A Baseball-Based Aside on a College Football Playoff

Recently, a Dawg Sports reader was kind enough to observe that I was "truly the George Will of Georgia baseball," which, in addition to being a fine compliment, also happened to be fortuitously timed.

By coincidence, I recently pulled Dr. Will's Bunts: Curt Flood, Camden Yards, Pete Rose and Other Reflections on Baseball off of the shelf and I was happy to find that my recent arguments against a college football playoff were underscored by the following passage from the book's conclusion:

The 1997 Marlins were a team never far from mediocrity, but the team got hot at the right time---late in the season, and in a season subsequent to baseball's adoption of a multilayered playoff system that maximizes the chances for mediocrity to suffice. The Marlins became the first wild-card team to win a Series. In the regular season they did not just finish second in the National League Eastern Division, they had only the third-best record in that division against National League teams (that is, excluding interleague play). Well, things could have been even more unsightly. As late as September 1997 it seemed that the Houston Astros might win the National League Central Division with a record under .500. (They won it with an 84-78 record.) Someday something like that will happen and the people who administer baseball (to the extent that there are such people) will wonder why the World Series seems like something less than it used to be.
Those words were written in 1998, before baseball crowned a 2006 world champion that went 83-78 through the regular season. As eyebrow-raising as that playoff result was, though, at least the Cards had to win 11 postseason games to get there.

George F. Will is a nerdy conservative smart guy, a poli sci geek, a reflective sports purist, and a commentator with a pretentious superfluous initial. For some reason, I always liked him.

Last year's World Series produced a fairly fluky outcome even with the requirement that the champs win multi-game series over three different teams; imagine how much more likely an embarrassing and incongruous result would be if all a college football team had to do was win a mere three games.

If a team scores an upset in a conference championship game---say, Texas in 1996, L.S.U. in 2001, Kansas State in 2003, or Florida State in 2005---then goes on a hot streak, college football could produce a three-, four-, or even five-loss national champion. I gladly will continue to wrestle with the task of distinguishing between the relative accomplishments of various once-beaten teams rather than accept a system that inevitably will produce a national champion whose legitimacy no one would accept.

Sure, such a watered-down championship will be definitive, but it also will illustrate the tradeoff that a playoff requires. The objective of an undisputed championship cannot be achieved without the sacrifice of an undiluted championship. I, for one, would prefer to retain the sport's heated arguments over national titles that matter rather than to obtain certainty in settling a national title which is as devalued as the home run record in the steroid era.

Go 'Dawgs!

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