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Prelude To The Debate: College Football Playoffs

This is part one of a series of essays on college football and the question of a playoff system to crown the national champion. The next set of essays will be a long analysis from reader Billyzane, and shall serve as the prelude to the forthcoming Great Debate between Kyle and SMQ on this very topic.

ESPN's Page 2 has a very thoughtful cautionary letter to the editor about what's wrong with the National Football League. Penned by Page 2 founder Jay Lovinger and columnist Patrick Hruby, the letter offers a point-by-point counterpunch to the usual NFL storyline of, "The NFL is bigger and better than ever, and can't be slowed down."

While I found myself nodding vigorously with most of the points, it was the affect the letter had on my thinking about a college football playoff that was most surprising. My feelings about how the letter related to college football evolved as I read through the arguments, but didn't come to a head until I got to the comment section at the end of the article. (ESPN now lets readers comment on stories, much in the way we do here at BON.)

The very first commenter, naming himself 'steelercrazy,' wrote:

If college football ever gets its act together and creates a 16-team playoff, a big chunk of fan interest in the NFL will disipate during mid-December to mid-January. Who isn't more interested in March Madness than the NBA Playoffs? The NFL will always be #1, but I do think the league has already reached its peak of popularity. Everything Hurby and Lovinger mentioned rings true, while "Holiday Madness" would create even more damage.

In the short- and maybe even medium-term, that may very well be true, but it was an odd comment to leave at the tail end of this particular letter. After all, one of Lovinger and Hruby's loudest complaints was the over-commercialization, over-hyping, and ridiculous ubiquity of the National Football League. Wouldn't a year-end playoff in college football make the sport more, and not less, like the NFL? Wouldn't a CFB playoff glitzify the sport in a way that made it more like the NFL's little sister, instead of its distant cousin?

In lusting for a college football playoff over the years, I've often focused on the notion of crowning the "right" team national championship, but if there was one big theme of the more philosophical banter during this college football season, it was that this may very well be a wild goose chase; in a game like football, played among a universe of 100+ teams, such a notion may be a fundamental misunderstanding of the rules which necessarily govern the operating system.

Justifying a college football playoff with the idea of "crowning the right team champion," then, may be a fool's errand, while simultaneously subjecting the sport to further commercialization, over-extension, and marketing of the sport to the lowest common denominator. Might we be better off leaving the sport as is? Or, better yet, returning it to how it once was, with all the bowls on one day and less obsession with finding the perfect system to crown someone #1?

I'm not sure, but the ugly side of the NFL as World's Biggest Sport gives me pause and reason to consider whether rocketing down the road that we're on really is - in the long-term view - best for the sport. Given the direction things are headed, there's little reason to think things actually will slow down, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't ask:

Is this what we really want?