Last Thursday night, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights came back from a 25-7 deficit to defeat the #3 Louisville Cardinals 28-25. The thrilling victory for the undefeated State University of New Jersey, on ESPN's nationally televised Thursday Night Football no less, was a milestone in RU's up-from-the-depths rise to football prominence, and such a big deal in the Garden State that even my sister and brother-in-law, proud residents of NJ and usually as interested in college football as I am in becoming a vegetarian, were among those that tuned in. It was a wonderful spectacle - How could you not be happy for Rutgers?
Well, if you're a fan of any of the 10-odd teams that, at the time, were in the desperate scramble for the Bowl Championship Series' #2 spot (the winner of this week's Ohio State-Michigan tussle is assured of the #1 spot) in the national championship game, the answer is "Pretty easily". Before the Scarlet Knights had even hit the showers, the howling began. "The Big East sucks!!!" "Rutgers wouldn't go undefeated in [insert conference here]!!" "I don't care if they're undefeated, no way do they deserve #2!!!". This reaction comes because an undefeated Rutgers could be considered a candidate for the #2 slot in the national championship game, and to those teams also still in the running, they are a threat that must be exterminated the only way, in a system that relies on polls, that is available - extreme rhetoric.
I’ve been an opponent of a playoff in college football for almost three decades now, but I’ve finally had enough. The BCS is really taking a lot of the joy out of the college football season. Let me explain.
I’m a Notre Dame grad, and would love for ND to make the championship game. Of course, to get there, they would have to beat USC and then jump over a 1-loss Ohio State team (I don’t think ND would or should jump a 1-loss Michigan team). Also, in the event that neither Florida nor Arkansas lose before they play in the SEC championship, they would have to jump the SEC champ, too. Then there’s the possibility of an undefeated Rutgers…
Thing is, how do you choose between a 1-loss ND, 1-loss SEC champ, 1-loss Ohio State, and an undefeated Rutgers? You could make a good case for (or a good case against) each team. Instead of anticipating, say, an 8-team playoff where they all get a shot, the fans of all these schools end up pouring escalatingly nasty rhetoric on each other for months. And these wounds generally don’t heal very quickly - we’re still hearing from Auburn about 2004 (undefeated but left out of the championship game) two years later. And that’s the problem, as I see it, with the BCS - with so much at stake (#1 or #2 or bust), the fans of every team end up hating each other. The teams left out are mad as hell, and the team that gets the #2 spot gets so much abuse that they return the nastiness right back.
It doesn’t just start the day the BCS match-ups are announced, either - it poisons the entire season. Instead of the fans of teams getting to savor a victory, the victory just serves as a prelude to another week of arguing about BCS position. Instead OSU and Michigan locking in on playing winner-take-all for the Big 10 title, the focus will be on whether the loser should stay #2. Instead of Florida and Arkansas enjoying the majesty of butting heads for supremacy in the football-mad South, they will be gearing up for the post-game debate for #2. Instead of looking forward to Nov. 25 and what hopefully be another epic ND-USC battle royale, fans of the Trojans (assuming they beat Cal.) and the Irish will all be practicing (in case of victory) our opening statements either a) in defense of getting to #2 or b) for the prosecution if someone else is #2. We’d better be on our rhetorical game, too, because the fans of the other teams in the race for #2 will be at it as well. And it will get nasty, ugly, and, quite often, personal.
It’s madness. It’s madness that, for the good of college football, has got to stop. It's not like these games would not be important nor passionately fought if there were a playoff at the end of the season. OSU-Michigan is quite fierce no matter what the stakes; in this case, the winner would be top seed and get bragging rights in the event that they don't meet later on. The Florida-Arkansas SEC championship winner would get a berth in the playoffs. The USC-Cal game for the PAC 10 title this weekend, which has been reduced to an afterthought because of Cal's second loss, would be for a bid. If USC lost, their tilt with ND would be for a playoff spot; if they won, they would be trying to eliminate the Irish from a playoff. If you think the latter is not much incentive for USC, consider how much they relish 1964, 1970, and 1980, when Trojan victories over a #1 or #2 Notre Dame squad ended an Irish championship bid.
The net effect of a playoff is an end to the endless vitriol exchanged between all the fans of teams now angling for the #2 spot. Everyone can stop playing the "Is the SEC Overrated?" game, because their champ will get the same shot as the other conferences' champ. Everyone can end their endless dirges against the Big East, because if the champion is indeed not worthy of a championship shot, they will be eliminated rather quickly in a playoff. Everyone can go back to normal Notre Dame-hating levels because while you can argue against an 11W-1L Irish team as #2, you really can't argue against them as one of 8 teams deserving an 8-team playoff bid.
Enough is enough. A system that produces little else but enemies isn't much of system.