The introduction of the first College Football Playoff and its four-team format was sure to spawn comparisons to college sports’ other four-team spectacle, basketball’s Final Four.
Remove preference of football or basketball from the equation. Based purely on the ethos of each spectacle, which is superior?
This year marks the first time fans can debate with tangible evidence, and not merely theorize what a football equivalent of the Final Four might be. Coming to a conclusion requires weighing both the positives and negatives of each, and examining the impact the respective postseasons have on their sport as a whole.
Presenting the case for and against both the College Football Playoff and the Final Four as college sports’ premier event.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF
A more accurate reflection of the “true” champion
You will often hear college basketball pundits talk of “winning in March. Can a team that’s strong in conference play, or a surprise squad beating favorites in the holiday season sustain that level in March?
Everything about college basketball’s season builds up to one month.
Conversely, college football’s entire, three-month regular season is comparable to the one month of Madness. Every game is consequential to a team’s College Football Playoff hopes, and thus every Saturday plays a direct role in the championship picture.
Two of the last four basketball champions — coincidentally, both UConn teams — languished in mediocrity for much of the regular season, but got hot in March. The Huskies even beat the best team for the duration of the 2013-’14 campaign in last year’s Final Four, Florida, to advance to the title game and face a Kentucky team that lost to those same Gators three times.
Then again, maybe a football team can get hot after it’s written off earlier in the campaign.
The Big Ten is officially eliminated from placing a team in the playoff. It is September 6th.
— Clay Travis (@ClayTravisBGID) September 7, 2014
Proves the power of the fans’ voice
College football fans have clamored for a playoff for as long as I can remember. The various attempts at placating spectators without shaking up the landscape too dramatically were the Bowl Coalition and BCS. Neither was quite enough.
Eventually, outcry became too much for college football’s decision-makers to ignore. The College Football Playoff was born of populist sentiment.
Sure, that populist sentiment was listened to because of consumer spending, so the playoff was born of wholly economic reasons. Nevertheless, fans made an impact with their dollar that changed the game forever.
Cinderella stories are prevented
The College Football Playoff is never going to feature a counterpart to Butler or VCU. It may never even have an Indiana State, which was one of the best teams through the 1978-’79 season, thanks to one of the nation’s best players, Larry Bird, leading the charge. Think 2009 Boise State with Kellen Moore behind center, which proved its mettle with wins over Pac-10 champion Oregon and fellow unbeaten TCU.
There are just four spots in the College Football Playoff, and there are five so-called power conferences with first priority in slotting into the tournament. The math just doesn’t add up in favor of the underdog Group of Five conferences to ever land a title contender.
This past season — the first with the College Football Playoff — is perhaps the closest we’ll come to a Cinderella making the field of four, with TCU finishing at No. 5. The Horned Frogs were coming off a 4-8 finish in 2013 and starting a quarterback-turned-wide receiver-turned-quarterback in Trevone Boykin.
Still, just how much of a Cinderella can you really call a member of the Big 12? The Cinderella story for TCU is more that it used its success in the Mountain West, where it was denied title contention in 2010, to gain a Big 12 invite.
Conference realignment tales are much less exciting than Final Four runs.
A roadblock in determining college football’s “true” national championship was, for many years, the decades-long traditions of the higher profile bowls. Now, some might contend that tradition itself falls in the “Cons” category for this very reason.
However, tradition is what shapes college football, from the unique cheers and songs of each fan base, to the rivalries.
The BCS introduced a system that turned the Rose Bowl’s Big Ten vs. Pac-12 matchup into TCU vs. Wisconsin, Texas vs. Michigan, Miami vs. Nebraska and so forth. This year’s Rose Bowl pit Oregon against Florida State; a fun affair to be sure, but not a Rose Bowl Game.
To some extent, the College Football Playoff does play fast and loose with the very traditions that made the sport popular enough to fuel the playoff.
Presenting sponsor Dr. Pepper’s obnoxious ad campaign with a concession worker, patterned off a daily Finebaum caller, was one of the more grating parts of the 2014 college football season.
Perhaps UConn’s 2011 and 2014 national championships are not accurate reflections of those entire college basketball seasons. The same goes for Arizona’s 1997 run to the title.
And yeah, maybe if George Mason, VCU or Butler played in the ACC week-in and week-out, they are eliminated from even earning a spot in the Big Dance that allowed them their Final Four runs.
However, that’s what we love about the NCAA Tournament. There’s something unique about it that speaks to our emotions. It’s why Hollywood producers films on Rudy and the Miracle on Ice, rather than dramatizations of the 1996 Chicago Bulls.
The NCAA Tournament has expanded numerous times — enough so that its continued growth worries football fans who fear the College Football Playoff swelling into a behemoth that overshadows the regular season.
Yet, with every addition of more entrants, the Final Four remains a throwback to the very infancy of college basketball’s championship. The concept of the Final Four can be traced back to the Great Depression.
Consider the many defining personalities and moments the Final Four helped launch:
- Bill Russell
- Oscar Robertson
- The 1966 Texas Western team
- Lew Alcindor/Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
- The Magic-Bird Rivalry
- Michael Jordan
- Carmelo Anthony
And that just scratches the surface of the Final Four’s indelible impact on the game.
Devaluing of the regular season
Media personalities spent a lot of this past season bellyaching about crises in college basketball. Whether complaints stemmed from one-and-done players, stagnant offenses or lack of intriguing matchups, all come down to the same root: television ratings.
The sports-consuming public isn’t disenchanted with college basketball, however. The tournament’s ratings have always been and continue to be astronomical.
While a more refined game akin to the 1980s and 1990s would surely bolster college basketball’s regular-season viewership, the truth is that the tournament’s appeal is somewhat to blame for the regular season’s lack thereof.
A team like 2014 Florida might be the best in the nation, but if I’m a casual observer, why would I care about the Gators as much at Christmas as on St. Patrick’s Day if they’re destined to be upset by a team playing inferior basketball in the winter?
Continued corporatization of the tournament
The tradition that’s so beloved about the tournament is juxtapose against an increasingly corporate veneer, the result of the Big Dance generating billions in revenue. To wit, The Killers and Rihanna were bludgeoned over the viewers’ heads repeated throughout the last two March seasons.
At this weekend’s Final Four, TBS is welcoming The Rock and Dennis Miller as “analysts,” whose real purpose is shilling their latest endeavors. That’s particularly asinine in Miller’s case, because given his track record, that project will be canceled before the Final Four ends.
In a way, this is comparable to the use of NBA analysts for the NCAA Tournament; a debacle that seems to get worse every March.
So Final Four or College Football Playoff? This is where your input comes into play. Vote and sound off in the comments.