I probably shouldn't have thrown a hastily-written two-paragraph note about the playoff system into the morning post; it's too big a topic to cover that quickly. All I really wanted to note was that I was sure some people were going to use the Giants' victory as an anti-playoff argument. I should have checked this morning before posting, because Kyle already had.
So let's flesh this out a little bit.
1. The NFL is nothing like college football. It's the same game, but a different league. The point I wanted to make this morning had less to do with wanting to validate the NFL's system so much as noting that it's an imperfect analogy. The professionals play 16 regular season games; discounting the division foes played twice, a team is tested against 12 other teams in the league. By January, we've got a data set that allows us to make much more certain comparative evaluations about the teams than we can in the college game.
2. The NFL playoff system is not the one most of us CFB playoff proponents want. The playoff system we want would not allow the college equivalent of the New York Giants into the playoffs. Anti-playoff advocates are presenting a false choice when they use the NFL as the comparison model.
It's a straw man. While I don't want 7-4 Kentucky in a college football playoff, I'd have liked to have seen 4-8 teams battle for a crown this year. The "travesty" of this year's national championship wasn't that two-loss LSU emerged the title-winner, it's that they and Ohio State, among a handful of equally worthy contenders, were the only two allowed to compete.
3. The regular season would not be ruined by a playoff. A commenter below noted that the Giants' regular-season losses to the Patriots, Cowboys, and Packers became meaningless. That's true. It's also irrelevant to my argument. To begin with, as noted above, the playoff system we want would not include the New York Giants. Their bundle of losses would have disqualified them from contention.
This is another reason I like billyzane's flex playoff proposal. The idea here isn't to have a playoff for the sake of having a playoff. It is to remedy more equitably what is often a messy end-of-season situation. This year, LSU and Ohio State were the only two given an opportunity to play for the national title. Given the equally worthy (certainly difficult to compare) credentials of other teams (USC and Oklahoma, for example), a playoff would have been a more appropriate way to crown a champion than the current system. In 2005, the flex system would have called for a two-team playoff - between Texas and USC.
Long story short: the regular season doesn't become any less meaningful than it is right now simply because we note that we'll have a playoff at the end for the best of the best. The regular season's excitement is rightly valued by those who fear a playoff, but I disagree strongly that the two are mutually exclusive. There are some playoff systems which excessively devalue regular season games. I contend there are systems which do not.
Moreover, the pro-con calculus is not one-sided. The regular season is part of the evaluation, but the postseason must be, too. What little might be lost by a playoff system would be counterbalanced by an enormous gain in the postseason. In my eyes, the gain far outweighs the loss.
But we've had this discussion before, and it's increasingly clear that it's a topic on which reasonable people can disagree. Which is fine.
But I scoff at the notion that last night's Super Bowl is a reason we can't have a playoff in college football. That's not true. All it means is we shouldn't have a system where nearly half the league members receive an invitation.