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Playoff Expansion: A conversation with Dan Wetzel


Craig Lawson
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Rece Davis was on Finebaum yesterday and openly admitted that playoff expansion comes at a cost. The cost being that late season, winner-take-all match ups between the highest ranked programs (such as LSU/Alabama 2019) will basically be reduced to fodder for seeding purposes. See the full comment below.

Hear that folks? Perhaps it's time to give up the only thing that makes college football unique. Dan Wetzel had the following response.

 

Which led to this exchange between he and I. 

Read the exchange closely. Wetzel, first says that this could never happen, then he says steps should be taken to make sure it doesn't happen. I find it hard to believe that corporate sponsors with vested financial interests or the Rose Bowl committee would be chomping at the bit to move a lucrative semifinal playoff matchup out of their venue and onto a beloved college campus near you, all in the name of preserving the regular season. When I first posted this I suggested that Wetzel may not have thought of this scenario. To my surprise, he reached out and informed me that he has most assuredly considered these implications having co-authored books on a college football playoff years before we ever got one (I read one of those books a decade ago, and took notes in the margins, and have since lost it in a move). I accept the egg on my face for being called on a snarky comment, and I would certainly defer to Dan as an authority on the subject, but I still fear this issue is on the horizon once the playoff expands. We already see it every year in the NFL, i.e., the most prominent American football league on planet earth.  

I want to be clear, I hope I'm wrong about this admitted hot take, and perhaps I'm being overly presumptuous when I frame it as an inevitability. I've been shouted down, called names, and kicked out of twitter spaces for suggesting that coaches might eventually rest starters to prepare for a 12 team playoff. I was told that the players who we've seen skip major, non-playoff bowl games and transfer between rival programs would never get behind it because they care too much about their team. I was assured that coaches who regularly bounce from program to program would have way too much pride in the history of their current university to tank a regular season game in exchange for an easier path to a championship.  I was guaranteed that administrations and fans alike would run a coach out of town on a rail if he brings home a measly national championship after resting starters against a hated rival. And as the piece de resistance it was made very clear to me that the CFP Committee would never allow this to happen. I'm not sure what, if any logistical basis was being used in these conclusions, but suffice it to say I hope they're right. 

There are a lot of moving parts here, and this conversation will be ongoing for years. Perhaps conference realignment and the elimination of divisions will help to alleviate the problem. For instance, in 2017 if there were no divisions in the SEC, does Alabama still get to bypass the SEC Championship game en route to the playoff despite losing to Auburn in the Iron Bowl? Possibly still yes, but perhaps not. I won't go into all the detail of that scenario here. I started typing it out and it got convoluted pretty quickly. In another post perhaps. 

Regardless, the idea that implications of playoff seeding will effectively move the needle in high caliber November matchups is probably fantasy. Any way you slice it, as Davis stated, a 12 team playoff comes at a cost, and that cost is the diminished significance of late season games featuring the best teams in the country.  Let's just hope it doesn't eventually get to a point where top 5 ranked Ohio State and Michigan are disincentivized to compete against one another at the end of the year. But hey, if that happens at least we can flip over to watch Iowa State and TCU fight it out for the 12 seed. 

 

Edited by Craig Lawson
Dan Wetzel did not like my post

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Everything in this discussion is subjective.  Not just in this post - which I appreciate @Craig Lawson's take.  It isn't anything that concerns me.  And not one that I even care about.  But for shit's and giggles I would ask @Craig Lawsonor anyone and everyone to lay out a scenario where a coach will sit out a player in a regular season or conference title game.  What would be gained with the resting of players?  What would be lost if that costs the team a win?

 

I will start with the obvious one as Craig has mentioned the Iron Bowl in the past

  • Alabama would have to be undefeated AND not have a key player in Heisman contention or other's up for significant individual awards
  • Auburn would have to be completely out of contention of a playoff spot and Bama or Bama has locked up their seeding and can't earn a top 4 seed and the bye that comes with it?

