Tuesday, January 2, 2007 Updated: January 5, 1:30 PM ET
No college football playoff, please
By Chuck Klosterman Special to Page 2
Most public debates do not end through resolution. Most public debates end through unspoken concession. It is rare that everyone universally will agree that any specific theory is true; what happens more often is that the controlling majority slowly will concede that no one still believes said theory's opposite (and the argument consequently disappears). For example, no one still believes that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. No one still believes that "Sgt. Pepper" is the best record of the rock era. No one still believes that global warming isn't happening. These are debates the world has generally stopped having. And a similar phenomenon has happened in Division I college football: At this point, no one still believes the NCAA shouldn't create a collegiate playoff.
Except, I guess, me.
I am against a playoff system for major college football. I feel crazy even typing that sentiment, because I've been socialized to believe that holding this philosophical position is akin to arguing that Shawn Kemp is gay. But the more I think about it, the more I believe I am right. A playoff system would be bad for the sport, it would makes things no more "meaningful" than the way things are now, and -- somewhat selfishly -- it would significantly decrease the value of my own existence.
I realize no one else feels this way. I do not care.
If not for the Hawaii Bowl, many fans might not know about Colt Brennan.
While waiting for Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, I sat in my parents' basement and watched Hawaii play Arizona State in the Hawaii Bowl. Hawaii's Colt Brennan (who throws with more velocity and accuracy than any QB in the country, including Brady Quinn) passed for 559 yards and five touchdowns. The evening before, I had watched Utah run a hook-and-ladder off a bubble screen versus Tulsa. As I write this very column, Kentucky has attempted a fake punt against Clemson (inside its own 20) and Missouri's tight end has just thrown a 29-yard touchdown pass against Oregon State.¹ And you know what? I am interested in all of these teams. I can't explain why, but I am. And I know that being able to watch 20 or 30 bowl games just like these is better than finding out who the "true" the national champion is, particularly since a playoff merely would allow the best team in the country to win the national championship about 49.9 percent of the time.²
Watching college football on television is probably the best thing about my life. This is not as depressing as it might seem. There are certainly better things in the world than watching football, but they all have a cost: They either require money or energy or emotional compromise, or they further compound the damage on the internal organs I need to remain alive. But watching college football on television is a bargain; all I have to do is wake up. It's always entertaining. It always makes me happy, even in August. And I know this wouldn't be the case if the NCAA had a playoff structure. College football is the only American sport that is unilaterally intriguing -- the season's beginning is as good as its middle, which is often as good as its end. Here is an abbreviated list of college football games from 2006 that I was obsessed with watching:
1. Ohio State vs. Michigan 2. Ohio State vs. Texas 3. LSU vs. Arkansas 4. Rutgers vs. West Virginia 5. Rutgers vs. Louisville (which I missed) 6. West Virginia vs. Louisville 7. Florida State vs. Miami (this was extremely early in the season) 8. Florida vs. LSU 9. Michigan vs. Notre Dame 10. USC vs. UCLA
All 10 of these games were meaningful (or at least profoundly meaningful on the date they were played). This is because there is no playoff, which means it's ALWAYS the playoffs. But if there were an eight-team playoff, I could have ignored all of them. Even if there were just a four-team playoff, the hyper-anticipated Ohio State-Michigan game would have mattered only to all the Schnapps-guzzling goofballs in Columbus and Ann Arbor who love burning couches in the street. How, exactly, are three exciting weekends in December better than four or five months of weekly sweeping consequence? Why jam an entire season into 21 days? And don't compare this to NCAA basketball, because basketball is different; the premise of going undefeated in modern basketball is unthinkable. The nature of basketball is always tournament-oriented, even if the players are 6-year-olds. But football is event-oriented. Every game is autonomous and the schedule is shorter, so the expectation of a champion going undefeated is wholly reasonable. I love that Ohio State always needed to win this year. Always. I can't think of any other major sport where that's a reality.
Rutgers's win over Louisville was one of the most memorable moments of the season.
Yet this is not the only reason I'm against a playoff.
The other reason is that I really, really enjoy bowl games. Occasionally, I will overhear some pseudo-acerbic small-time TV sports announcer rhetorically ask questions like, "Who really cares about the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl?" My eternal answer is always, "Me." I love the way offensive coordinators unload the insanity within their playbooks, and I love seeing otherwise unheralded players from mid-major schools kill themselves during the only nationally televised game they will ever experience. Now, I realize playoff proponents always say these games still could exist if the eight best teams were bracketed into a championship pool. But it wouldn't be the same. Somehow, these minor bowls would start to seem like the NIT tournament (which I never watch). If these games lack credibility as things currently stand, I can't imagine how they would feel to audiences if they essentially became exhibitions.
I like college football. I like college football as an entity more than I like knowing who is (supposedly) "the best" amateur football team in the United States. People used to bemoan the thought of a mythical national champion, but it all seems mythical to me. It still does, and it always will. I don't need to pretend that I know the unknowable. If you want a playoff system, it might just mean you want to feel as though football has a clear sense of order. You probably enjoy feeling as though you know who is No. 1, because that's what really matters to you. But maybe you like college football as an experience a little less than you think.
¹ Later this evening, Texas Tech will come back from a 35-7 deficit against Minnesota to win the Liberty Bowl. This event occurred on the same day that Saddam Hussein was executed in Iraq. All things considered, I think Saddam had a better day than Glen Mason.
² As is generally the case in college basketball. It seems like the NCAA hoop squad with the best overall talent and coaching staff wins the title about half the time but not quite half the time.
Chuck Klosterman, whose latest book is "Chuck Klosterman IV: A Decade of Curious People and Dangerous Ideas," is a columnist for Esquire and a regular contributor to Page 2.