The Beginner's Guide To Arguing About College Football Playoffs

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 02: Head coach Mike Gundy of the Oklahoma State Cowboys celebrates with the trophy after the Oklahoma State Cowboys won 41-38 in overtime against the Stanford Cardinal during the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on January 2, 2012 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

We are heading into another long offseason of arguing about whether a playoff is necessary, what format is best, and whether the bowls are worth saving. But instead of having the same conversation we've been having for a decade (or decades), let's catch everybody up.

According to most accounts, by the time the 2012 college football season kicks off, the sport's powers-that-be will have established the guidelines for an actual, honest-to-god playoff in the near future. (That Jim Delany is now saying positive things suggests the odds just improved tenfold.) It will almost certainly just be a plus-one, it won't actually be in use for another couple of years, it might not be a straightforward semifinals-then-finals format, and it will probably only quell about five percent of the day-to-day arguments. But by God, it will be a playoff!

We are heading into another long offseason of arguing about whether a playoff is necessary, what format is best, and whether the bowls are worth saving. But instead of having the same conversation we've been having for a decade (or decades), let's catch everybody up. Consider this your crash course for arguing about college football playoffs.

---

(SCENE: Two men sit on a couch, watching television. Joe, a slightly overweight male, holds a remote control and looks generally frustrated. Manti, a lankier but unathletic figure, sits next to him.)

Joe: "Good gracious, we need a college football playoff!"

Manti: "I don't know. I rather enjoy this format. I like that, in college football, every game matters. You can't just get hot at the end of the season and--"

Joe: (Clicks television remote. Crowd noise is emitted from fake television.) "Wait, every game matters? Really? What about 'LSU 9, Alabama 6.' Did that game matter?"

Manti: "Well, it's obviously a gray-area issue. Almost every game matters. And Alabama's loss would have cost them if Oklahoma State hadn't also lost. Sometimes you get a second chance, but it's not a guarantee. You only control your own destiny if you win out."

Joe: "Like 2004 Auburn?"

Manti: (Walks to standalone liquor cabinet.) "Again, there are exceptions. But the premise is solid. And it's something we should aim for."

Joe: "So ... not every game matters then?"

Manti: *sigh*

IMPASSE. LIGHTS DOWN.

---

(SCENE: Joe looks out over a meadow with a disconcerted look. Somewhere a dog barks twice and stops quickly, reassured. Manti is sitting behind a brass-banded churn.)

Joe: "Good gracious, we need a college football playoff!"

Manti: "Why, so we can have a three-loss champion one day?"

Joe: "Well, the odds of that aren't great, but so what? Every other sport, and every other level of football, finishes with playoffs. Why shouldn't the top level of college football?"

Manti: "College football is so awesome and unique ... why does it have to be the same as everybody else in this regard?"

Joe: "It's the fairest way!"

Manti: "Would it have been fair to 2005 Texas and USC to have to play some preliminary games, and risk injury, when they had already clearly established themselves as the two best teams?"

Joe: (Walks to edge of stage, leans against upstage porch post.) "Well, that was one time, six years ago. And besides, if they were the best teams, they wouldn't have had any trouble making the finals, right?"

Manti: "Upsets happen. Injuries happen. With a playoff, the importance of winning in the regular season might be negated in some cases."

Joe: "What about 'LSU 9, Alabama 6'?"

Manti: "That was one game. We had never had a rematch before."

Joe: "The importance of the winning in the regular season was negated."

Manti: (Stops churning, gazes wistfully into audience.) *sigh"

IMPASSE. LIGHTS DOWN.

---

(SCENE: Joe and Manti are sitting at a table with a tea party in the back. There is a din of small cups clinking against saucers. Women talk quietly amongst themselves. A photographer stages pictures.)

Joe: "Good gracious, we need a college football playoff!"

Manti: "Why, exactly?"

Joe: "This year's BCS game was soooooooo boring!"

Manti: "You're right. With a playoff, we're guaranteed not to get boring matchups. Like, say, Butler-UConn."

Joe: "Yeah, but ... even Joe Posnanski thinks the boring matchup has something to do with the pro-playoff momentum."

Manti: (Pursues pot of tea, pours cup for himself.) "Joe must have missed when these exact same higher-ups -- Mike Slive, etc. -- were saying these exact same pro-playoff things before the BCS title game was even announced. The momentum has been building for quite a while."

Joe: "I guess."

Manti: (Pours cup for Joe.) "It's okay. Joe's a pretty busy guy. Sugar?"

