Can Butler's Run Bring A Playoff?
First of all, please, please, PLEASE don't pay attention to anyone who tries to equate Butler's rise up and run to the national title game with anything Boise State has accomplished in football. That appears to be the lazy and easy comparison that some are trying to make now, but it doesn't do Boise State justice. You only need a few good players (even if the star looks like the grown up version of the kid from Deliverance) and a smart, savvy head coach (even if he looks like the guy from the 5 Hour Energy ads) and you can put together a good basketball team.
College basketball history is full of one-hit wonders that got great because of one or two nice players at the right time (Indiana State with Larry Bird, Loyola Marymount with Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble, and on and on and on), while one or two great players means jack-squat in college football. What Boise State has done over the last decade-plus on the football field
has been nothing short of a true sports miracle; what Butler just did should've been expected.
Can we please, please, PLEASE stop calling Butler a Cinderella story? This was a team ranked at or near the top ten almost all season long and it was no stranger to the Sweet 16. Also, stop saying that there were no losers in Monday's national title game that was great in drama and short on people who could do the most basic of basketball functions and put a ball in a hole. Duke won, Butler lost. Butler's a loser, Duke's a winner.
Sorry about that. I'm back now.
Now, does the Butler run give any more thought to the idea that college football deserves a playoff? After all, wouldn't it be nice if Boise State, TCU, and Utah of a few years ago deserved a shot at the national title in a playoff?
Yes, it would be great if college football had a tournament of eight teams with seven conference champions and one wild card, but no, just because the college basketball determines its title with a gimmick doesn't mean that football has to follow suit with something wild and crazy with too many teams spoiling the broth.
I guess Duke has to be my 2010 Men's Basketball Champion, but that's only because it lucked out by not having to play Kansas or Kentucky, the two best teams in the tournament (I know, I know, West Virginia beat UK, Duke beat West Virginia … I'd still take the Wildcats -8 if they played the Blue Devils tomorrow). This was an entertaining tournament with bad teams, no talent, an awful foursome in Indianapolis, and in the end, a champion whose program boasts at least ten other teams that would've wiped this one off the floor.
Are you really that satisfied that Duke is the best college basketball team in America in 2010? Do you honestly believe that NC State was the best team in 1983 and Villanova was the best in 1985? CBS pumps up its craptacular anthem, "One Shining Moment," when it really should be renamed "One Big Fluky Win Here And There Over A Team, Usually Kansas, That Choked." (Please,
do yourself a favor and actually read the dippiest lyrics this side of "Escape (The Piña Colada Song)". Do you really want this for college football?
Are you really that upset at the idea that Alabama is the 2009 national champion? If you're not from Utah, do you really believe in your heart of hearts that Florida wasn't the best team in college football in 2008? Even with all the craziness and controversies over the BCS era, college football gets it right far, far more often than any other sport. While the BCS is bizarre and needs to be used as a tool that leads and helps determine a fair and just playoff system, in the end, there hasn't been a totally undeserving fluke holding up the crystal trophy since the poll ‘n' bowl system was ditched.
We all had our fun with Butler, and we all enjoyed a great tournament for the spectacle that it was. But it's a show unto itself, and while I desperately want a playoff system for college football, I don't want one if it means the regular season becomes as irrelevant as college basketball's, and I don't really want one if it means a ton of gags and upsets keep the best teams from playing each other for the national title.
I've loved the Butler story over the past few weeks. I loathe the current BCS system. And yet, I don't believe the Bulldogs' run to the championship game is necessarily a referendum for a big, bloated playoff system. In fact, Butler playing for a title has had the exact opposite effect on me.
Again, taking nothing away from Butler, I'm not exactly in favor of crowning a team that got hot at the right time, caught a break or two along the way, and won five or six straight games. Compelling, yes, but it sort of diminishes the importance of the regular season, doesn't it? You know, that long proving ground of more than 30 games and four months. Now, I know that teams, like Kansas and Syracuse, are responsible for their own chokes, but a one-and-done does a disservice to how well each played between November and February.
