The NCAA Tournament is fun, fantastic and full of moments that capture the nation’s attention each March, making it one of the country’s top sports treasures.
But the College Football Playoff is better at determining a true national champion.
College football’s postseason structure places greater weight on regular-season excellence. It’s more exclusive, meaning factors such as luck and catching fire at the right time aren’t as key. It rewards consistency for a longer span instead of casting aside weeks of impressive results in favor of marvelous madness.
Granted, nothing is perfect. The College Football Playoff has holes. UCF, in retrospect, deserved a closer look at consideration for competing for a national title after finishing 13-0 with a victory against Auburn last season. Seeing conference champions such as Ohio State last year and Penn State in 2016 shut out of the top four is a bad look.
But ask yourself this: Are No. 9 seeds Kansas State and Florida State really among college basketball’s best eight teams this season? Will the sport’s best four squads — not just the most successful in this tournament — appear in San Antonio next week?
Between them, the Wildcats and Seminoles have 22 losses. Kansas State’s victory in the Round of 32 against everyone’s favorite Cinderella, No. 16 seed UMBC, was so unimpressive that many observers were quick to advance Kentucky to the Final Four before Bruce Weber’s team made Big Blue Nation blue late Thursday night.
Meanwhile, credit Florida State for dusting Missouri, Xavier and Gonzaga to advance to the Elite Eight. But the Seminoles lost six of their last 10 games before the NCAA Tournament. Last season, South Carolina dropped six of its last nine contests before making a Final Four run.
March Madness is magnificent. But it waters down everything that comes before.
Why should that be a good thing?
In college basketball, reaching the NCAA Tournament is all that matters. You don’t need an elite pre-March record to have a chance to hoist the trophy. Regular-season conference championships hold little weight. A team can scuffle through the winter and hardly be the worse for it come Selection Sunday.
College basketball season lacks urgency until conference tournaments begin.
The College Football Playoff, meanwhile, keeps the regular season interesting. It would be a shame if the sport’s postseason structure expanded significantly, because almost everything that happens in the fall remains a must-see event as far as the national title chase is concerned. There’s little wasted movement.
College basketball, meanwhile, tends to fade into the background until early March outside of the sport’s hotbeds. There’s a reason for that.
This is no call to change the NCAA Tournament. There’s something magical about seeing a darling such as No. 11 seed Loyola-Chicago rise and tickle the nation’s imagination. There’s something flat-out cool about UMBC introducing us to instant stars. Anything seems possible in these wild, wondrous weeks.
But when considering which postseason structure better determines its sport’s champion, the College Football Playoff has the edge on college basketball’s breathtaking, bracket-busting beauty. College football’s shining moment lasts longer.
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