I remember being baffled by college football from the very beginning. I was the only sports fan in my family. My parents didn't give a shit about sports. My brother and sister didn't give a shit about sports. If I wanted to learn how different sports functioned—how to watch them—I was more or less on my own. Football in general was the hardest to sort out, but college football had an extra layer of inscrutability grafted onto it thanks to the bowl system. It took me a while and many readings of USA Today (which has always had a hardon for college football coverage) to figure out that there were two polls—the AP poll and the UPI poll—and that whoever topped either one after the bowls was the champion. And it took me just a little while longer to figure out that this system was fundamentally insane.
I never thought that college football would have a playoff in my lifetime. The sport's fucked-upness seemed too deeply ingrained for anything to change drastically. I spent a great deal of my adolescence watching college football on Saturdays and then picturing myself on the set of the Sports Reporters the next morning, railing against how idiotic the bowl system was (I also pictured myself taking out my dick and openly urinating on Mike Lupica on camera, because FUCK MIKE LUPICA). I spent a lot of time figuring out proper playoff scenarios while falling asleep. I had imaginary arguments with bowl system proponents, particularly assholes who thought that the bowl system ensured that college football had the most important regular season in sports (it doesn't, and a playoff helps its cause far more than it hurts it). I pictured myself as the head coach at Michigan, pulling my players off the field in the Rose Bowl and demanding a playoff be instituted, causing a full-on revolution in the sport.
But there came a point in my life when I grew tired of all these imagined scenarios, and became disillusioned with the actual college football product being put out on the field. At its best, college football is the best sport to watch in this country. The fans are more passionate than anywhere else. The overtime rules are stupid but awesome. Twenty-point leads often mean nothing. It's a blast to watch, but the sport has left fans like me with a bitter aftertaste at the end of every season, both due to the arbitrary nature of the bowl pairings and the MASSIVE, ANNOYING-AS-BALLS layoff between the end of the regular season and the beginning of the BCS string. I had personally given up on the sport. I didn't think it would ever unfuck itself. Between that and the inevitable Sports Triage that comes with raising children, I had more or less phased college football out of life.
I will now be phasing it back in. This new four-team playoff is the single most important sports innovation of my lifetime. I'm talking in terms of fundamental changes to a sport or a league. Obviously, the advent of HDTV and Sunday Ticket and all that makes my dick hard. But in terms of a sport adopting new rules and structures, I'm hard-pressed to think of anything more important than this. In my lifetime, the NFL has added playoff teams and expansion teams. Ditto baseball. And basketball and hockey, despite adding far more teams than they ever should have, have both pretty much remained the same. Even the advent of instant replay can't compete with a sport deciding, after decades, CENTURIES, to have a postseason that makes sense.
Obviously, there are still plenty of things that are fucked up with this new playoff. Like the fact that we have to wait two years for it. And that there will still be a huge layoff. And that any bowl games will still exist when bowl games are fucking stupid and worthless and corrupt. It's only a baby step between the BCS, which was essentially a two-team playoff, and a four-team playoff. But it makes a world of difference. Here's why:
1. It'll lead to a huge playoff eventually. The funniest part of yesterday's announcement was when the college presidents were like "Oh, we need a ten year deal! None of us want an eight-team playoff just yet! PROGRESS IS SO SCARY!" Whatever. This shit will expand to 16 teams somewhere down the line. And when that happens, there'll be December football and brackets and gambling and OH FUCK AND YES that'll be nice.
2. The regular season will matter more than ever. Four teams is a small enough bracket to keep the pressure on teams to win every game they play. One loss can potentially fuck you more than ever because so many other potential one-loss teams might have a claim for a spot in the playoff. And if a team DOES end up losing one game or even two, there's still an incentive to watch them play because they can still squeeze in. I had a real hard time watching two teams that were out of the national title hunt play a game late in the season, because I knew that both were gonna end up in the fucking Alamo Bowl or some other rinkydink shit game. Now that a playoff is here, do you feel like the college football regular season will be diminished in any way? Of course not. Only a dumbfuck would buy that.
3. The champ will always be legit. Even if a team like Boise State gets boned out of the playoff, it'll be hard to argue against a team that knocked off two top-4 teams at the end of the season to win it all. Every team that wins the national title from now on is guaranteed to be undisputed, at least until the NCAA strips them of their title because the coach gave some player's nephew a puppy or something.
4. Gambling. We're gonna have to work overtime to figure out how an office pool will work for just four teams, but I'm convinced we can figure something out. We'd probably have to get exact scores involved, which is annoying but ultimately necessary. The nice thing about a four-team bracket is that you have a one in eight chance of getting it perfect, as opposed to the NCAA tourney bracket, in which your chances are one in FUCK YOU.
5. Three meaningful playoff games ensures that at least one of them will probably be good. The problem with the BCS was that it was all-or-nothing. You wait all that time for just ONE GAME, and then if it's dogshit, you've wasted your time. This year's BCS title game was putrid. Having two semifinal games increases the odds of you being entertained and gets the two finalists back into game shape for the championship game. No longer will I have to hope for a Statue of Liberty play, an end-of-game proposal, and Jesus appearing at midfield for a secondary bowl game to be memoriable.
6. We can all tell Jason Whitlock to shut the fuck up when he bitches about the BCS being better. Only Whitlock and various hipsters will pine for the days of the BCS. The rest of us will be happy.
7. More good football. I wouldn't have been half as outraged over Taylor Branch's NCAA expose if college football had a playoff in place. You can flout ethics and steal from players all you like. I don't REALLY care that players aren't paid. It doesn't keep me up at night. All I ask for in return is a decent postseason product. If you can't even give me that, then YOUR SPORT IS CORRUPT AND SHOULD BE OUTLAWED. A playoff helps shut up assholes like me who use the moral flaws of college football as a convenient way of bitching about the postseason flaws of college football. A playoff will help soothe the country while allowing college presidents to continue using players for cheap labor and skimming TV revenues to go watch Crystal shake her tits at the End Zone lounge. Again, I'm fine with this, so long as there's more good football to watch. College football needs to please more fans like me, even though I have nothing to do with anything and even though—unlike pro sports—college sports isn't supposed to be all about pleasing the fans.
8. More people will watch. A real playoff is the first step in college football potentially replacing the NFL as America's favorite televised sport. And given the passion of its fans, it deserves it. College football is too fun of a sport to have a shit postseason. This moment has been a very long time coming, and we should all appreciate it. Starting in 2014, college football finally gets to be the sport it should have always been.
Photo via Getty.