be easy to point to the various experts who have confirmed that this year’s BCS match up would have been Alabama vs. Florida State, the two teams who lost in the playoff semi-finals. It would be easy to beat the dead horse of the BCS for every time the system got it wrong, calling every championship won in the era out as questionable.
And if I had written this last week, that’s what I would have done.
But while I still think the BCS was the wrong way to determine a champion and that the current playoff is infinitely better, I hesitate to call the results of the BCS “wrong,” because that would have to mean that there was another, alternate result that was “right.” That mindset–that we can objectively assess which team of any pair is better, without actually seeing them play–is exactly what was wrong with the BCS to begin with.
Half of the BCS title games were won by the #1-ranked team and half by the #2-ranked team. Even though it’s a little surprising that it worked out so perfectly, we should have expected it to be fairly even. After all, the rankings weren’t (nor could they have been) based on anything concrete; they were simply an amalgamation of various opinions (yes, computer rankings are opinions just like human polls are) and opinions are a crap shoot of reliability.
This isn’t intended as a shot against the BCS rankings; they did as well as they probably could have. I expect the playoff to achieve a similar type of balance, with the 3- and 4-seeds winning about as often as the 1’s and 2’s do. I like the committee system’s ability to introduce discussion and divergent thinking into the mix, but at the end of the day, we’re still talking about a bunch of opinions.
And that’s all we’ll ever be talking about, no matter what form the playoff eventually takes. Besides the possibility of automatic bids for conference champions, there will always be some element of subjectivity involved. In fact, the assertion that every conference champion deserves an automatic bid (something I believe) is subjective in itself. The truth is no team deserves a national championship, because that’s not the point.
There is no “best” team. Ever. There is no right answer that the post-season must conclude on so as to be considered legitimate. If Oregon had beaten Ohio State last Monday night, that would have been acceptable; their championship would have been legit. The same is true if Alabama or Florida State had won. Or if Baylor or TCU would have made the playoff in our place and won.
So what I learned from the college football playoff is that the BCS-era titles are no less legitimate or more questionable than titles won going forward. They are nothing more (or less) than the result of the system in place at the time, just like every title has always been and always will be.