A Playoff Debate For The Ages: Jefferson vs. Hamilton

Tonight we have engaged two of the greatest minds in the history of this country to debate the defining issue of our time: The College Football Playoff--should it stay at 4 teams or expand to 8 teams?

Representing the age of enlightenment, the voice of Revolution, the gentleman farmer, agrarian idealist, the author of the Declaration of Independence, a former governor of Virginia, Secretary of State, Vice President and President of the United States—Thomas Jefferson.

Representing the powers that be is a believer in a strong central government, a delegate to the Constitutional Convention the first Treasurer of The United States and the star of the hottest Broadway musical--Alexander Hamilton.

Jefferson: As we begin this discussion I am honored to stand here with Mr Hamilton. You and I have formerly seen warm debates and high political passions. But gentlemen of different politics would then speak to each other…It is not so now. But tonight we shall discuss this warmly. If John Adams and I could become friends after our differences, certainly you and I can do the same.

Hamilton: As long as we do not resort to dueling, I am amenable to any debate of the issues. My last duel did not end so well in my favor. Since you rose to the rank of the presidency I will yield the floor to open the debate.

Jefferson: Thank you. While all teams may not be created equal, there are certainly more equal teams than just four. For this to be a land of opportunity certainly we should respect the rights of as many teams as possible. That means allowing eight teams to play. Certainly a four-team playoff is better that what we had but it was a compromise in moderation but….Moderation was the mask ambition has worn through the ages. Could it be that the powerful interests dangled the threat of the status quo before getting what they always wanted, a four-team playoff. It allows them to keep control of big revenues. The championship game remains in the hands of the conference powers rather than yielding power and purse to the NCAA.

Hamilton: I too share your disdain for an NCAA reign of tyranny that makes King George III look positively egalitarian. But if you are to insinuate that this exercise in alleged moderation was just to mask the ambitions of the Conference commissioners, television executives and bowl committees you may be right. But allow me to address your equality comments. My colleague from the South ignores the inequality of the teams already. In the first three years of semi-finals the average point differential is over 25 points. So are you stating Mr. Jefferson that adding more teams, adding weaker teams would give us better games? If the #4 seed is losing by 25 points how many points will the #8 seed lose by? Your own colleague and ally James Madison wrote “Experience is the oracle of truth and where its responses are unequivocal, they ought to be conclusive and sacred.” The playoff experience is conclusive that four teams are enough.

Jefferson: Certainly this playoff is still in its infancy. We still stand at the dawn of a new regime in this nation’s greatest sport. But let us not forget that teams of great achievement, teams who have proven their worth on the gridiron who have won their conference are being left out of the playoff. That should not be. These are educational institutions and what lessons do we teach the teams who have won their conferences?

Hamilton: My idealistic colleague deludes himself with respect to the educational element of this endeavor. These athletes are playing more games than ever before. This year the Alabama-Clemson game winner will play for the National Title. That team’s players will have played 45 games in three years. Not long ago these teams were playing just 48 games in 4 years. This is a game where bodily harm and mental harm in the form of concussions may come to these young men. We have an obligation to settle the championship in as few contests as possible. Their labor is unpaid, while their teams’ revenues are great. That is like a plantation which is certainly something you know about Mr Jefferson.

Jefferson: Getting their education paid for is not a plantation system. But there is great demand from college football fans for more football, for more teams in the playoff. There are players and coaches who want more teams in as well. I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical. Our citizens have spoken and revolution is in the air.

Hamilton: Pandering to the whims of the people is dangerous. If the inquiry constantly is what will please, not what will benefit the people, in such a government there can be nothing but temporary expedient, fickleness and folly. What we have now is a strong four-team playoff that makes the regular season very meaningful AND makes the conference championship games very important.

Jefferson: If teams can win their conference championship games and did not get in how important are those games? For these players they have only a shot or two at this. Many of them have voiced their preference for an eight team playoff. The earth belongs always to the living generation. They may manage it then, and what proceeds from it, as they please, during their usufruct.

Hamilton: Let me argue it this way. What if a year hence an 8-4 team wins their division and then wins the conference Championship game? Should that 9-4 team be given an automatic berth to the playoff?

Jefferson: It would certainly create more excitement for that 8-4 team. That is how basketball operates with March Madness.

Hamilton: Yes but the strength of this playoff is that the conference championship games do matter because a team might play their way in or may lose their way out. When Duke and UNC play in the ACC Basketball Finals it really doesn’t have any meaning. They are both going to the NCAA tournament. In the football championship games a loss will definitely knock you out. Just ask the Badgers from Wisconsin who like Alabama have lost only one game but are out by virtue of the Championship game loss.

