Debates that rage questioning the outcome of a playoff in any sport undermine a central tenet of competition; that you cannot change the rules during (or after) the game. If a league organizes itself around a single-elimination playoff, every team knows that they must peak in that playoff or risk getting bounced. Teams’ training regimens and strategy will be geared toward preparing for all physical and mental hurdles that a one-off presents. If a team that is seeded lower than an opponent pulls an upset, it is due to the lower seed performing better when it matters, plain and simple. Ditto for a series-long playoff. Teams that are able to navigate the grueling MLB, NHL, and NBA postseasons properly paced themselves to account for the challenges of the agreed-upon series format.
"As long as the rules and route to the championship
are clear to all parties at the outset, questioning the
outcome of any playoff format is just sour grapes."
The exception to this rule is the College Football Playoff.
Even before the playoff was instituted in 2014, the path to the college football national championship has always been unclear. Without a nationally organized structure, teams have had to at best assume that going undefeated will award them a championship. But, as history has shown us, the amount of teams that have gone undefeated without being selected as a champion is absurdly high.
"The historical treatment"
By Keith Aksel
The College Football Playoff only reduces the ambiguity surrounding which teams can compete for the title. A selection committee weighs pros and cons of each program’s season in order to subjectively select four playoff participants. In the event that six teams go undefeated, no fewer than two would be prohibited from competing for a championship. In this way, the path to the college football championship is still translucent at best, and is ultimately an unsatisfactory way to select a champion.
How do we eliminate that ambiguity?
Expand the playoff slots to equal the number of conference champions in the country, and require every league to hold a championship game. No wild cards or at-large slots. In this scenario, every team knows that they must win a conference title game to be in the playoff, which would completely demystify a process that has existed as long as the national championship itself. Only then will the route to the college football title be as transparent as other American playoff systems.
For fans still possessed by a tendency to question the validity of a 2007 Giants Super Bowl win, or a 1985 Villanova NCAA basketball championship, we could consider a wider variety of postseason formats. Soccer leagues in nearly every nation abroad eliminate the postseason altogether, awarding their championship to the team that accumulates the most points after a two cycle round robin regular season schedule. What would we lose if we eliminated playoffs in the US altogether? What would we gain? Perhaps that is the next debate fans should engage in.