Let’s Abolish the Super Bowl

I just finished watching one of the most exciting Super Bowls I have ever seen. The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Arizona Cardinals in the final seconds of Super Bowl 43—a contest that will surely go down as a game for the ages.

Even though it was a great game, I have a complaint to make. Tonight’s game brought this NFL season to a far too definitive conclusion. It’s the same problem every year. The NFL ends the season by requiring the teams with the best records to play one another in a single elimination playoff. Only the winners advance, and the final game always features the champions of the two conferences: the NFC and the AFC. By the end of the Super Bowl, there is no question in anyone’s mind as to which team is the champion of the National Football League.

Am I the only one who can see how ridiculous it is to end the season with such ironclad certainty? The whole season is decided by the players on the field. No one else gets a say as to who should be the champion. Neither the coaches nor the media get to vote on the matter. There are no computers to help determine who should come out on top in the end. The current NFL system is intolerably oppressive and imperialistic. Fans and players are forced to recognize as champion the one team that wins out in the playoffs. The whole system smacks of the outmoded “certainties” of modernism. We can do better than this.

The NFL needs to remedy this situation by abolishing the Super Bowl and the playoff that precedes it. In its place, the NFL should implement an inconclusive Bowl system in which all the best teams (and a great many mediocre teams) get to play in a single honorific game after the conclusion of their regular season. We’ll let coaches and sports reporters vote on who the best teams are, match them in bowl games, and call one of the bowls the championship game. The two best teams will not necessarily play each other at the end of the season. Sometimes they will, and sometimes they won’t.

The advantages of implementing a bowl system in the NFL are obvious. The NFL season would be much shorter (we could probably bring it to a close in January). No one would be obligated to recognize the team that is declared to be champion at the end of the season. Instead, fans and players and coaches could make arguments as to why their favorite team should be recognized as the champions. The season would end far less conclusively than it currently does. More than one team would have a shot at the “championship,” and no one would feel oppressed by an imperialist playoff model. Every team that wins a bowl could have a trophy.

So who will join me in petitioning the NFL to abandon its playoff in favor of an inconclusive bowl series? Doesn’t it make sense to you? Isn’t it about time that we abolish once and for all this sham that is called the “Super Bowl”?

40 Responses to Let’s Abolish the Super Bowl

  1. Denny Burk February 2, 2009 at 12:40 am #

    Perhaps you’ve already figured it out. The foregoing essay is not really about the NFL at all. It’s a my farcical way of registering yet one more complaint about the way in which Division 1 college football selects its champion.

  2. Matt Privett February 2, 2009 at 12:45 am #

    Well said, Dr. Burk.

  3. Everett February 2, 2009 at 12:51 am #

    I will say this though. If referees continue to blow end-game moments like they did tonight, then no system will help at all. Blessings to you Denny in KY.

  4. Casey February 2, 2009 at 1:03 am #

    Brilliant.

    Also, the BCS hacks would like you to know that the NFL playoffs rendered the regular season meaningless. Of course, don’t tell that to the Patriots, Cowboys, Bears, or any other teams that narrowly missed out on their playoff opportunity.

  5. Stephen Smith February 2, 2009 at 1:03 am #

    Wow. I saw your plug for this on your facebook status. I will admit I was very skeptical upon seeing the title, so I clicked the link and read the preceding article. …All I can say is I totally agree! You have me convinced – The Super Bowl should be abolished and the BCS should be definitely expanded to professional football.

  6. Josh Orr February 2, 2009 at 1:10 am #

    brilliant my friend, brilliant

    And I agree, if I wanted to know who the “champion” was I simply need to look at a rankings system, not what “happens on the field”. I mean, how much can we really know about which team is best when they play each other. In some countries, at least I hear, 45 is less than 35.

