Wednesday, June 27, 2012

CFB Goes From A Hundred Years Behind The Times To Sixty

So college football's champion will finally be decided on the field, like, well, every other football league on the planet, from high school to pro, and it is, of course, a big deal, no matter how dumb and flawed every step of the process has been.

Ignore for the moment that this will only start in 2014, because we can elect a President in less time than we can change college football. Ignore as well the fact that there will be just four teams in the playoff, which means that we'll spend all of the pre-playoff season wondering who will be Bubble Team, or how whole conferences and regions of the country won't so much as sniff this thing, or how a single loss and weak schedule means that you could be the best team ever for 3+ months and still not get a sniff. It's college football; rampant improprieties and staggering unfairness are right there on the hand stamp when you enter this theme park. But hey, it's football, for stakes that matter, you can gamble, and there's laundry to root for. Had I grown up with it, or cared more about the place that took my money when I went to college, I'd care. I'd care a lot.

Rather, I want to consider this...

When will they, you know, actually get it right, rather than just existing?

This works best, of course, when it's in the 12 to 16 team range, the way the NFL does it. That way, you've got teams from coast to coast and in every region, you've got the inherent wonder of a low seed going far (with 4 teams, CFB has pretty much outlawed the idea of a dark horse or Cinderella team), and you've greatly increased the chance of the playoff games also touching on some deep-seated hatreds. Once CFB has tasted that sweet nectar of an end of season that's actually a building action of excitement, rather than a month away for a sloppy game that's more often like preseason rather than post, they are going to want more of it. Much more.

It's also going to, I suspect, hurt the short-term prospects of minor league football or a spring league, which is something that I've been hoping for since, well, the early 1980s, when my beloved Philadelphia Stars of the USFL felt like a great little secret league of pure joy, not to mention a wonderful way to avoid summer doldrums. In the short run, enhanced interest in CFB is going to lead to more betting, more money spent on games, and more NFL fans giving the games a try, because the whole thing won't seem quite so pointless and arbitrary now.

But in the long run, what this leads to is even more football taking up even more time, and even more players getting real attention. I still fervently wish for education and entertainment to be forcibly separated; these pursuits are in no way complementary, and a successful program is more like a drug habit than a real benefit to a school. (Full disclosure: I went to Syracuse. In the late '80s, when both the football and basketball teams competed for national titles, and didn't get there. At the same time that this was happening, they raised the tuition 35% in three years, contributing to a decade of debt and poor living conditions as I tried to recover from my commitment, and no real enhancement of the educational reputation or value of my degrees. But hey, um, we got a new logo. And some new buildings. Woo.)

Of course, that's not how you bet.

These casinos exist now, and will continue to exist, until something seismic (massive class-action lawsuit from former players around head trauma in later life? NFL deciding that they need to make every last dollar from every last football fan in America? The parents and youth of America rising with torches and pitchforks towards college campuses, Occupy Style but armed, to drive down tuition by any means necessary?) happens, they'll be in business. They've been there for a century, so being around until we've got much bigger issues to worry about seems likely. A playoff now makes CFB more competitive and less dismissive, and gets them to stop hurting themselves in an evolve or die marketplace.

And like young people wondering about how anyone ever bought CDs for $20 that only had a couple of songs you wanted on them, or how people my age wonder about an era when every man had to wear hats all the time, or the older generation than that wondering about getting around on horseback or owning other people...

We'll never, for the life of us, understand how anyone could have ever been so backwards as to live like that. And secretly be proud of living in a time where we aren't so challenged.

So welcome, CFB, to the mid 20th century. We applaud the development, and eagerly anticipate you joining the 21st. Probably in about another 20 years or so. But hey, progress, right?

1 comment:

The Truth said...

Two points of correction.

1. It will not take up any additional time. Currently there is about a one week delay between the end of the bowl games and the title game. This doesn't change with the playoff.

2. Spring and minor league football won't be impacted by this either. Regardless, it's just doesn't draw over the long term.

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