Why December Madness Will Never Happen

You may read a column or two over the next few weeks about how March Madness for football would be CASH FOR GOLD awesome, if only we could get the evil robber barons who rule college football to stop torturing puppies and kittens for just one second and listen to the common man who cries out for a playoff. If you really believe a setup like basketball's NCAA Tournament would work, even in a 16 team bracket, you can go ahead and drop the family heirlooms into an envelope for a 70% loss. No amount of reason could stop you from thinking either is a good idea, because you're not that bright to begin with, and should be kept from all electrical sockets and sharp objects for your own safety.

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The empty seats at first-round games should be your first clue that something would be amiss: getting people to clear schedules, purchase tickets, and fly to distant playoff locales is difficult to do in the best of times, and near impossible in a time of economic downturn. The first round of the NCAA tournament, thrilling as it can be, is usually played in front of mausoleum-quiet crowds with few actual school-loyal interested fans in attendance. If the ACC tournament couldn't sell more than 18,000 tickets three hours from Tobacco Road this weekend, the results could be worse for first-round games.

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Now take the logistics into account, and the idea of "December Madness" gets even less tenable. Three games to play to get to the national title means college football fans would have to travel to three games on short notice to watch their teams, a series of expenses that would equal thousands for just one fan, much less an entire family. (In December, no less, when many families are blowing up credit cards for holiday expenses.) If the regionals are played on neutral sites, this means the onus for ticket purchases falls on the cities hosting those games, a dodgy bet at best thanks to college football loyalties and interest varying wildly from region to region. Those expenses are essential because putting on a football game requires far more in terms of logistical support than a basketball game: bigger anticipated crowds mean more security, and that means more costs for the sponsoring cities.

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We're not even taking the costs to the programs into account here. Moving a basketball team from place to place is expensive, but moving a football team is less a matter of logistics than one of a small military maneuver: the equipment trucks, the team and coaches and staff needing flights and hotel and food, the total effort expended in making sure everything gets to one place once a week ... it's an immense amount of money, time and effort. Most schools lose money sending their teams to bowl games as is; now take the 16 best teams and tell them a playoff will work like that, but with a possible three additional travel dates on their schedule, and you'll have teams putting already swollen athletics budgets deep into the red.

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As mundane as the details are, they're the dull truth of what kills the notion of instituting anything besides a plus one in college football. The existing product -- the Bowl System -- is subsidized by networks, is highly profitable for them, and can be tweaked without the creation of a sports endeavor whose logistics would be somewhere between the World Cup and Operation Desert Freedom. Given the choice, the market will do exactly what you would do: stay on the comfy couch of the BCS rather than get up for what remains a messy and difficult hypothetical vacation into playoffland; until further notice, the staycation remains the option of choice for NCAA football.

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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