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The Indefinite Search To Assign Proper Value OR Why a College Football Playoff Is Not A Sure Fix

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Who should play for the National Championship?  Is Team X ranked appropriately?  Is Team X better than Team Y?

These are the types of questions we ask ourselves and others when trying to accurately decide a team's worth.  We evaluate, argue, opine, and threaten until we are sure we know which teams are the best.  We lash out at the unfair nature of the BCS rankings while pining for a playoff that we believe will bring everything into alignment, and will finally give us the resolution we so desperately need.  But the conundrum that we overlook in all of this is that we spend an entire season in the pursuit of determining who the best team is, and where the teams we follow rank in the grand scheme of things, yet the nature of college football is designed to entertain, not to definitively determine how good teams are.  So we end up searching for an answer that the sport is not constructed to provide.

 

This is a huge issue with me.  If you are a regular reader, you have probably noticed that half of my posts are based around determining the value of teams, players, etc.  I complain about rankings, award finalists, media angles, and national perception until I reach a point that I have completely forgotten why I follow the sport at all.  There is something so empty about searching for order in a disorganized environment (is this starting to read like a suicide note?). I feel like I have assembled 495 pieces of a 500 piece puzzle, and can't find any way for those last 5 pieces to fit.  It seems like I have all the information I should need, there just isn't any way to put it together to define the whole picture.

So how do we determine where each team fits? The way our minds typically work to sort this data is to form groups of teams, then rank accordingly based on whatever indicators we have seen that might make us think one team is better than another team. The rub comes in when trying to determine what the term "better" even means. 

An easy example right now would be where you would rank Nebraska and Oklahoma State in respect to each other? Is Nebraska the better team because they beat Oklahoma State, or is Oklahoma State the better team because their one loss was to a one-loss team?  I think the generally accepted answer is that if the teams are similar in every other aspect, then whoever wins on the field should be viewed as the better team.  The problem with this is that one team often beats their opponent because of match-up issues rather than because they are the more talented team. 

For example: If Nebraska and Texas played each other 20 times, hypothetically (play along here) Texas might win 15 of those because their freakish defensive speed bothers the Huskers and is something Nebraska just can't get around.  But if Oklahoma State and Texas played each other 20 times, Oklahoma State might beat Texas 15 out of 20 because Texas has no answer for the balanced offensive attack.  And in the third pairing, if Nebraska and Oklahoma State played each other 20 times Nebraska might win 15 of those because OSU has no answer for Taylor Martinez.

So who is the best team of the 3?

The answer is that there isn't a best team. Every team matches up differently with every other team, every team plays differently on different days, and in the NU, UT, OSU example, each team has their kryptonite when it comes to one of the other teams in this triangle.  There really isn't a way to determine who is universally "better".... but that is not an answer we are willing to accept.

This is why I don't see the Playoff system as an answer to everything.  Sure it forces the perceived "best" teams to all play each other, but we see evidence every week of "weaker" teams beating "better" teams, so why do we think these one time matchups will be any more accurate in determining who the best team is?  All it would do is figure out who the winner of an end-of-the-season tournament is.... and is that really what we are after?

To sum this all up... I do see the benefits of a playoff system (more money, more games to watch, exciting as hell, etc), but if what we are after is truly determining the best team in college football, then I would honestly rather keep the BCS system as that at least allows a collection of people (and algorithms) the ability to weigh the accomplishments of each team and determine who the best two are.  Maybe some changes need to be made in regards to who votes, but I still prefer that system for determining the best team over which teams may match up better, or who potentially brings their A+ or D- game for one weekend in a tournament.

And if you are wondering (which you weren't), yes I do have the same complaint about the NCAA basketball Tourney, and wrote about it last spring.