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Post Dr. Saturday’s questions on a playoff

Thursday March 29, 2012

We’ll continue the playoff theme for another post. Graham Watson at Dr. Saturday asks if conference commissioners are on the right track with postseason reform. Whether we need to change the postseason at all has been beaten around enough, but we can focus in on a few key questions.

Would we play some games on campus or all games on neutral sites?
If some games are on campus, is that too much of a competitive advantage?

An advantage? Yes, and that’s a good thing. Too much? No. With a schedule of only 12 games, we can still salvage a very large role for the regular season. Complete a successful regular season, and you host. Stumble a time or two, and you’re off to Tuscaloosa for the opening round. There should be consequences – both positive and negative – to performance during the regular season, and earning the right to host should be one of them. 1-AA gets this correct.

I’m also sympathetic to the complaints of northern and midwestern schools. These neutral sites, especially if they involve the bowl and BCS sites, would tilt heavily in favor of southern schools. If you’re a Big 10 team that’s earned a top seed (work with me here), you shouldn’t be sent to New Orleans to face an at-large SEC school. Make the lower seed play a December game above 40 degrees latitude.

If all games are at neutral sites, would fans be able to travel to two games in a row?

Some would, most wouldn’t. But these things aren’t done for the fans, right? Just look at the first few rounds of the NCAA basketball tournament. Great TV, but unless you have UNC playing in Greensboro, crowds are sparse. Smaller schools would struggle to bring numbers in most any situation, and fans of schools with the top seeds would likely budget for the subsequent rounds. It’s not just fans – the logistics of moving an 85-person team, the support staff, and things like marching bands also need to be considered. Play the first rounds on campus, and those logistical issues and expenses are halved.

Apart from the fans, we have to think about another big logistical concern to hosting games on campus. Turning around a basketball arena is one thing. Finding out you’re going to host a national college football playoff game a week from now would be a huge project to undertake. Would schools handle tickets and parking? When a campus hosts an NCAA Tournament game, the arena is more or less taken over by the NCAA – forget your season ticket seat, your parking pass, the look of the court, and many of the comforts of home. Everything is done from a blank slate. Would a football playoff game work the same way? A lot of advance work would have to be done by athletic departments for games they might not even host.

How would teams be selected? By a committee, by the current ranking formula, or by a different formula?

I’d prefer a committee. I think the basketball tournament took a large step this year with a more transparent selection process. Though the process remains an obscure stew of criteria, they emerged with a top-to-bottom ranking and were forced to answer some pointed questions about their reasoning. It wasn’t necessarily mistake-free, but it’s still a more transparent process by a group that should follow the sport much more closely than your average pollster or coach.

When exactly would games be scheduled, considering finals, holidays and our desire to avoid mid-January games?

It seems trite to say “every other fall sport manages,” but…yeah. And what’s wrong with mid-January games? We’ve blown through the January 1st barrier like Chuck Yeager. If we’re playing in Mobile a week after New Year’s, I think we’re well past the point of having a sacred end of the season. But this seems like a question more suited for a 16/24/32-team playoff. Scheduling won’t be an issue with most of the +1/4/8-team proposals being kicked around.

On polls starting in October…

Watson seems to prefer that the polls decide the playoff participants with the demand that the relevant polls “start in October to give all teams a fair shake at those top spots.” We’ve explained before why preseason polls aren’t going anywhere. So long as there’s Phil Steele and a hundred other blogs and publications feeding a fan’s desire to talk about the next season as soon as the previous one ends, whether there’s an official poll before October is moot. The narrative will have already been set, there will already have been a pecking order and favorites established, and a poll that starts nominally in October can’t help but be influenced by all of the conversation that’s happened to that point.

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