  7. Joel February 2, 2009 at 7:23 am #

    Wow, Denny, I hate the idea. First, there isn’t anything wrong with certainty when it’s possible. Second, I want a champion. Third, everything becomes too messy and convoluted when we let people play a part in the decision making process based on what they think. Just let the players win or lose and the numbers speak for themselves. Fourth, it messes up the whole tradition. It would ruin super bowl commercials for one. And, for two, it would mean nothing that ‘this’ team won 6 super bowls and ‘that’ team won 4, etc. We’d be starting over and who wants that?

    Maybe we should also rework the olympics so that there are various competitions that the coaches and others weigh in on. Instead of having gold medals we could introduce the platinum metal that several people could obtain so it isn’t so clear cut and dry…? No. No. No.

    We need Champions. I want to be able to look back and say, ‘you should have seen it in super bowl 43 when holmes caught the winning touch down that sealed the game with just seconds to go.’ Or, ‘you should have seen it when Jordan nailed the three at the buzzer to clench the championship’. Or, etc…

  8. Denny Burk February 2, 2009 at 8:09 am #

    Joel,

    My post is facetious. I think an NFL bowl system is a terrible idea too. The whole point of this post is to show how ridiculous the arguments for a bowl system sound when you apply them to the NFL. If the arguments are ridiculous for the NFL, then they are for the NCAA too.

    Thanks,
    Denny

  9. D.J. Williams February 2, 2009 at 9:08 am #

    Come on – who wouldn’t want to watch the FedEx Tostitos Continental Tire Enron Bowl between the Redskins and the Bears? Anybody?

    The prognosticators would have unanimously picked the Titans and Giants to play in the Championship. Meanwhile, nobody gave Arizona any respect whatsoever. Shows how much we know.

    Great post, Denny – save that they’re the Arizona Cardinals now, not Phoenix – 🙂

    Poor John McCain. He just can’t win anything this year.

  10. Rick February 2, 2009 at 9:22 am #

    Good points, but…..

    College football’s regular season is its playoff- and makes the regular season much more exciting than the NFL.

    Look at what the controversy does for college football- you are still talking about it.

    Finally, did the 2 best NFL teams really play in the Super Bowl? Were the Cardinals really better than every team other than the Steelers? D.J. mentioned the Giants and the Titans- are they not really better than the Cardinals?

  11. Denny Burk February 2, 2009 at 9:29 am #

    D.J.,

    Thanks for the correction. I changed “Phoenix” to “Arizona” in the original post. I don’t know where “Phoenix” came from. Did they used to be called Phoenix Cardinals?

    Anyway, thanks for catching that.

    Denny

  12. Nathan February 2, 2009 at 9:32 am #

    While this notion of a Utopian college football playoff sounds intriging its reality is beyond the scope of Denny’s analogy with the NFL.

    1. All teams and conferences in Division I college football are not created equal. Granted, the Detroit Lions are not created equal in the NFL, but that is their front-office’s problem, not the NFL’s.

    2. Since all teams and conferences are not created equal, there still must be a “system,” a “poll,” a “computer” to determine the top eight or sixteen that gets into your Utopian playoff.

    3. Since you are using a BCS-like determination to simply get into the playoff, teams will still have an argument that they were jobbed.

    4. Not all Conference Champions would even get consideration for your playoff, unless you are willing to say that only Conference Champions get in. Then you could be like the NFL and exclude better teams (New England Patriots) in favor of weaker conference champions (Arizona Cardinals). Although I’m sure that you are not willing to say that only one SEC team will make your playoff.

    4. Hence, College Football is not like the NFL, can’t be like the NFL, nor should be like the NFL.

    5. Furthermore, the issue of Conference Championships for All Division I teams or lack therefore so that all Conferences are as equal as possible becomes an issue, as does Non-Conference scheduling of chumps to pad the win-loss records and we are right back to a Computer must make decisions that the NFL does not have to deal with.

    6. So, if you are willing to dump all non-conference games, take all Division I conference winners and throw them into a playoff, you would be close to the NFL.

