As someone from New Orleans, (host of the Sugar Bowl), I am admittedly biased in favor of the traditional bowl system.
But there seem to be several reasons, aside from money and tradition, to favor it over a play-off system.
First of all, it’s generally pretty clear who the National Champion is. There is sometimes a lot of debate about who should get to play for the title in the No. 2 spot, but usually things shake out and you have a clear No. 1 team.
(Parenthetically, let’s note that LSU was clearly the National Champion a few years ago when, according to a bunch of Left Coast nuts, they “split” the Championship with USC. In addition to the simple fact that LSU was the National Champion under the BCS system in effect at the time, you have the fact that the SEC was and is a lot better than the PAC 10; that LSU, unlike USC, had to play and win a Conference Championship in addition to the regular season games; and that Oklahoma, the team which LSU beat in the Sugar Bowl, was a lot better than Michigan.)
Second of all, while the play-off system offers the superficially attractive notion of “deciding things on the field”, I’m not sure if it’s really the most reliable way of determining who deserves to be the National Champion. I am sure we can all think of NFL seasons where the best team that year was not the team that won the Super Bowl. Consider, for example, a Bowl-Plus-One system, in the context of this year’s college football season. If Ohio State beats Florida, Ohio State is clearly the National Champion. You don’t need, nor would it be “fair”, to play another game. Even if Florida were to win, then what would be the Plus-One? Michigan (assuming they win the Rose Bowl)? Or would Ohio State get to play again? And let’s say Ohio State played in and lost the second game; you would have two one-loss teams with split games; still no clear Champion.
Third, the controversy gives everyone something to talk about. Makes things more interesting. Whenever I hear all of these people on ESPN and ABC lamenting the fact that there isn’t a play-off system, I am always thinking “be careful what you wish for.” What would all these guys have to talk about?
It also, of course, makes things more interesting on the field during the season. Every game is a must-win. If you are going for the National Championship, every week is potentially a single-elimination.
Finally, it’s college football. The “point” is not, or shouldn’t be, (at least to my way of thinking), to crown a National Champion. Because everyone else finishes a loser. And everyone, except the winner, loses the last game.
Sure, a true competitor would say that you are robbing these kids of the opportunity to play that one that game. To decide things on the field. Etc.
But I’m not a true competitor. I’m a sentimentalist.
And it seems to me that, under the traditional Bowl system, (i.e.before the Fiesta Bowl), the goal of each team in a major conference was to win the conference, and then to win the Sugar Bowl, or the Orange Bowl, or the Rose Bowl, or the Cotton Bowl. If you did that, you went out on top. That was a successful season. Being named the “National Champion” in the AP and/or UPI poll was just gravy.
Now, there is so much emphasis on the National Championship, that everything else is second-place.
A “split” National Championship, to me, is just an opportunity for twice the number of kids to go through life with the feeling that they were the National Champions. It’s college football. Sure, some of them will go on to the NFL. But a lot of them won’t. The more people who can go out as Champions, the better.