On March 27, the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Rams stunned the college basketball world by making it into the Final Four of the NCAA basketball tournament. VCU made history by being the first team to win five games to get to the Final Four and did so by dismantling Kansas, one of the best teams in the nation.
VCU was able to win five games instead of the traditional four because of a newly enacted rule that permitted 68 teams to enter the NCAA tournament. The Rams charged into the hearts of millions and became a great feel-good underdog story. Sports fans, however, have seen this fairy-tale before. In 2006 George Mason made the Final Four as an 11 seed by defeating a different number one seed in Connecticut. George Mason did not make the championship game but did excite the sports world and further showed how college basketball has the best postseason system.
Once the games are over on Monday, VCU’s story will once again add fuel to the already raging inferno that is the argument about college football’s postseason.
People will come out of the desert in Texas and the fields of Boise proclaiming that college football should have a playoff system instead of the BCS. They will cite that an 11 seed was able to beat some of the best basketball teams in the nation and that a playoff system will settle once and for all, who is truly the best team in college football.
My response to BCS naysayers is, to use a phrase by the highly entertaining college football analyst Lee Corso, “not so fast, my friend”.
After being an Auburn fan in 2004 and not seeing an undefeated SEC team make the National Championship game, no one has been a bigger supporter of a college football playoff system than me. Heck, I even did speeches in high school that explained my hatred of the BCS. However, college basketball is completely different than college football The VCU story shows me how great a 68-team playoff can be, but it also shows me how a diluted tournament would not help college football’s postseason problems.
First and foremost, the games of basketball and football are almost completely different. In basketball, one player can lead a team to a championship. We see that all the time in the star-studded NBA, and we see it this year with Connecticut guard Kemba Walker. Really, though, rarely can a single player lead a football team to a championship, and when it really boils down to it, the only thing that matters in football is the line play.
Because any one player can lead his team to a championship, a 68-team playoff works for college basketball. With the parity in college basketball, every team has a star player that they can rely heavily on to win games. Good basketball players come from every corner of the globe. With only about a dozen scholarships to offer, it is likely that a great player will slip through the cracks and land at a VCU or George Mason. This does not happen in college football. The big time teams have enough scholarships to scoop up all the best talent and leave the smaller schools with just crumbs to feed their programs.
There is parity in college football too, but nothing compares to this season’s basketball tournament teams. I have watched a lot of college basketball games this season, and there is not a single team that deserves the labeling of “a great team.” Every team has had holes this season, and there is not a team that has more than a couple of NBA players on their team. This was the perfect year for Butler and VCU, as all the big boys of college basketball were way down. Michigan State barely made the tournament, UCLA was a seven seed and the Tobacco Road teams were weaker than usual.
Notre Dame and Michigan football have shown us that football teams can experience years of drought, but there will always be great teams that rule any given decade. This is not the case in college basketball anymore, as players are allowed to leave after only one season, and high school seniors are not interested in winning a championship, but only improving their draft stock.
A 68-team tournament works for college basketball because there are about 100 teams that could legitimately win seven games in a row against watered down competition. A 68, 32, 16 or even eight team playoff would not work in college football because, at most, there are four teams head and shoulders above everybody else that are always “great teams.”