    Problem is College Football would never go for it and probably most fans would not as well.

  13. D.J. Williams February 2, 2009 at 9:48 am #

    “College football’s regular season is its playoff- and makes the regular season much more exciting than the NFL.”

    Perhaps you could explain that to Utah.

    And yep, Denny – they were formerly called the Phoenix Cardninals. They changed it to Arizona a few years back.

  14. Steve Dumas February 2, 2009 at 9:50 am #

    I wonder if the powers that be in college football read this blog. They should. Great post.

  15. Joel February 2, 2009 at 9:55 am #

    Denny (#8),

    I see… ha.

  16. Rick February 2, 2009 at 10:08 am #

    “Perhaps you could explain that to Utah.”

    Or the N.E. Patriots?

    No one is saying the system is perfect. But neither is the NFL system. Both can be adjusted and corrected.

    I think Utah, and its conference, should get the respect of the (other) major conferences. I think that may be corrected sometime soon (I hope).

  17. Darius T February 2, 2009 at 10:32 am #

    The NCAA needs a LIMITED playoff… otherwise, you make the regular season lose a ton of its luster. “Oh, we lost our first two games? No problem, we could still lose another and have a shot at the playoffs.” The importance of EVERY SINGLE GAME would diminish severely. Thus, a 8 team playoff (or less) is needed, with all undefeated teams getting an automatic invite.

  18. Hewson February 2, 2009 at 10:37 am #

    Modernity, bro.

  19. Mark Gibson February 2, 2009 at 10:43 am #

    I agree with everything Nathan wrote.

    I want to see a return to the old bowl system, and I want all of the major bowl games played on New Years Day.

  20. Darius T February 2, 2009 at 11:23 am #

    I agree with Mark and Nathan… I’d sooner see the old bowl system than a huge playoff… that’s what sucks about the NFL… no 8-8 team should ever make the playoffs.

  21. Darius T February 2, 2009 at 11:24 am #

    By the way, good to see some REAL college football fans speaking up, rather than mostly just Johnny-come-latelys. How quickly people forget the glories of the old system.

  22. Robert February 2, 2009 at 11:55 am #

    Classic

  23. John February 2, 2009 at 12:05 pm #

    Denny,
    I think we should get an Obama plan–it’s not fair that one team gets all of those wins–lets just take some from the winning team and give it to the Detroits of the league and then everyone is a winner!

  24. D.J. Williams February 2, 2009 at 1:40 pm #

    “Perhaps you could explain that to Utah.”

    Or the N.E. Patriots?

    The Pats knew the rules coming in. Win your division, or finish as one of the next-best 2 teams, and you’re in. They didn’t accomplish either. What was the requirement that Utah didn’t live up to? Not being named Florida?

  25. Rick February 2, 2009 at 2:48 pm #

    “What was the requirement that Utah didn’t live up to? Not being named Florida?”

    As I said earlier, Utah and its conference deserves more respect. The system needs tweaking.

    Meanwhile, the 11-5 Pats from a tough division sat home while the 9-7 Cards from a weak division hosted a playoff game.

  26. Darius T February 2, 2009 at 3:02 pm #

    Those same Cards that should have won the game last night if the refs weren’t so biased?

  27. Mark Gibson February 2, 2009 at 3:44 pm #

    Utah had the opportunity to schedule tougher opponents for their non-conference games. UNLV, Utah St., and Weber St. aren’t going to get you to number one.

    Denny,

    Super Bowl is two words.

  28. Larry Geiger February 2, 2009 at 4:00 pm #

    Hee hee!!

  29. Jim Peet February 2, 2009 at 6:45 pm #

    With a little tuning here and there, the BSC could be applied to professional baseball, baseketball, and hockey.

    It probably has many non-sports applications as well.

    Stuart Smalley: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”

  30. Denny Burk February 3, 2009 at 12:22 am #

    Mark,

    I need an editor. I made the corrections.

