So news breaks last week that there is a proposal (almost certain to pass) that the FCS playoffs will expand to 24 teams (up from the current 20) in 2013.
FBS playoff proponents saw the news and almost certainly smiled, gleefully rubbing their hands together at the idea of eight- and 16- and even 24-team football brackets ("Hey, who do you like as an upset pick in the first round? Forget the losses to Akron and Central Michigan; I think Bowling Green has enough offense to get past Oklahoma.") But those of us who don't necessarily think an FBS playoff is the panacea everyone makes it out to be sadly shook our heads.
Listen, the BCS has numerous issues and is far from a perfect system; it desperately needs to be fixed, and the proposed four-team playoff is a better format.
But come on – it won't be a four-team playoff for long. It's going to expand. Rapidly.
The reason: The same people who thought it was a good idea for San Diego State to move to a league based in Rhode Island and for Texas A&M to leave the Big 12. The current group of conference commissioners and college administrators willingly (heck, eagerly) search under the couch cushions for extra nickels. When TV folks come waving hundred-million-dollar contracts for expanded playoffs, the commissioners and administrators will make like drunk college students on spring break offered free beer: They will climb over each other to get to the contract.
The FCS playoffs started in 1978 with four teams. That lasted for all of three seasons. It went to eight in 1981, then to 12 in '82. It was expanded to 16 teams in 1987, then moved to 20 teams in 2010. The 24-team field would start in 2013.
Expansion would come quicker in the FBS ranks. Again, if you like the thought of brackets, you're happy. And don't bring up the bogus "with a playoff, the championship finally will be decided on the field" claim. You might not like the process or how the teams are selected, but the championship has been decided on the field since the Bowl Alliance (the precursor of the BCS) came into existence for the 1995 season.
Simply, the more teams in the playoff, the less the regular season means. Quick – who won the conference titles in each of the Big Six leagues in the recently completed college basketball season? It takes a while to remember, and the season ended two months ago. It takes no time to remember who won the regular-season titles in football, and the season ended five months ago.
Everything in college basketball revolves around the tournament; the regular season simply becomes the vehicle used to decide how to seed the teams. Maybe I'm a traditionalist (hey, I do own more than 1,000 vinyl records), but I think the regular season should matter. I don't want college teams to become like their NFL brethren, resting guys in the final week of the regular season because they don't want anybody getting hurt before they move into the 16-team playoff field.
I also don't relish the idea of teams that finished third in their league playing for a spot in the national final, as happened in the FCS ranks in 2010. Or a team that finished third in its division actually winning the title, as happened in the FCS ranks in 2008. (And as great as the NCAA basketball tourney is on an annual basis, the idea that a team that finished ninth in its league is the best team in the nation is quasi-sickening. That is what happened in 2011, when Connecticut won it all.)
There is talk from playoff proponents that regular-season schedules would be toughened because schools wouldn't be so hell-bent on playing patsies to build up their records. In what alternate universe do those folks reside? Few coaches at power schools are going to risk nonconference losses, no matter the postseason format (ask mid-major basketball coaches about that). A 10-2 record is better than 8-4 – and a No. 6 seed is better than a No. 10. And if there is a 16-team playoff, why play conference title games? It's just another chance for a loss – and for someone to get injured. Why would a team risk losing a potential top-four seed? And, frankly, if multiple teams from each league get in, why play a title game?
One reason cited by proponents of expanding the FCS playoffs is that there now are 122 FCS teams and expansion gives more teams a shot at the title. How many teams will be in the FBS ranks this fall? It's 124, and that number is going to grow. Place your bets now on which FBS league is the first to start the "we need to expand the playoffs" chant.
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