Auburn and Oregon provided the country with a memorable college football game on Monday night. Two undefeated teams featuring a Heisman Trophy winner, All-Americans, and future early-round NFL draft picks will always capture the attention of sports fans across the nation.
Add to it the suspense of the final play, the comeback by the losing team, and the fact that the winner of the game would be crowned national champion, and one would think that this was the perfect ending to another exciting college football season.
While it is true that the Tigers and Ducks were probably the two best teams during the season, it is equally false that the Patriots and Falcons should be invited to compete in the Super Bowl before the conclusion of this weekend’s NFL divisional playoffs and next weekend’s conference championship games.
Supporters of the current BCS format argue that the NCAA regular season is somehow special because the games are more important. You may hear some of them chuckle when referring to a garbage game between two 7-5 Big East teams as a playoff game, since the winner gets an automatic bid to the Orange Bowl—a BCS bowl. It goes something like this:
Announcer 1- “Some people say that we need a playoff in college football (half-chuckle). I don’t know, partner, (light half-chuckle) I think we have a playoff right here.”
Announcer 2- “Pitt’s ball at the Rutgers 24 yard line. Yeah, I hear ya, partner, there is no regular season as important as college football’s.”
Announcer 1- “I mean (mean-spirited light chuckle), are you telling me that these two teams don’t want to win this game? You’re telling me (extremely upset now) that this game doesn’t mean anything to these kids? Try telling that to "insert any name you feel fit for Pitt’s QB" (I would choose, I don’t know, hmm… “Josh Tamargo”. )! You tell him that the effort he and his teammates are displaying out there means nothing!”
Announcer 2- “Tamargo overthrows his receiver and Rutgers intercepts the ball at the 5 yard line. I hear ya, pal. I actually think the BCS format is unique, and we should embrace it as such. We’ll be back after this commercial break. Pitt 6- Rutgers 5, 8:34 left in the game.”
SPECIAL REGULAR SEASON?
College football is the best sport going. There are only four to five things in the entire world more satisfying to do than sit on the couch with a beverage or twenty on a fall Saturday, especially when the early-season schedule includes #6 Texas at #15 Florida State at noon, followed by #3 Alabama at #2 Tennessee, #24 USC at #10 Notre Dame, and #19 Ohio St. at #18 Wisconsin at 3:30pm, and concluding with #1 Miami at #13 Florida at 7:30pm.
These match-ups are clearly very special. Championship aspirations hang in the balance as one loss can eliminate not only national title hopes, but conference title hopes as well. All the hard work and preparation from spring practice to summer two-a-days can be discarded in three and a half hours during the second game of the season. That’s pretty important stuff, no doubt.
Of course, as a competitive program, you never quit on the season while you hope to improve. But why do that when you could possibly win every game the rest of the season, dominate your competition, and end up with the ‘honor’ of playing in the Bull Bowl presented by Pampers? Or a meaningless Sugar Bowl? Can anyone remember who won the 1998 Sugar Bowl? No? And why would you? Who remembers the 1998 national champion? That’s correct—Tennessee.
We college football fans appreciate the importance of these regular season games. There is a certain draw to an early season college football game between two highly ranked teams that is different from any sport. However, there is too much importance placed early on and not enough placed on the end of the season, when teams have a year’s worth of games under their belt and have an identity.
HOW ABOUT A SPECIAL POSTSEASON?
The NFL is down to its final eight teams. The two top seeds in each conference return to action after receiving a well-deserved one-week rest. This rest was awarded to them for the performance they exhibited throughout the regular season. It was important for these teams to win as many regular season games as they could in order to secure the best possible playoff position. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears took care of business in the regular season and now enjoy the delight of a bye week. Only New England and Atlanta faired better. They, too, are delighted by their bye week and do not have to leave their respective confines to play a game, unless, of course, they reach the Super Bowl.
The NFL can, at times, be about as exciting as smelling your own armpit after a week-long hangover. This is especially the case when your favorite team has no real shot at the playoffs. There’s only so much Bills-Packers a sports fan can take, even if you did just bet the car payment on the OVER.
While NFL regular season games are important, the excitement does not match that of the college game, since an NFL team can lose an important game but still have a legitimate chance to win the final prize.
The NFL can, at times, also be about as exciting as finding the last ice cream cookie sandwich in the freezer right before a week-long hangover. This time is called the playoffs. Twenty-four teams may be watching the games from their mansions, but all football fans are eagerly awaiting this weekend’s match-ups, regardless of their allegiance.
There is a heightened sense of strategy, of extra preparation, that a playoff game offers. Teams have a season’s worth of action to study of their opponent. Styles clash and match-ups are exposed. Tendencies become more apparent. Coaches earn their meals based on how they can take advantage of strengths and weaknesses. Players earn their legacies in these games.
Sure, the NFL regular season can remind us of dry paint on the house, but the NFL post season reminds us of sunny days at the beach house. The regular season now becomes a reference point, a base used to compare and contrast. If the regular season is the week, then the playoffs are the weekend. It is now time to relax and enjoy.
College football can not only match this intensity and excitement, or intense excitement, but can easily surpass it. Imagine March Madness and the Final Four. Now multiply that by two and double it. Excitingly intense, I agree.
Under most playoff scenarios, there are 4 to 8 teams that would make the playoffs. That’s less than ten percent of the entire field. To suggest that regular season games would lose their importance would be to suggest that the Seattle Seahawks don’t deserve to be playing football anymore this season—it stinks, and means absolutely very little.
Every team would likely have 2 to 3 losses at most. The regular season would remain just as valuable, or important, as it is now. Do not accept this as a valid reason or necessity for maintaining the pageantry of college football.
As much as I’d like to watch Auburn vs. TCU in the College Football National Championship game presented by the Real College Football Fans of the World, I will settle for Seahawks-Bears in the NFL playoffs, where I can watch two teams compete for the right to play another day.
The NFL Playoffs: “Determining Champions on the Field for over 40 years”