Jefferson: In an 8-team playoff all Power-5 conference Championship teams would get in, as would 3 other at-large teams. This would open the door of equality and opportunity to more teams perhaps from other conferences. The passionate fans are clamoring for it as well.

Hamilton: Yes the passionate fans. In my life I have found men are rather reasoning than reasonable animals, for the most part governed by their passion. If their team makes the playoff they like the system, if they do not make the playoff they hate it. But the system just started. Why the rush to change it?

Jefferson: Because it is imperfect. You yourself took on the Articles of Confederation when this country first started. You co-authored the Federalist Papers arguing that we needed a new system. So we replaced our entire system of government with our Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Although this system is still new, it has failed teams like Penn State, Ohio State, USC and others over the years that have won their conference only to be left out. The system needs to be reformed, it is not reflective of our democratic values.

Hamilton: Not reflective of our democratic values? We may be a democracy but we are also a capitalist society in which there are winners and losers. Each team starts the season with the opportunity to make the playoff. If they are worthy they will be invited.

Jefferson: Mr Hamilton you are too well informed a politician, too good a judge of men, not to know that the ground of liberty is to be gained by inches, that we must be contented to secure what we can from time to time, and eternally press forward for what is yet to get. And there is much yet to get. Tell the players from the University of Central Florida they have an equal chance. They won all of their games yet were not invited.

Hamilton: There must be a mechanism to choose which teams are invited and which teams are not. It is unfortunate but their schedule at UCF did not merit an invitation.

Jefferson: Invitation…ah yes. A group of men sit in a closed room and play God for an entire season of work for thousands of players. Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the forms of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question. Are these committee men angels to govern us all?

Hamilton: Isn’t that how we formed our Constitution? But I would argue that the system is working. In three years the top 2 teams have played for the title twice—so this committee has done a very good job. In all three years the #5 team, the one that has the best argument for being in the playoff has lost to a lower-seeded team in their bowl game. The most controversial team was in 2014 when Ohio State got in over Baylor. All they did was win the National Championship. So this oligarchy has not been one of tyranny, but rather has been an enlightened governing body.

Jefferson: Look, I as a traditionalist envisioned America as an agrarian place, a nation of gentlemen farmers. But I evolved, and even made the biggest purchase of land in our Nation’s History with the Louisiana Purchase. Football was once a simpler game, a regional game played with students who went to class, and coached by men who made a modest living. Those days are gone. The game has become an industrial behemoth with big football producing revenues one could only have dreamed of. The gentlemen coaches of modest incomes are gone. As a college football fan I loved the status quo but there came a time when we had to break with the old monarchy of inequality. So the playoff was a first step. But now that we are in it I am reminded of something I wrote in 1788 “There are indeed some faults which revolted me a good deal in the first moment: but we must be contented to travel on towards perfection, step by step”

Hamilton: Yes but is perfection the admittance of more imperfect teams? Is perfection opening the doors to teams who do not deserve a chance?

Jefferson: If allowing others in may open the door to just one team outside the top 4 who may win the playoff it will be worth it. The extra round also means more games and more tickets for more fans…tickets that fans can actually get unlike those for your musical.

Hamilton: For a moment let’s accept your premise. There are 8 teams. How does that work? Should we go to eleven regular season games before the conference championship games and then the round of 8? Will the first round take place at the home field of the higher seed in December? Will the first round take place on January 1st at a bowl site? Then you extend the season into the middle of the month and conflict with the NFL Playoff games.

Jefferson: The scheduling is a tricky question, without clear answers. But we must find a way to more equality and liberty.

Hamilton: As a Northerner I would not be against home-site games for a first round. How would a southern school fare in a snowstorm in Ohio against the Buckeyes? But could it work? With students already home from school would they return?

Jefferson: You have certainly raised questions, questions that as yet have no answers. But answers can be found. When I founded the University of Virginia I wrote “For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.” Time given here does not allow us to further our pursuit of those answers tonight so the debate may rage on. But let us hope that we remain unafraid to follow truth’s path.

Hamilton: On that you and I may agree, but I see truth’s path remaining firmly founded in the way of the four-team playoff.

Jefferson: And I see it differently.

Hamilton: For now that will be the way of the game of college football. A playoff of moderation, that as yet has given us only worthy champions. The passions will remain in college football’s devoted citizenry but we must be careful to encourage them while tempering their worst impulses. Wars oftener proceed from angry and perverse passions than from cool calculations of interest.

Jefferson: Yes we must build that fervor while not offending their passion for this game. But we must settle this debate at a future date lest we alienate segments of the people. Here are so many wants, so many affections and passions engaged, so varying in their interests and objects, that no one can be conciliated without revolting others.

Hamilton: In that spirit let us resolve to enjoy the playoff that we have. It has torn down the old ways and certainly made a positive step for all the people.

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