Mythbusters: Minus the "playing"

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The 2008 college football season has reached its witching hour -- actually, witching month -- when top 10 teams drop like flies and the rankings turn upside down on a weekly basis. That means we, sadly, are hurtling toward the worst postseason in sports, a postseason justified by this week's myth:

Of all the absolute nonsense network sportscasters and BCS apologists spew during the season, this might be the most galling. If the regular season is a playoff, it's the most asinine, unfulfilling playoff ever devised. If this is a playoff, it's missing one teeny, tiny, possibly useful ingredient for the big picture: the actual "playing" part.

There are many rules in life and sports, but here's one that's ironclad and undeniable: In order for something to qualify as a playoff, teams have to actually play each other.

In a playoff, teams settle matters on the field of play (I'm not an etymologist, but I think that's where the "play" part of the word originated). Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think I failed to notice the week in the schedule where Alabama will play Penn State, Texas will play Florida, Southern Cal will play Texas Tech, Oklahoma will play whichever non-BCS conference team plays its way in and then the winners will play each other.

The every-week-is-a-playoff thing is great -- in theory. Enough fans and media buy into that company line to give the college football regular season an intensity no other sport can match. It's just too bad the sport's powers that be substitute 'common sense' for 'intensity' and pretend the fans won't notice.

Things would be fine if everyone played the same balanced schedule and the best teams got the chance to pick each other off during the season until a true champion emerged. But if there's one thing college football fans can agree on, it's that conference schedules are not created equal. (Well, they probably also agree that USC cheats, Lou Holtz needs to hang up his teleprompter-reading glasses and Florida fans wear jean shorts, but you get the point).

In reality, this alleged regular season playoff settles virtually nothing on the field, and that means at the end of the year we could have the following situation: Florida could get shut out of the title game even though it's churning through SEC opponents by 30 points per game. Penn State could get shut out even with an undefeated season. USC could get shut out even though it's, well, shutting people out (three times this season, and it hasn't even faced UCLA yet). Texas could get shut out even though its only loss came against an unbeaten team, in the final seconds, thanks to the best play of the season. Oklahoma could get shut out even though Texas is the only team that beat it. Notre Dame could get shut out even though ... well, it doesn't appear a 5-3 team without a win over a ranked opponent can play for the national title, but we'll credit the in-house counsel at GE/NBC for trying to find a loophole.

While college football fans shrug their shoulders and endure the "regular season playoff" nonsense, fans of other sports laugh and point derisively. Under similar rules, last year's New England Patriots would have been voted the NFL champion after their unbeaten regular season. The Phillies' World Series run would have derailed prematurely thanks to a Marlins loss back in September.

And don't get us started on the March Madness comparison. Imagine if college basketball's movers and shakers played the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, building up to the frenzy of the Sweet Sixteen ... and then stopped. Oh, we probably wouldn't even notice, right?

There's an equally absurd notion marching in corrupt lockstep with the "regular season playoff" line, and it's that BCS controversy is "good for the game." Sure, just like tax evasion is good for you because it lets you know the government really does care about you as an individual.

The "regular season is a playoff" delusion comes off even worse if you apply it to real life. Imagine if you decided to just quit showing up for work for the last eight weeks of the year. Would your boss think you're good for the company?

It's like pledging a fraternity and putting up with a semester's worth of indignity, surviving Hell Week (we know, hazing is illegal and nobody does it) and then not getting initiated. Or, like a groom buying an engagement ring, registering for china he'll never use, enduring bridal showers, surviving the wedding and not getting to, uh, enjoy married life with his new bride.

If college football's gatekeepers were race car drivers, as soon as they saw the checkered flag in the distance they'd slam on the brakes, spin out and crash into the retaining wall. If the BCS overlords had been on the original expedition to the moon, instead of one giant leap, they'd have stepped off prematurely and plummeted into the infinite blackness. The analogies are as endless as the system's stupidity.

College football's regular season is many things, including the most exciting of its kind across sports. But there's one thing it most certainly is not, and that's a substitute for a playoff.

That's all for this week. Remember: Just because college football fans believe it's true, doesn't mean it is.

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