Our nation's incoming leader has weighed in on the pressing topic of a college football playoff. It was first mentioned on Monday Night Football on election eve, with a response to a question from Chris Berman -- who was clearly out of his element -- as to what one thing about sports that he would change if elected. It was a popular response, endearing him to the large media contingent that feels the same.
President-elect Obama, having made the case on ESPN, one of the homes of college football, then said the same on CBS, the home of the powerful Southeastern Conference where there may be more than one team laying claim to the national title in college football. Obama snuck in a reference to the need for a playoff in college football during an interview with 60 Minutes, professing the same urgent need for a playoff.
With ESPN just outbidding Fox for the rights to the BCS for four years starting in 2011, the likelihood of this policy issue being changed under President-elect Obama's watch seems slim. This may be a campaign promise that he cannot keep.
Moreover, though, in this writer's opinion, the call for a playoff is misguided. It is misguided not for the traditional reasons given about college athletes missing more class time -- please -- and the logistical problems associated with it. Those logistics can all be worked out, as they are for the Division II college football playoff and for the NCAA college basketball tournament.
College football is a three to four month sport in the nation's sports consciousness. In this time of diluted interest in sports everywhere you turn -- ticket sales, television ratings, merchandise sales, sponsorship deals, etc. -- college football has a leading part in the sports landscape for a third of the year, trailing only the NFL in fan interest over that time frame. This is cause for celebration in these times. There are debates that rage every week on television, radio, and among sports fans everywhere about who the top team is depending on the games of the week, which is exactly what college football wants. There are games every week for a period of two months -- we've had Texas-Oklahoma, Texas-Texas Tech, Oklahoma-Texas Tech, Penn State-Ohio State, Georgia-Florida, etc. -- that get a national media buildup unlike any game would were there a playoff to come later in the year.
A playoff would devalue the season. Games that determine rankings week to week now matter. With a playoff, they would still matter, but far less. Now when a top team loses a game, it is often devastating to their hopes of becoming the champion of college football. With a playoff, a loss would be difficult but not as it would in a playoff.
With apologies to the college basketball diehards, that sport is a one-month sport in our national awareness, largely due to the pending presence of a 65-team playoff we affectionately refer to as March Madness. Prior to that time, there are a few rivalry games that may be interesting but not many on a national scale. We care about college basketball when the brackets come out in early March. We forget about college basketball when the championship game is over in early April. One month.
And don't even start talking about the playoffs in some professional sports where more teams make the playoffs than don't -- the NHL and NBA for starters. Try to get excited about games in December, January and February in those leagues.
We care about college football for almost a third of the year, even if we care for the reason of debating a system perceived to be flawed in how it crowns a champion. While we debate that system, highly important games are being played for three months. College football matters.
With all due respect to the learned opinions of our incoming leader, his suggestion about college football would reduce the sport to a three-week event for attention-deficit sports fans in America. We want games that matter; games that count. They now count every week in college football. Don't screw that up, Mr. President-elect.....
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