    Thanks,
    Denny

  31. Shane February 3, 2009 at 2:00 pm #

    Worst idea I’ve heard today Denny. I’ll forget you ever suggested such a thing…doom on you!! 🙂

  32. Shane February 3, 2009 at 2:06 pm #

    Yes, I know you were joking, but it’s a scary thought nonetheless…it about ruined my day just thinking about it…

  33. Paul Jacobs February 4, 2009 at 3:18 pm #

    Better yet, Don’t have any standards and instead give participation trophies to all the players. No team should be required to “lose” a game for another team to win.

  34. John Michael LaRue February 6, 2009 at 12:25 am #

    You’ll also have teams that went 8-8 in the regular season in the Super Bowl!!!

    Playoffs only determine who the hottest team at the end of the year was!

    In college football, every single game from day 1 matter…

    That’s the beauty of it.

    If the playoff system is instilled, all of the air would have completely been taken out of Oregon St beating USC, Texas Tech beating Texas, Iowa beating Penn St… and countless other games. You would be able to lose one game a year and still completely have things in your own hands.

    The current system of college football requires you to play the most difficult competition and win all the games in order to go to the championship. If you play weak competition, you’re not going. If you lose, you’re not going (or better stated, at the point of losing a game, you put yourself at the mercy of others)

  35. David February 7, 2009 at 10:15 pm #

    Don’t give the NFL any new revenue ideas. The sad fact of the matter is if they thought they could make an extra buck, AND get away with it, they probably would!

  36. micah the pilot February 12, 2009 at 10:16 am #

    Nathan, your points are definitely worth consideration but they don’t amount to validation of the current system. And they don’t amount to rejection of Denny’s or similar proposals. There certainly are some benefits to the classic bowl system, but these are far outweighed by its losses. In response to your specific points:

    1. Inequality doesn’t amount to much. Really, what you’re saying (I think) is that college football is too large to accurately determine which teams would be best for a playoff. There is certainly fear of failure based in the unknown, but that by itself doesn’t justify lack of attempt.

    2. Ok.

    3. Everyone will complain that they didn’t get a fair chance, but there’s huge difference between not getting a fair chance to be top-two and not getting a chance to be top-sixteen. Consider college basketball: plenty of teams complain that they should have made the NCAA tournament and were unfairly left out, but none of these teams use the argument that they are legitimate contenders for the title. Obviously we can’t test this because a team can’t both be in the NCAA and NIT tournaments at the same time. What we can observe is how bubble teams fare in each tournament. I don’t watch the NIT so I can’t answer that, but few bubble teams do very much in the NCAA tournament. We don’t want to translate this argument completely to college football, but it’s worth noting that this does not appear to be a valid argument anywhere else so I’m not sure we should presume it would be useful in college football.

    4a. This is not really a point you make against the argument, but a point you make against Denny.

    4b. This is an unfair extrapolation. You should step back and ask can college football be like any other sport? I don’t know all sports, but I don’t know any that don’t champion teams by tournament or playoff system. Or narrow it back down: the NCAA authorizes 39 sports. 38 of those use tournament-style playoffs to champion individual and team winners. Can you name the one sport that does not crown champions this way?

    5. You make a difficult argument here. Essentially you are saying Option B won’t work in the future because the limitations of the present system won’t allow it; therefore we must keep Option A for the future.

    6. That’s a suggestion, but not the only one. It also doesn’t translate well. The NFL lets 6 of 16 teams make the playoffs for each conference. That’s 37.5% of teams. If we use a similar ratio to award playoff spots in college football, we’re over 32 teams. There aren’t 32 conferences, so I think the issue is solved.

    I’m not sure what is the best system that the NCAA should use, but I think it’s fair to say the current system is not equitable and there are at least a handful of proposals/options that are probably superior to what we have now.

