College

Wisch: Playoff Systems? They’re Far From Perfect

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The Coaches' Trophy is seen at media day for the BCS National Championship at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

The Coaches’ Trophy is seen at media day for the BCS National Championship at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Dave Wischnowsky Dave Wischnowsky
Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred...
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By Dave Wischnowsky –

(CBS) You know, a funny thing happened on the way to this widespread belief that the BCS is the worst thing to happen to sports since Barry Bonds’ biceps.

People somehow became convinced that playoff systems are perfect.

Even though they aren’t.

You want proof? Well, you won’t have to look very far to find it. Just last month, right here in the Windy City, two of the town’s most successful high school boys basketball coaches said they think the Chicago Public League should secede from the Illinois High School Association.

Because its playoff system is unfair.

(Somewhere, BCS officials are snickering.)

Yes, Robert Smith and Tyrone Slaughter, the respective head coaches of Simeon and Whitney Young high schools and winners of a combined five state championships, said on Dec. 13 that they’re fed up with the IHSA’s basketball playoffs. Their beef revolves around the fact that this season the IHSA has lumped all of Chicago’s schools – both public and private – into just two Class 4A sectionals, which will then feed into the same super-sectional.

What that means is that Chicago – home to hundreds of high schools, thousands of basketball players and the vast majority of the state’s most talented teams – will send just one representative, at best, to the Class 4A state tournament in Peoria this March.

Since 2007, when the IHSA expanded from two to four basketball classes, the CPL has sent multiple teams to the 4A state tourney with Simeon and Whitney Young meeting for the 4A championship in 2010. Up until 2003, the Chicago Public League tournament champion was given an automatic berth at the Class AA state tourney.

But now, the Associated Press’ No. 1-ranked Simeon, No. 3 Curie, No. 9 Bogan and No. 10 Whitney Young, as well as De La Salle, Hyde Park, Marist, St. Rita and St. Ignatius, which have all been state-ranked by various media outlets this season, are assigned to a single sectional.

“These teams are going to be in more difficult regionals than other teams are going to be in sectional and super-sectionals,” Slaughter said last month. “That’s fundamentally wrong.”

The IHSA’s explanation is that its intent is to make sure the basketball tournament represents the entire state, not the best teams.

“The goal is not to have the best two, three, four teams in the state finals,” IHSA spokesperson Matt Troha said. “It’s for a true state tournament with the state geographically represented.”

Now, to me that sounds a whole lot like what a potential college football playoff would look like. For example, with eight teams, including six BCS conference champs, a playoff wouldn’t necessarily include all of the nation’s best ones. Rather, it would include teams from all over the place, making sure the entire country is represented.

Now, such national representation is great in theory. But, fact is, when it comes to college football, the nation isn’t at all equitable. Look at the SEC, for example, which has won the last six national championships and is 8-1 all-time in BCS championship games, with the lone loss coming this week when LSU lost to SEC rival Alabama.

Just like Chicago has the bulk of Illinois’ most talented high school basketball teams, the SEC has more championship-caliber football teams than other conferences – its third-best team may often be better than the Big East’s champion. Here in Chicago, such an imbalance has prompted Simeon’s Smith to propose that the Public League stage its own tournament in the city at the same time that the IHSA holds its state tourney in Peoria.

Now, in the past, the SEC has supported college football adopting a plus-one format that would allow four teams to compete in a playoff for the national title.

And let’s say that college football does go down that road. Besides helping to diminish the regular season, all it would really accomplish is to prompt the No. 5 and No. 6 teams to howl that they should be in the mix. If the playoffs then expanded to eight teams, No. 9 and No. 10 will gripe about being left out and that theoretical great third-place SEC team still wouldn’t have made the mix.

NCAA basketball’s March Madness works so well because it includes 68 teams. College football, however, can’t do that, and somebody will always complain about being left out of any “reasonable” playoff system.

The reality is that the nation’s college football conferences just aren’t equitable when it comes to talent and with such disparities no playoff system could ever be considered a truly perfect one.

The IHSA basketball playoffs are an example of that.

So even if a playoff does eventually come to college football, don’t expect the complaints to leave when it arrives. Instead, expect to be introduced to a bunch of entirely new ones.

davewisch Wisch: Playoff Systems? They’re Far From Perfect

Dave Wischnowsky

If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.

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