I would say that this doomsday scenario played out in the AFC last year where Chargers and Raiders could have played to a tie and both gotten in to playoffs and eliminated the Steelers.  While this is not a perfect - it is not imperfect either.  They played the game with one team winning and making the playoffs and the other team missing the playoff.  In fact, the game went into OT, and still they played.

I love you Craig, put this feels like a pearl clutching situation and would only apply to a VERY small group of elite teams. 

And what if a shitty Auburn team gets down by 24 in 3rd Q, can Saban rest players then?  

 

I'll hang up and get my asshole torn off by the throngs of purists that hate my take

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Let me throw some gas on the fire....

If I were put in charge of this, and thank god I am not,  I would put bowl games in beginning of season with percentage of bowl money going to players as appearance fees.  Week Zero and Week 1 neutrals become bowl games.  Don't have to compete with NFL Stadiums.  the Boca Raton and Bahamas Bowl become more fun AND hell, Idaho Bowl is better in August. 

 

let the season end for 120 teams before finals in December.  Let conference championships and playoffs take over.  

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5 hours ago, Josh Hancher said:

Everything in this discussion is subjective.  Not just in this post - which I appreciate @Craig Lawson's take.  It isn't anything that concerns me.  And not one that I even care about.  But for shit's and giggles I would ask @Craig Lawsonor anyone and everyone to lay out a scenario where a coach will sit out a player in a regular season or conference title game.  What would be gained with the resting of players?  What would be lost if that costs the team a win?

 

I will start with the obvious one as Craig has mentioned the Iron Bowl in the past

  • Alabama would have to be undefeated AND not have a key player in Heisman contention or other's up for significant individual awards
  • Auburn would have to be completely out of contention of a playoff spot and Bama or Bama has locked up their seeding and can't earn a top 4 seed and the bye that comes with it?

I would say that this doomsday scenario played out in the AFC last year where Chargers and Raiders could have played to a tie and both gotten in to playoffs and eliminated the Steelers.  While this is not a perfect - it is not imperfect either.  They played the game with one team winning and making the playoffs and the other team missing the playoff.  In fact, the game went into OT, and still they played.

I love you Craig, put this feels like a pearl clutching situation and would only apply to a VERY small group of elite teams. 

And what if a shitty Auburn team gets down by 24 in 3rd Q, can Saban rest players then?  

 

I'll hang up and get my asshole torn off by the throngs of purists that hate my take

Hypothetically:

Imagine a scenario where an undefeated #1 Auburn is facing an undefeated #2 Alabama in the Iron Bowl. The winner has to go play Georgia in the SEC Championship game, and the loser gets to rest for a week before they begin prepping for their first round playoff opponent. Let's say the loser also loses a first round bye, and will face Oklahoma State in their first playoff game, but they also get to duck playing an 11-1 Georgia team IN ATLANTA who narrowly lost to Auburn earlier in the year on a controversial call. 

 

This assumes the existence of divisions which we know are going away, but it’s the scenario I’ve been using. I need to do some research on the format where they take the top two teams. Who would have been the participants in 2017 when Alabama, Georgia and Auburn were all 7-1 in the conference?
 

As for the NFL tying example that’s a good point, but it would have required a lot of trust by those two teams in the other sideline. Those are people who are being paid millions of dollars to beat you. Conversely we regularly see teams resting their players once they’ve secured their playoff spot. As soon as health preservation becomes more valuable than winning, health preservation wins out. With regard to tanking on purpose we’ve seen NFL teams do that as well when a #1 draft pick is on the line. Many of the fans cheer that sort of thing. As a former Falcons fan I remember being pissed when they won an end of the year game while they were one on of the worst teams in the league. And correct me if I’m wrong, but we never really know for sure when a team is tanking do we? We speculate, but I don’t think they broadcast it much. I believe that’s what we’re looking at here. Mystery injuries and whatnot. At least initially. Then over time we all become used to it and eventually we become the old guys talking about the good old days when rivalry games mattered. 

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