  37. Nathan February 12, 2009 at 12:14 pm #

    “There certainly are some benefits to the classic bowl system, but these are far outweighed by its losses. In response to your specific points:”

    Micah, my main point was to show that given the breadth of college football, the inequalities of how conferences are set up, and the bias of writers and coaches polls, a playoff will still not keep a Utah from getting butchered.

    This is because it will not include all conference winners (too many conferences) and the big name conferences will continue to hold the sway of polling.

  38. Darius T February 12, 2009 at 1:28 pm #

    Nathan, that’s why I proposed an 8-team playoff with all undefeated teams getting an automatic entry. My one concern is that this would lead to teams scheduling weak non-conference schedules, but this would be the exception since D1 has so much parity these days. Ball State nearly made it undefeated until they were exposed at the end. And even if those undefeated teams are pretenders, they would serve as a nice “bye” week for the top seeds.

  39. micah the pilot February 12, 2009 at 3:20 pm #

    Darius, that’s an interesting proposal. I, personally, don’t put much credit into undefeated teams and I don’t get very excited about them, but I can understand why others would appreciate that achievement.

    Part of the problem is certainly the disparity among scheduling. No school can play more than 10% (roughly) of the available teams in a given year and most of those games are fixed against conference opponents. That’s why 12-0 or 13-0 doesn’t really mean much to me. Utah beat a few good teams, but Texas beat a few great teams and only lost at the last second on the road. I can’t justify Utah getting a bump over Texas just because of their record.

    Why don’t we give every conference champion a chance? We have 11 conferences; let them decide the winner their own way and each winner gets an automatic bid. Then add 13 at-large teams based on a system (keep the BCS, I don’t care) and then grant bye-weeks to the 8 top seeds.

    That gives you a playoff with each conference represented and the bulk of the “good” teams in the mix. Shorten the season to a maximum of 12 games (including conference championship, where appropriate) and make every game count. All you want to do is make the playoffs or get a bye-week.

    That gives 24 teams and 27 games. Let them be played in bowls and let the bowls bid for each round. Give the money to the NCAA to split between conferences/teams based on representation and performance. Now you’ve got the money and the schedule figured out and you get a chance to preserve some of the better history by keeping the bowls in play.

    That doesn’t have to be how it works out, but I don’t see how that isn’t superior in every way to the current system.

    [Denny, I know you keep in touch with your representatives and senators–will you pass this idea along for me?]

  40. Darius T February 12, 2009 at 4:21 pm #

    Micah, that makes the regular season lose a TON of its excitement. If 24 teams make the playoffs, that means you can lose 3 or 4 games and still make it. I prefer to require teams to excel – rather than just be slightly better than average – to have a shot at the championship. All the excitement from week to week would be lost and we would have the NFL, where every week is boring until you get to the end of the season. An NFL team can go 8-8 and still win the Super Bowl. That is wrong.

    Any team that wins every regular season game deserves to be proven wrong that they aren’t the best. So all undefeated teams make the playoffs in my system (not necessarily top seeds, just into the playoffs). The remaining teams are taken from the top of a BCS-like rankings. So, say we use the final BCS rankings for an example of the playoffs would have looked like this year…

    12-1 OU vs. 12-0 Boise State
    12-1 Florida vs. 11-1 Texas Tech
    11-1 Texas vs. 12-0 Utah
    12-1 Alabama vs. 11-1 USC

    Do you see almost any team with much of a gripe for not making it? Possibly Penn State, otherwise no one. If you want to get into my playoffs, you have to win when it counts: every single week.

    Let’s look at the year before…

    11-1 Ohio State vs. 12-0 Hawaii
    11-2 LSU vs 10-2 USC
    11-2 Virginia Tech vs. 11-2 Missouri
    11-2 Oklahoma vs. 10-2 Georgia

    Not one team left out with a valid argument (Kansas couldn’t even win their conference division).

    The NCAA will adopt my system if they’re smart.

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