Oklahoma football coach Bobby Stoops:
“The logic of whether to put us in front of Texas? If you can’t do that because they beat us, then you’ve got to keep Texas Tech in front of Texas. What’s logical for one is logical for the other.”
He’s right. And what he exposes here are the logical flaws inherent in making absolute decisions about Team A being “better” than Team B in a football season with only 12 or 13 games.
The scenario involving Texas, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma is a perfect illustration of the various logical problems with using these decisions to invite only certain teams to play in the bowl games that then determine our national champion. The whole thing is based on opinions.
The most obvious flaw is the one identified by Coach Stoops, where those 3 teams all have only one loss, and each team is 1-1 against the other two. All three are now 10-1, and 6-1 in the Big 12. The only true conclusion you can draw here, from that empirical evidence, is that they are all good. And if they played each other 6 or 7 times per season, they might end up more or less tied; but we can’t really tell from those few games.
The other problem is the deceit than it is even possible to decide who is “better” based on a game here or there. Better how? Better at creating and managing media hype? Or better at football? ‘Cuz they really aren’t the same thing, all the time.
I’m always fascinated by this need we have to pretend that, in the world of sports, there is some kind of alternate reality — that we get to define, of course — where some teams are “better” or “worse” than other teams, despite whatever empirical evidence the won-loss record provides.
I’m not sure what this tells us outsiders; I’m even less sure how useful it is.
To the teams themselves, I’m sure it has great value; you have to believe in yourself, and in your team, to accomplish great things. So in that sense, I understand it, and support it.
But for us outsiders, like fans and media? Probably ought to stick to the results on the field.
Which is why, in my mind, NCAA Division IA football probably needs a playoff system. The other divisions use a 32 team playoff tournament, which needs 5 rounds of games (31 total games) to decide a champion. I’m not sure why that couldn’t work for the big schools as well.
But, of course, for the influence of big bucks, which is what today’s bowl system is all about. There are something like 35 bowl games in December and January, and every one of those represents lots of $$$ spent by fans, schools, conferences, networks, pouring money into the local economy of the game’s site. Obviously, this benefits just about everybody.
However, a 32 team tournament requires 31 games, so I’d bet that they could figure something out, there. Just convert today’s bowl games into playoff games, with the big ones still around New Year’s. And if you expand to 64 teams, with 63 games, you’d have even more games than today’s bowl system, and provide economic boosts to even more local economies. Plus, these games are already organized into a kind of implicitly understood hierarchy, that everybody already knows, so figuring out who gets early round games shouldn’t be all that hard.
The bottom line in this discussion, I think , is that every system has flaws. And whatever flaws a playoff system might have, at least the outcomes are mostly determined on the field.