Joe: "Yes, please."

IMPASSE. LIGHTS DOWN.

---

(SCENE: Joe and Manti are walking down a mostly abandoned street, passing storefronts that look like they are from the 1950s. Manti is sucking on a lollipop.)

Manti: "Okay, fine, there's probably going to be a playoff, whether I like it or not. Exactly what format are you prescribing?"

Joe: "Sixteen teams, baby. Conference champions, at-large teams, the whole shebang."

Manti: "So we would definitely have a three-loss champion at some point."

Joe: "I guess."

Manti: "And Arkansas State would get a seat at the table instead of, say, Georgia."

Joe: "Just like March Madness."

Manti: "Again, why does college football have to be like March Madness? We already have March Madness."

Joe: "Because it's awesome. And it could result in chaos!"

Manti: "We had chaos in 2007, too, when all of those No. 1 and No. 2 teams lost. That was pretty awesome. And it would have meant next to nothing with a huge playoff. A crazy playoff that year would have just been repetitive."

Joe: "Yeah, but weren't there about 12 teams who could have claimed to be deserving of a shot that year, since almost everybody lost twice?"

Manti: (Crunching on lollipop.) "Repetitive."

IMPASSE. LIGHTS DOWN.

---

(SCENE: Joe, Manti and Ensemble are standing at the back of the stage as Tracy sings "Good Morning Baltimore.")

Manti: "Okay, fine, there's probably going to be a playoff, whether I like it or not. Exactly what format are you prescribing?"

Joe: "Sixteen teams, baby. Conference champions, at-large teams, the whole shebang."

Manti: "Wouldn't that kill the bowl system?"

Joe: "Not necessarily! There are methods out there that would create plenty of great bowl matchups!"

Manti: "But would the powers-that-be actually adopt a method like that? Seems like it was written by a pretty big egghead nerd."

Joe: "True."

Manti: "Anyway, I'm against anything that would threaten the bowls. They're great."

Joe: "They're the most corrupt part of college football! Those bowl committees are awful, and they're made up of awful people with all the wrong interests in mind!"

Manti: "Absolutely. But think of all the great bowls that happened just this year! Louisiana-Lafayette versus San Diego State? Toledo versus Air Force? Ohio versus Utah State?"

Joe: "Granted, that New Orleans Bowl was pretty awesome."

Manti: (Dancing with the rest of the ensemble.) "I love the bowls. They are a little pocket of socialism in a giant oligarchy. Football is such an investment, and I love that you get rewarded for going even 6-6 or 7-5."

Joe: "Yes. (Rolls eyes.) We should definitely celebrate mediocrity while putting money into corrupt bowl executives' pockets."

Manti: "New Orleans Bowl!"

Joe: "Yeah, but still."

Manti: "And it gives the little guy something to play for!"

Joe: "Like Western Kentucky?"

Manti: "Yeah, but still."

IMPASSE. LIGHTS DOWN.

---

(SCENE: Joe is a librarian, putting books away. Manti is following him.)

Manti: "Okay, fine, there's probably going to be a playoff, whether I like it or not. Exactly what format are you prescribing?"

Joe: "Sixteen teams, baby. Conference champions, at-large teams, the whole shebang."

Manti: "So you're okay with players -- student-athletes -- potentially playing four extra games? (His voice rises.) Think of the injury risk! And ... really? You want them playing football instead of studying that close to finals?"

Joe: (Signalling that Manti should be quiet.) "Um, every other level of college football subjects its best teams to this. You can't make the argument about one level while being okay with the others. And besides, there are bowls played on December 17 now. That seems pretty close to finals to me."

Manti: (Whispering.) "True. This is, and has always been, a pretty dumb and hypocritical argument."

NO IMPASSE. LIGHTS DOWN.

---

(SCENE: Joe is standing on a small balcony outside of his second-floor bedroom. Manti is below, shouting from the street.)

Joe: "Okay, fine, a 16-team playoff is probably inconceivable right now, and I should be happy to get any playoff at all. How would you feel about a plus-one model?"

Manti: "I guess I would be okay with that. It would certainly solve some of the recent issues -- Oklahoma State's snub this year ... Auburn in 2004 ... Texas in 2008 ... et cetera."

Joe: "See? Common ground!"

Manti: "But you know there's about a 100 percent chance that bracket creep would set in, right? That we would end up with six teams, then eight, and so on?"

Joe: "Yeah, probably. So?"