I do not want a 16-team playoff that takes something away from the greatest regular season in all of American sports. For that matter, keep your eight-team edition as well. Give me a plus-one that puts four teams into the hunt in January, and preserves the sanctity of the game from Labor Day to early December.
1) It would be overly simplistic to say that Butler's march to the national title game "proves" that college basketball does things better than college football. A better way to approach this question/issue is to address the reasonable arguments submitted by those who feel college football has a better (if flawed) system.
The primary argument put forth by those preferential to pigskin's plan is that the best team often fails to win a multi-round, single-elimination tournament. That's an excellent argument. In the realm of professional sports other than football, the presence of multiple best-of-seven-game series goes a long way toward ensuring that an elite team will win the championship. It's impossible to refute that claim.
The sticky wicket, of course, is that college sports should not be in the business of having multiple best-of-seven series to determine champions. The NCAA (or the BCS) would have to give up the pretense that its athletes are also students. Playoffs with series are not feasible or realistic… UNDER THE CURRENT STRUCTURE ENCASING COLLEGIATE ATHLETICS. If the NCAA wanted to radically reform the way it does business, and turned athletes into expressly paid performers who come to a school to entertain alums and students, we might have something. Now, however, the current system cannot support multiple-game playoff series. The College World Series in baseball facilitates a double-elimination tournament, but that's still a crapshoot; moreover, it's allowable only because baseball is a sport that can be played on consecutive days without rest. Football and basketball cannot have playoff series in the collegiate realm at this point in time.
In light of that systemic limitation, football and basketball have to have single-elimination tournaments for the time being. Given that basketball can be played every other day (for the most part) in the absence of grueling travel demands, it's not entirely fair to compare hoops and pigskin and hold them on an even level. These are apples and oranges to a considerable extent. We need a more precise point of comparison in order to evaluate the two sports' playoff mechanisms.
2) The major point of comparison that needs to be used is this: Does football crown the best team every season at a rate which appreciably exceeds basketball's?
Let's just take the past decade. In its 2000 season, college football crowned Oklahoma while basketball crowned Michigan State. Score one for both sports. In 2001, football claimed Miami while hoops claimed Duke. The best team once again won in both sports. In 2002, Ohio State and Maryland. If anything, basketball claims a small edge because Ohio State would probably not have beaten Miami in a best-of-seven series. However, we can call it a wash, anyway, to respect the immensity of the Buckeyes' 14-0 mark that season. In 2003, LSU and USC split in football, while Syracuse won in basketball. That year is a wash because while LSU and USC were superior to Syracuse over the course of a full season, football embarrassed itself and could not deliver the clarity a national title race deserves. In 2004, USC took football while Connecticut took basketball. That's pretty much a wash; USC was better in its sport than UConn was in basketball, but Auburn's absence from the national title game removes (more) integrity from football's process. Perhaps Auburn was the best team; the Tigers never got the chance.
In 2005, Texas took football while North Carolina took basketball. A wash. In 2006, Florida won both titles. Football had a slightly better champion, but the Florida-Michigan kerfuffle again detracted from the integrity of the football process. In 2007, LSU won a very muddled race for the championship, while Florida repeated on the hardwood. Advantage, basketball. In 2008, Florida took football and Kansas claimed basketball. A wash, although Texas certainly had reason to play the Gators for the national title; once again, if anything, basketball had the better process that year. Finally, in 2009 (we're still waiting for the 2010 football season to start), Alabama won the football title while North Carolina won in hoops. A wash.
What we're left with is a lot of even results that, in light of football's national title game controversies (the teams that never got to contest a crown – Miami in the 2001 Orange Bowl; Oregon in the 2002 Rose Bowl; USC and LSU in a 2004 plus-one which never existed; Auburn in the 2005 Orange Bowl; Michigan in the 2007 BCS Championship Game; Texas in the 2009 BCS title game; TCU in the 2010 BCS title game, Boise State in a plus-one with Alabama), give basketball an edge on the very terms football proponents use to claim that pigskin produces elite champions more frequently.
So, does college basketball do an inherently better job? Not necessarily. These are two very different landscapes. Let's just say, though, that the weight of argument rests on basketball's side, all limitations considered.