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Posted on: February 6, 2011 2:33 pm
Edited on: April 5, 2011 6:37 pm

Playoff Discussion Cliff Notes

This is lengthy, but it is also comprehensive.

Developing a new playoff format is the favorite indoor sport in NCAAF forums.  The items below are a summary of the results of countless playoff discussions in open forum, grouped under a few related topics.  A comparative analysis of the pros and cons as they apply to general formats is at the end.

Thru the topics below “Plausible sounding” statements, despite following a line of logic, are not considered evidence – after all, it was once logical the earth was the center of the universe based on plausible conclusions derived from observations.

No credence is given to searches for the “Golden phrase” – attempts to increase the validity or significance of an issue or diminish evidence by changing the way it is prosed.  Evidence stands or falls on its own merits without embellishment.  You can include in this group attempts to redefine common terms.

No credence is given to possibilities which haven’t happened – when an event occurs, it can be included and weighed with frequency it occurs, until then it is just another “What if?”

A core reason given for a playoff is that it would be a better means of crowning the best team. 

The validity of this statement depends on the playoff size.  As the size of the playoff field expands, the chances the best team is not invited drops off quickly.  However, the chances the best team is upset increases nearly exponentially as the number of playoff games increases.  As the size of a playoff increases, eventually the chances of an upset surpass the chances of not getting an invite, at which time the chances of crowning the best team decreases.

An estimate can be made for comparison
Chances the Best team is crowned  =  chances the best team is invited  x  chances of winning round 1  x  chances of winning round 2  x 

Using reasonable estimates that the best team is twice as likely to be ranked 1-2 as 3-4, twice as likely to be ranked 3-4 as 5-6, etc. coupled with an estimate the best team wins around 60-70% of the time:

4 team formats are more likely to crown the best team than a 2 team format
but only slightly (well less than a 5% improvement)
8 team or larger formats are less likely to crown the best team than a 4 team format with the results dropping off quickly.
The comparison between 4 and 8 team formats holds with any reasonable estimates.
Seeded 6 team formats are too close to call compared to a seeded 4 varying with the estimates, but are generally about the same.

You can add "Legitimacy" or "Better method" claims to this grouping - the Championship format most likely to crown the best team champion would be the most legitimate.

I have not seen where this has been disputed, only downplayed.

Everyone with access to, and the ability to project, relevant information who has looked at the issue have derived the same conclusion – a large playoff (more than 4 teams) can generate more money than the BCS, but would decrease overall revenue for the entire season.  They do not believe a 4 team format would substantially add to or detract from the overall season revenue.

This has never been disputed by the mid majors or any other group with access to, and the skill to project, relevant information.

One counter argument is that they are all lying to protect their power and/or status.  I mockingly refer to this as the “Conspiracy theory” because of the large number of groups with different priorities that are all reaching the same conclusion (networks, majors, consulting groups, BCS, bowls, etc.),  Even groups that favor large formats (such as mid majors) do not dispute these findings.  Since they are all saying the same thing, I assert that for all of them to be lying, there must be some level of collusion as they make revenue a secondary issue.

Another counter argument is that their conclusion are wrong
, but these assertions have never produced evidence to the contrary (reference “Plausible sounding” statements above).

Playoffs have been cited as a means of closing the financial disparity between the "Haves" and "Have nots." 
Financially a seeded 4 provides the mid majors with as much as the majors can give without sacrificing themselves.  The BCS provided enough gains and opportunities to benefit all groups - there was no need for any group to sacrifice financially under the BCS format.

Poll respect, etc.
is another form of disparity which follows the same discourse as Justice/Injustice below.
Neither the majors, mid majors, networks, experts, etc. disputes the above.

The assertion is that it is only important for the best team to be invited.   This argument came about after it was accepted that larger playoffs are less likely to crown the best team.

