Why A Tournament Style Playoff Will Not Work in College Football

By Chris Mitra / @chrismitra

The NCAA Basketball Tournament.  It is the finest time of the year for college basketball.   Watch parties.  Office bracket pools.  Andy Katz going over brackets with President Barack Obama.  Viewers are through the roof.  Fun for Corporate America, fun for Main Street America, right?

This is also the time of year where a large group of college football fans ask, "Why can't we have that in football?"

I'm here to tell you: a tournament, playoff, whatever you want to call it, won't work in major college football.

A little background on me real quick.  Up until a couple years ago, I was one of the biggest proponents among my friends for a college football playoff.  I even organized a EA Sports NCAA Football tournament with my friends at my house, using the top 16 teams in the BCS that year and randomly assigning them to all of us and, from there, playing out a 16-team playoff.  I have the pics on Facebook to prove it.

But one day, I really thought about it.  A 16-team or even an eight-team playoff wouldn't work, not without losing a lot of what makes the Football Bowl Subdivision work.  Here are three of my reasons for thinking so.

The time of the year doesn't work at all

College basketball has March Madness.  It is pretty much the perfect time of year for that kind of a tournament to occur.  The first couple rounds usually land perfect with colleges' spring breaks.  It is after the NFL is finished with their season, before the start of baseball, and before the NBA and NHL ramp up for the playoffs.

For college football, the regular season ends the first week of December.  For a 16-team playoff, that would mean the games would have to begin the following weekend, a week usually reserved for award presentations and the Heisman ceremony.  For the FBS to avoid directly competing with the opening round of the NFL playoffs, the championship game will have to be played around where it is right now.  Oh, and there is a little holiday in there called Christmas that they would have to plan around.  Would they have enough time to play the games before competing for television sets with its professional brethren?

Travel would cripple lower seeded teams.

Assuming in the earlier rounds the higher seed would host games, lower seeds would incur extra travel cost if they advance higher in the playoff.  Let's say one of the lower seeds, a 12, wins all the way through to the national championship.  They could effectively visit four separate cities, no way to get anything out of ticket sales revenue.  So for them to win a national championship, they first have to be penalized with travel costs for the entire team, support staff, coaches, and pay for unsold tickets for the championship game (because let's face it, not all those tickets end up sold to the fans of the teams competing in the game).

A college football program isn't really like an NFL team.  NFL teams have seemingly limitless resources to send their teams where ever they need to play.  Some college football programs, the smaller ones, are in the red before they even play a single game.  So unless you are an Alabama or an Ohio State (or and Oklahoma, gotta mention them since I'm an alum), your school's athletic program will have to cut some sports in order to pay for your football team's success.

Say bye-bye to the bowl experience

I don't care what anyone says: anything more than a "plus-one" playoff would effectively kill the current bowl system.  Some of you think that might be a good thing.  Too many of those things anyway, right?  Yes, 35 bowl games is a little excessive, but what about 20 of them?  (I'm a big proponent for cutting back on amount of bowl games.)  I like the bowl system, and I'm sure most coaches and players especially do as well.  It is giving every bowl team the experience of a championship-like game.

There are parades, different tours and things, and lots of swag for the players.  It is one of the great rewards for a college player.  If they aren't going to pay college athletes, then they need to keep the bowls.  Nothing like getting an XBox 360 Kinect, iPad 2, and a Rolex gold watch just for showing up!  And it isn't just for the players and teams.  Much of the tours and parades are open to the fans as well, even giving some time for them to get to interact and meet the team.

Would they have something like that for anything other than the championship game?

The time between the end of the regular season and the bowl game also gives teams extra practice time to build moment toward the next season, something that would be lost if that time was taken up by playoff games.

I could go on and on with this subject, since it's college football.  But since it is still college basketball season, I'll leave you with those three thoughts while you enjoy watching to see if Cinderella goes to the ball or if the large big step-sister goes to the main dance.  But once programs start having their spring games, it's on!

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