Manti: "So? So I don't want a 16-team playoff! Or 20! Or 24!"

Joe: "Oh, right."

Manti: "So shouldn't I oppose any playoff then, if it's just going to eventually lead to something I hate?"

Joe: "That's a pretty slippery slope. And besides, if you agree that it would help, wouldn't opposing it anyway just be cutting off your nose to spite your face?"

Manti: "The powers-that-be already spite my face."

Joe: "That didn't make any sense."

IMPASSE. LIGHTS DOWN.

---

(SCENE: Joe, Manti and Helena Bonham Carter enter the stage, carrying a body tied up in a bag. They dump the body into a grave. Helena Bonham Carter pours ashes into the grave from a canister marked "Flour.")

Joe: "Okay, fine, a 16-team playoff is probably inconceivable right now, and I should be happy to get any playoff at all. How would you feel about a Plus One model?"

Manti: "I guess I would be okay with that. It would certainly solve some of the recent issues -- Oklahoma State's snub this year ... Auburn in 2004 ... Texas in 2008 ... et cetera."

Joe: "See? Common ground!"

Manti: "But you know that this wouldn't actually tamp down any of the yelling, right? We live in an outrage culture. People hating that Oklahoma State got snubbed this year would yell just as loud about whoever the fifth team was instead ... Oregon, or whoever."

Joe: "No, they wouldn't."

Manti: "Yeah, they would."

Joe: "Okay, fine. But still."

IMPASSE. LIGHTS DOWN.

---

(SCENE: Manti, carrying an electric guitar, enters upstage left and crosses to a guitar amp sitting on a chair at center stage. He casually plugs his guitar into the amp and adjusts levels, then crosses downstage and sits on the table. Joe enters from stage left.)

Joe: "Okay, fine, a 16-team playoff is probably inconceivable right now, and I should be happy to get any playoff at all. How would you feel about a plus-one model?"

Manti: "I guess I would be okay with that. It would certainly solve some of the recent issues -- Oklahoma State's snub this year ... Auburn in 2004 ... Texas in 2008 ... et cetera."

Joe: "See? Common ground!"

Manti: (Still strumming.) "But you know it might not be as simple as a four-team semifinal, right? That they might adopt a method that lets the bowls play out as normal, then choose the top two teams for a plus-one after the bowls?"

Joe: "Yeah, I've been ignoring that option. Sounds confusing."

Manti: "Yep. On one hand, it might work pretty well -- technically, anywhere between two and about six teams could have a shot at making the finals, depending on how the bowls play out. But at the same time, it would still rely on the whims of bowl committees. Technically we could have had LSU playing in the Sugar Bowl this year, Oklahoma State in the Fiesta, and Alabama in some other bowl -- the Orange, maybe? All three could have won, and we'd have ended up in exactly the same predicament we were in this year."

Joe: "Surely that wouldn't happen, right? Surely the Fiesta Bowl would have picked Alabama to play OSU in that example?"

Manti: Probably, but ... do you really trust bowl committees to make the right decision? There's no actual evidence that these people watch college football until December. Remember in 2007, when Missouri beat Kansas, then got whipped by Oklahoma? And the Orange Bowl picked Kansas because they didn't like the thought of picking a team that just got its butt kicked? Even though the only reason Missouri got their butt kicked was because they beat Kansas?"

Joe: "You're a bitter Missouri fan, aren't you?"

Manti: "That's neither here nor there."

IMPASSE. LIGHTS DOWN.

---

(SCENE: Joe and Manti are walking. A strange red-and-white-striped hat sits on a very empty stage. Joe notices it and picks up the hat. The Cat in the Hat suddenly appears.)

Cat in the Hat: "Does college football have a playoff yet? It's so stupid that they don't. I might actually become a college football fan if they ever get around to setting one up."

Joe: "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. You don't like college football now? How is that possible?"

Cat in the Hat: "I like sports that settle things on the field."

Manti: "What does that even mean? Alabama and LSU played on a field. Every year a championship game is played. It's basically a two-team playoff, where --"

Joe: "Hold up there. Playoff? Really? That's a playoff?"

Manti: "Forget it, I'm rolling here. Cat, you mean to tell me you don't like college football now, with its traditions, and tailgating, and history, and rivalries, and general awesomeness? But you would if they added a playoff?"

Cat in the Hat: "Yeah."

Manti: "Get the hell out of here and leave this conversation to people who actually matter in this conversation."

Joe: "Yeah, seriously. Leave."

LIGHTS DOWN.

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