Using the same estimates used in “Results” above where the best team is twice as likely to be ranked 1-2 than 3-4, twice as likely to be ranked 3-4 than 5-6, etc. the best team would be ranked:
1-2  50% of the time
3-4  25% of the time
5-6  12.5% of the time
7-8  6.25% of the time
9-16  6.06% of the time
In a comparison between formats, the gains can be weighed by their frequency of occurrence.  For example, in increasing from a 6 team format to an 8 team format, there is only a 1 in 16 year gain – it takes a heavily slanted view to hold an event that occurs less than twice in 30 years in sports as significant.

These are estimates slanted to favor a large scale playoff – it takes a slanted view to claim the best team was ranked 7th or lower once every 8 years over a sizable sample period.

This inherently overlaps the Justice/Injustice issues below – this was split because it can be quantified by its frequency.

I am summarizing this for a broad range of issues such as fairness, worthiness, deserving, etc.
Unlike the issues above, this is a highly subjective issue, but 1 aspect is common to these:
To  correct a perceived injustice to 1 group, you have to diminish the accomplishment of another group already deemed better.
Examples - discounting SOS places records in a weaker schedule close to or even with teams that played a harder schedule, inviting teams considered not as good diminishes the season accomplishments of teams considered better,  inviting conference champions diminishes the accomplishments of champions of harder conferences, etc.
In the balance, the accomplishments being diminished at least partially offsets the gain in reducing the injustice and from some perspectives creates a greater injustice than the one being addressed.

Among those who cite INVITED and JUSTICE/INJUSTICE issues
, a 4 team format is considered to do little to resolve the issues, generally feeling an 8 team format is needed.  A few use it to push for larger formats, but subsequent discussions usually reveal they are fitting the reason to their belief, not basing their conclusion on the evidence.

A playoff would add more games at the highest level.  But like the Justice/Injustice arguments, this is a 1 sided view.

Competition is not limited to the top teams.  If the level of competition is measured in fan interest and quantified by TV ratings for the season (a fair assessment), everyone with access to, and the ability to project TV ratings agree there is no substantial change in a 4 team format, a decrease in larger formats.  Elevating the context of a fewer games and adding a few more while diminishing the context of over 600 other games  is hardly an argument for competition.

This is the same as the revenue issue evidence - they project that the larger the format, the greater the number of games with elevated context and new games, but the less significant the other bowls and outcome of regular season games become.

Any system that would diminish the role opinions play, replacing them with game results would certainly be considered more objective.
This overlaps the RESULTS, INVITE, and JUSTICE/INJUSTICE issues above – it takes a 1 sided view to only look at the process and not the results to hold this as a separate issue.

You can also group politics and NCAA approval into this.

After 3 congressional hearings, countless threats from elected representatives, and countless law suit threats without subsequent action, it should be apparent the BCS is on solid legal and political ground.  The NCAA has no interest of injecting itself into the NCAAF post season issue.

This cannot be said of many playoff proposals.

covers a wide range of topics which are addressed above, but in general they usually fall under the JUSTICE/INJUSTICE heading.

A myriad of other issues are frequently brought up that may not fit in the above, but under scrutiny they are generally deemed to be insignificant in comparison to other issues, false beliefs, or conclusion lacking merit because they have no basis in fact.

They have more information, more resources, and have looked at the issue since before the BCS was formed.  I would be amiss not to recant their conclusions.
No major opposes a seeded 4 in principle.  They feel a seeded 4 would typically encompass all of the teams with a strong claim to the title without the downside of larger playoff formats.
Their opposition is based on the belief a playoff would inevitably expand under pressure, and with the larger size comes a decrease in overall revenue.
They do not believe a seeded 4 would answer the BCS criticisms  You only need peruse the comments and actions of playoff proponents to see the origin of this belief. 
It is not a question to them which is better in terms of a seeded 4, but why take the risk when there are nominal gains?  Their opinion is following the revenue issue above.

The mid majors are also driven by revenue issues – their favoritism or disfavor of a format is driven by its ability to deliver them more or less revenue.
The major difference is the regular season – mid majors have much less invested in the regular season.  Their broadcast contracts for a conference are comparable to or less than an individual team from the top major conferences.  They generally have smaller stadiums, more unsold seats, much lower booster donations, and lower advertising revenue.
Most of the mid major proposals center on expanding the number of conferences with guaranteed invites.  They do not see benefit to a seeded 4, believing an 8 or larger format is needed.

