Sporting Discourse: March Madness shows football’s need for playoff

BY IAN MARTIN | MARCH 29, 2011 7:20 AM

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THE SPORTING DISCOURSE is a new weekly column that will discuss relevant issues in the college sporting world.

Virginia Commonwealth is preparing for a Final Four game against Butler University, which is trying to return to its second-straight national-championship appearance.

One place you’d never read a sentence similar to that: a college football article.

It’s just another manic March for NCAA basketball and the reason that it’s still better than colleges football’s rigged and unfair system.

Enough has been said about the BCS, and most Decembers there’s always talk of a playoff and why schools such as Boise State can’t compete for the national championship. But March is also a great time for high levels of outrage.

Likely, the casual fans of basketball and sports probably won’t care as much about the mid-major heavy national semifinal as opposed to the clash between traditional powers Kentucky and Connecticut. Certainly, CBS would have rather had Kansas facing Florida for a spot in Houston’s biggest basketball game this year instead of Butler, whose biggest rival is Wright State, and VCU — which is typically not even the best basketball team in its city (that title usually goes to the Richmond Spiders).

I’m from Virginia, and I don’t think I’ve met a single VCU fan in my 10 years in the commonwealth.
But none of that matters because either Butler or VCU will be in the national championship because they’ve competed with and defeated teams in a playoff system.

It’s equality in basic form. It’s fair.

And in football, these teams wouldn’t be given a chance. The opportunities are limited so the networks, and the NCAA can ensure that top-tier programs — and subsequently ticket buyers and advertisers — are interested in the game.

Hell, the Sun Belt’s football champion “gets” to play in the New Orleans Bowl or the Little Ceasars Pizza Bowl even though it won a Division-I conference. While it’s much more unlikely, there’s a chance that Troy or Florida International’s football teams could pull off an upset of an SEC school at some point if given the opportunity.

Now, the Horizon League champion — a conference that doesn’t even have Football Bowl Subdivision football — is in basketball’s Final Four for the second-straight year.

Would Butler be that good if coach Brad Stevens — and former coaches Todd Lickliter and Thad Matta before him — weren’t able to tell guys like Matt Howard and A.J. Graves that they could actually compete for a national title?

Not a chance.

If someday there is a playoff system in football, the balance could become what it is in college basketball. Troy and Florida International wouldn’t compete immediately, but they could actually sell their recruits on the opportunity to play for a title. Combine that with just the extra excitement surrounding playoffs, and college football could finally shake its poor reputation of having an unfair postseason.

Sure, it’s easy to question VCU’s legitimacy in the tournament in the first place. Interestingly enough, the “First Four” gimmick that is yet another NCAA money ploy, is the only reason that the Rams are even wearing Cinderella’s slipper. Yet, even though they don’t deserve to be in the tournament, they deserve to be in the national semifinals because of a fair playoff system that lets every team have a chance to compete.

Hopefully someday, Troy’s football team can say the same about its magical run to the football final four.

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