Every year right around this time, everyone from talking heads to borderline fans start to make noise about the need for a college football playoff. Currently, the larger, more competitive Division I teams are a part of the Bowl Champion Series. At the end of the regular season for the conferences involved, the BCS determines which teams will take part in a variety of “bowl” games, final match-ups such as the Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, and Fiesta Bowl. The centerpiece of these bowls is the National Championship Game, and the teams that are selected to play in these games do so based on a combination of polls and quantitative measurements of each team such as points per game, difficulty of schedule.
While this system does not at first seem unreasonable, it has come under fire during instances in which more than two teams have held the same record at the end of the regular season (often being undefeated). Problems also arise when a team is ranked higher than another team that has a better record because of the other factors that go into the ranking process. This scenario occurred in 2008, when Oklahoma University and the University of Florida were chosen to play for the National Championship even though the University of Utah held a perfect record of 13-0 and Oklahoma had already lost a game. This has not been the only time that seemingly worthy teams have been left out of title contention, and it is a product of the subjective nature of the selection process. How do we decide whether just barely beating a team on the road is better than blowing a team out at home? What happens to our assessment of a team if one loss comes at the end of a highly ranked opponent or a school from out of nowhere?
The answer to these questions for many is to institute a playoff system. Rather than arguing for hours about the subjective measurements of the ins and outs of college football, creating a bracket of the four, eight, or 16 best teams would let the teams play out what was otherwise decided by people sitting around a room. A college football playoff superficially represents a solution to the current bowl situation, but it would only further devalue the education of the student football players as well as go against the guiding principles of collegiate athletics.
Division I varsity athletes put a tremendous amount of time into their sports. Between practices, workouts, traveling, and the actual games, many of them do not have adequate time to attend to their schoolwork. Some of the best football teams in the country tout graduation rates below 50 percent for its players, leaving too many students with highlight reels and without diplomas. To remain competitive at the highest level, many of these programs also have no offseasons, continuing to practice and work out during the rest of the school year and summer. Adding an entire three or four more games (each that must be spread a week apart) will only increase the imbalance between sport and school. March Madness, the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s annual college basketball tournament, is one of the most exciting sporting events in the country, but teams that make it until the final rounds spend almost an entire month playing all over the country, providing a fairly large obstacle to school work.
The greater issue with the drive for a college football playoff is the misled desire to determine yearly supremacy. The goal of intercollegiate athletics has never been to decide the national champion in the most accurate way. Rather, as the NCAA states in its core purpose statement, it is “to integrate intercollegiate athletics into higher education so that the educational experience of the student-athlete is paramount.” The NCAA may not have an adequate system for determining which team is the national champion, but that has never been its goal.
The Harvard football team beat Yale for the fourth year in a row before Thanksgiving, ending their season in dramatic fashion. Both teams played at a very high level and it was a genuinely fun affair. This is what college football should be about, instilling camaraderie and school spirit, displaying the talent and hard work put in by the players. There is nothing wrong with it being unclear at the end of the season which team in the country is really the best; healthy, balanced competition and school spirit should remain the winning combination.
Marcel E. Moran ’11, a former Crimson associate editorial editor, is a human evolutionary biology concentrator in Eliot House.