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An Argument for a Football Playoff System

College football is a religion supported each Saturday by fans throughout the nation. Fridays are devoted to trash-talking with friends and colleagues around the water cooler. Sundays are made for suffering through too much celebrating or disheartening letdowns. Mondays at work and on social networking systems are a time for more fanaticism or head-bowing and crow-eating.

When the season ends, eager hopefuls generally have an idea of which bowl games their teams will attend if the season has been positive and await signs of a BCS bowl bid. If it has been less-than-stellar, however, fans wait for invitations to the Step-On-A-Crack-And-Break-Your-Mother’s-Back Bowl or the Toenail-Clippings.com Bowl. Sometimes ‘missing out’ on a bowl bid is not such a bad thing.

At this time of year with college basketball fever in the air, college football fans are reminded, yet again, of an important fact. The March Madness concept just does not translate quite the same in football. There is no December Delight or January Jubilee for comparison. If your team did not make the BCS, they are left with the same lack of joy only picks for college basketball’s NIT Tournament can truly understand.

Most college football teams and their fans know fairly early on in the season if they even have a chance ‘to dance,’ whereas basketball teams like Creighton or Auburn (and their respective fan bases) held their breaths until the last minute during this past Sunday’s selection show, only to find out they were left off the Dance card.

After two or three losses in a college football season, BCS hopes are most likely gone, and only the thrill of big rivalry games remains. A sudden surge near the end of the season does not put them ‘on the bubble’ as it may in the basketball season. Sure, a bowl game bid to the Capital One Bowl or the Outback Bowl at least promises a trip to Florida in the winter and some remainder of dignity. But it does not allow for a Cinderella to be crowned as it does in basketball.

In the mid-80s, #8 seeded Villanova became the lowest seed in history to win the National Championship. They made it into the playoffs with a record far from perfect, performed spectacularly throughout the tournament, and came out on top. From a field of 64, down to 32, 16, 8, 4, and then a final game, teams like the 1985, #8 seeded Villanova Wildcats, proved they deserved the title. No disputes, no arguments, no debate over shared titles or opportunities denied. Conference winners are in the tournament, high-performing teams from dominant conferences are giving opportunities to prove their worth, and little-known teams named George Mason, Villanova, and Providence are given their shot in Cinderella’s Ball.

It is past time for NCAA football to take a lesson from basketball. If 2008’s undefeated Utah had been given an opportunity in a playoff system, would they have had a shot at winning the National Championship? Until a true playoff system is created, we will surely never know.

The ratings for this year’s NCAA basketball tournament are likely to be as high as ever. Tickets will earn revenue for schools and facilities struggling as much as any other industry. The fact is, fans spend money when they are excited and have incentive.

A playoff system in football would be a cash cow for the NCAA, the schools involved, and the host hotels, arenas, clothing manufacturers, etc. While I am sure 2008’s Magicjack.com Bowl (yes, that was a real bowl game—played in St. Petersburg, Florida by Memphis and the University of South Florida) did draw some local fans and others anticipating fun in the Florida sun, I cannot believe the revenue produced would have been nearly that of the revenue produced in a potential playoff system where Memphis or USF, as underdogs in a tournament system, had the opportunity to stand alone as NCAA football champions. Let’s hope that there are not too many more years of Curly-Fries-With-Chili-And-Cheese Bowls before we can find out.

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