Thursday, June 28, 2012

Fruit of the Poisonous Tree

College football is undergoing major change. After over 140 years, the first official playoff is coming. For 1.1263415369.poison-apple-treemany casual observers, this is met with enthusiasm. There are some responding with trepidation. The reasons are many and there are persuasive arguments made. I argue that there has been no championship worthy #4 team in the history of the BCS, and that the move towards a playoff is more about inclusion than excellence.

We now know enough to start judging the process that we are going to have. I felt the pro-playoff argument was easier to make when it was supporting an ambiguous plan. Most of us could imagine some a playoff that we liked. Without the ability to place the same scrutiny that the BCS has seen, on a specific playoff proposal, it was easy to support the notion of a playoff. We do not know all the details, but we know enough to start judging.

The inclusion of a committee is dubious. In the span of less than a year, the BCS powers went from not supporting a playoff, to rushing one through. Why the sudden change of heart? Why ditch a method that (with some tweaking) they have used since 1998 for selecting teams? The answer is the same to both. The BCS chose two SEC teams to play in the championship. This shook the powers that be enough, that they were set on eliminating a chance of reoccurrence. They discarded the polls, who demonstrated that they are capable of being objective, and they replaced them with a committee that they can manipulate. I will spare you my interpretation of Slive's role in all this, but the SEC seemed unable or unintelligent enough to act in their own interests.

A committee might betray the BCS, they might opt for objectively choosing the best teams (like the polls did in 2011), so the BCS needs protection against that. This is where the process goes from bad to worse. The point in which this new BCS playoff becomes irreparably corrupted. The committee will use conference champions criteria. To what extent we do not know yet. The descriptions vary from "tie breaker" to making it the primary consideration. This matters little, because the process has been poisoned.

There are reasons to be afraid of a committee. Last year the NCAA basketball committee moved Missouri, a third ranked team, down to an eighth overall seed. In the past, the same committee has left top 25 teams out of a field of 64. Signs like that are ominous, and we have cause to be concerned about how far the committee will go and how biased it will be. That is purely speculation. We can hope that the general criteria that they use will be akin to the BCS formula.

I cannot get past the poisonous influence of the conference champion criteria. Being a conference champion only has relevance regarding other teams in your conference. Being the champion of the Sun Belt for instance, does not necessarily make you any better than a seventh place team in the SEC. There are 11 conferences, with varying methods of deciding champions, and various numbers of teams. To assign a value to being a conference champion is to admit brazenly that your desire is something other than choosing the top teams.

The other conferences want inclusion, and are willing to toss aside the notion of the playoff being about the best teams. They have utterly corrupted the process from the start. You cannot tell a committee that they need to choose the top four teams, unless one of them is not a conference champion (at which point they should re-evaluate their position). You cannot take that step and then pretend as though you are unbiased. The fruit of this committee will have to be poisonous. Even years in which they produce valid results, it will be despite the criteria not because of it.

A line has been crossed. In the nearly 100 years of crowning national champions, it has always been a stated quest to crown the most deserving team. A four team playoff disregards that, saying that merely being in the top four is enough to qualify for a championship. This playoff? It disregards even that, saying that to be a national champion you must meet arbitrary criteria that they set forth. College football has gone from arguably the most legitimate method of crowing a national champion, to arguably the most corrupt.