While some people mourn the end of college football season, basking in the afterglow of a thrilling BCS national championship game that had a bit of everything, and now face the prospects of seven months of nothingness, there’s a richer reward ahead.
The best postseason in all of sports.
The NFL playoffs.
We’ve already consumed and patted our guts on the wild-card weekend past, during which three of the four games were decided by a total of six points. Now we can look ahead to the next rounds, played by the best football players on the best football teams on the planet in an unforgiving format whereby every effort in every game must be laid down in order to survive.
It’s darn near perfect, even if Roger Goodell wants to expand the thing by two moving forward.
It’s certainly better than any other playoff setting in any other sport.
The college football version is a cheap imitation, what with opinions setting the table for the title game. As good as the BCS finale between Florida State and Auburn was, we’re not completely sure it featured the two most deserving teams. On account of the regionalized nature of college football, we’re never sure. Even in a year where the last matchup largely fell in place, somewhere in the back of your mind, you have to wonder, just a little, how Jameis Winston and the Seminole offense would have fared against Michigan State’s defense, don’t you? I do. I want to know.
Even when college football goes to its four-team playoff next season, a committee will set that table, leaving the rest of the postseason to tradition and its pageantry of bowls, most of which only isolated fan bases care about. On the whole, it has its place, for partying purposes and to give coaches a case to keep their jobs, since half of them finish the season with a win. But, as for the selective nature of progressive competition, it’s mostly background noise. Kind of fun, but not meaningful or determinative.
The NCAA Tournament might be the single authentic rival for postseason supremacy to the NFL playoffs. Like pro football’s version, the magic in college basketball’s tournament is the immediacy of it. It’s one-and-done, that is all. Bring your best right now or head on home. Leftover opinion from the regular season plays a role in the seeding, but that matters only to the potential length of an individual team’s run. Sooner or later, a team has to face the tourney’s best outfits in order to prove itself, so sooner is the equal of later. In fact, it might even be better, since interest in March Madness is a rocket to ride, right from launch.
What gives the NFL postseason a margin over the dance is the advanced level of play. Some consider college games more pure than the pros, thereby allowing themselves to get caught up in the notion and the emotion of schoolboys playing only for a scholarship and the love of the game, exulting in the last-minute wins and feeling the heartbreak of losses. Come on. College sports generate almost as many dollars as the professionals do, it’s just that the players don’t get that cake, the coaches and the institutions do.
If you’ve watched any college basketball, you know that even at its highest reaches, it’s nowhere near as good as the NBA version. And the drop-off in talent is hard to look past when it comes to enjoying runs for championships. The NFL playoffs match the most popular sport in the land with its best athletes in the same win-or-die format as the NCAA Tournament. Edge: NFL.
There are those who favor the best-of-seven setup in the NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball. They relish the drama and strategy that builds through numerous battles, won and lost, en route to passage to the next round. The people who really relish that are the ones who run the TV networks and advertisers pushing their products during timeouts. As thrilling as the NHL and NBA playoffs get, and they often do, what we all look forward to the most is a Game 7. In those two sports, there’s no pitching rotation to move through, there are only games to play. What’s so decisive about the first team to four winning it all? Why not three or five or six? It’s arbitrary and contrived.
One advantage to playing best of seven is that, in the end, the better team almost always wins. There’s less room for fate and fortune to intervene in a single contest. But I like fate and fortune and the mischief they sometimes stir. The urgency and immediacy of having to win and having to win right now, come what may, is the best thing in all of sports.
With the NFL playoffs, there is no chance for recovery or redemption tomorrow. Every game is a Game 7. That’s what makes them so great.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.
• New Orleans at Seattle, 2:35 p.m., Ch. 13
• Indianapolis at New England, 6:15 p.m., Ch. 2
• San Francisco at Carolina, 11:05 a.m., Ch. 13
• San Diego at Denver,2:40 p.m., Ch. 2