There is a fascinating baseball season unfolding. The NHL playoffs, which offer some of the best post-season drama in sport, are in full-force. Ditto the Lebron-less playoffs of the NBA. The finals of one of tennis’s Grand Slams is this weekend, and the U.S Open golf tournament starts this week.
And everybody is talking about college football playoffs.
There is an intentionality to this.
Football, at both college and pro levels, does media manipulation like none other.
The acolytes who cover those sports are restless. They need their clicks and their ratings. The sports themselves need the oxygen of attention to keep their pompous egos inflated.
So, if they can milk an Aaron Rodgers will-he-or-won’t-he story for months in the off-season, stealing space and air-time from legitimate stories and on-the-field activity, so be it.
Now, here in early June, the panjandrums of college football have leaked/revealed/trial-ballooned word of a 12-team playoff that will be presented in July. Double-dip of attention.
You’ll never see a “leak” of a playoff announcement in October. When Roy Kramer, a wonderful gentleman who was director of athletics at Vanderbilt then commissioner of the SEC, helped conjure up the old BCS format, part of the purpose was to get more people talking about college football. It worked. The talk about the playoff system, pro and con, has been incessant. And year-‘round, especially for talk radio starved for discussion.
Pay attention to the various pundits and talking heads and disembodied voices.
They got what they wanted, a protracted playoff system.
And now many of them are bitching about it. Despite what the great poets Keith Richards and Mick Jagger wrote a half-century ago, apparently you CAN get what you want. Then you find out maybe it isn’t what you need.
What we need, at most, is a four-team playoff. But Greed is undefeated in college football.
I’ve never liked protracted playoffs, especially in college football. I have been among the disembodied voices debating that on airwaves, and a click-hunter typing that opinion for paid print.
First, the longer the playoff, the more likely the winner is the hottest team, not the best. There are more chances for fluky plays, horrendous calls or untimely injuries. A long season of excellence should be rewarded.
Second, it turns the games into studio sport. Neutral site games don’t have the same magic. The stands are filled with corporate, high-dollar people with no rooting interest. It’s why a Super Bowl, in person, feels as flat as year-old Schlitz.
Third, there is even more controversy and difficulty in filling a larger field. For the most part during the BCS era and even in this system, it’s been cut-and-dried who should be there. Worst case, there’s only been one team, every other year or so, that could legitimately say it should have been selected. Go to 12 teams, or 16, you’ll have a half-dozen fan bases crying foul.
Four, if you think this is something to benefit non-Power 5 conferences, please leave a tooth under your pillow. There is nothing ever done in college football ever enacted that isn’t for the benefit of the top 40 or 50 programs. Nothing. Ever.
Five, it’s unfair to fans. I’ve been surprised that’s been mentioned by some of the more noted scribes this week. Why they never thought of it while pleading for multi-team playoffs in the past, I don’t know.
I’m not talking about Barcolounger fans. For them, this is nirvana. They can sink even deeper into the leather in a nacho coma, watching weeks of games the ESPN bobbleheads can breathlessly claim as “do-or-die” and letting somebody punch their ticket – when’s the last time you had a ticket punched? – into the next round.
I’m talking about the paying-ticket, game-attending fan. To follow a team through the entire path of the playoffs will require walk-up airfare, price-gouged hotel rooms at warm destinations, spending more vacation time and the sort of blind dedication of a Grateful Dead groupie.
If following one’s school is also part of the college experience, what of the undergrads? Even piled into an SUV and living eight to a room in a Day’s Inn on the outskirts of Phoenix is pricey.
Most importantly, what of the players’ families? It’s no secret that a great many campus heroes are plucked from home environments that are not financially blessed. Even with the CFP’s stipend that assists families with travel, that’s not enough. Many of these parents are working jobs that don’t yield massive piles of PTO to spend.
But who cares about them? Let ‘em sit home and watch. That’ll give the ESPN even more viewers.
One of the anonymous sources quoted this week, “We could just go back to the old end-of-season AP and UPI polls that worked for a century.”
He was joking. But I’m not sure that’s not a better system than what he and his cohorts stole the spotlight with this week.