In the final analysis it becomes an issue of the net gain and loss
, with each group posing a varying degree of resolution or difficulty as the playoff size is increased or decreased.  As noted, many of the topics above are sub topics of other issues.  The core issues are RESULTS, REVENUE, and JUSTICE/INJUSTICE.

The RESULTS issue is based in statistics which I have not seen disputed by anyone who understands the analysis.  It is weak support for smaller formats (gains of a few percent) but a strong argument against larger formats (losses in performance quickly exceeding 10%)
The REVENUE issue requires supreme arrogance to dismiss the conclusions of those with skill and knowledge with no evidence to the contrary, or a conspiracy theory to declare they are all lying.  These problems are exasperated with larger formats, diminished with smaller formats.
The JUSTICE/INJUSTICE issue sees little improvement with smaller formats just as the 2 team BCS format did little to resolve these issues with the old poll system.  As the size of the playoff increases, more of these criticisms are resolved with no notable criticisms at 32 team formats.
Additional problems are introduced once a specific format is placed side by side with the BCS and other formats - it is 1 thing to find problems in 1 system, entirely different to put forth a format that answers these issues without introducing new downsides.

8 team or larger formats
diminish REVENUE, have substantially lower RESULTS.  They have varying gains in JUSTICE/INJUSTICE depending upon the perspective, but it takes a heavily slanted 1 sided view to have the upside outweigh the downsides of larger formats.

6 team formats
have virtually the same RESULTS as a 4 team format, better results than larger formats.  It has less REVENUE and less resolution of JUSTICE/INJUSTICE issues than smaller formats, more revenue than larger formats.
6 team formats are generally where the scale is about balanced to the next smaller 4 team format, with some nominal gains in JUSTICE/INJUSTICE balanced against decreased REVENUE.  Whether it is a gain or loss depends on the weight given to each of these issues.

4 team formats
provides a small gain in the RESULTS over the BCS, about the same as a 6 teams format, better results than 8 team and larger formats.  It provides neither a gain nor loss in REVENUE compared to the BCS, more compared to larger formats.  It is generally not considered large enough to provide notable resolution of the JUSTICE/INJUSTICE issues though it does help.
4 team formats  mark the point where you can achieve gains without a downside.
For a 4 team playoff, it isn't an issue of "Is it better than the BCS?" as even the majors find merit, but an issue of providing insufficient gains to draw the favor of playoff proponents and those making the decision.  Without substantial gains and low risks, there is little incentive to change.
It would be accurate to say playoff proponents are their own worst enemy – in demanding more (larger formats) they get nothing.

Plus 1 formats
are generally believed to have inferior RESULTS to a seeded 4, the same REVENUE impact as a seeded 4 (no notable change).  It is generally considered less successful addressing the issues of JUSTICE/INJUSTICE than a 4 team format.

across all topics is the same or less than a seeded 4, better than the old system.

The Old System
has about the same RESULTS as a seeded 8, less REVENUE than the BCS but more for most majors than a seeded 6.  It is worse than all formats on the issues of JUSTICE/INJUSTICE.

Other Formats
which incorporate the regular season and/or modification of conference composition are considered too intrusive for serious consideration, wholly unacceptable to those making the decision, and/or generally a playoff in disguise.

REFERENCES for some of the above are provided in these other blogs.
Part 1 the position of the NCAA and the BCS position on mid majors.
Part 2 majors position on a post BCS landscape.
Part 3 a playoff isn’t an option.
Part 4 no conference opposes a seeded 4 format
Part 5 a playoff’s impact on the bowls
Part 6 a playoff’s impact on the regular season
Part 7 the different economic dynamics which lead to mid majors favoring playoffs, majors opposing them.
Part 8 supporting and opposing arguments for the earlier parts.
Part 9 what playtoff proponents can do to get a playoff

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com