Sunday, November 30, 2008

My BCS Solution

Year after year, those of us who follow college football are forced to listen to numerous complaints about the lack of a true championship in that sport. The BCS was supposed to have been created to settle this controversy, but it doesn't seem to have solved anything. Some folks say that the endless debate adds a certain element that makes this interesting, but these are probably the same people who enjoy listening to the DH vs. no-DH arguments. Enough already, I say—on both subjects—but let's stick to the college football discussion for now.

I'm a Penn State alum, so if not for an upset loss to Iowa a few weeks ago, my team may have benefited from the lack of a true system, and would already be slated for a title game showdown with one of the powerhouses from the SEC or the Big 12. If this were the case, there would be much clamoring about the fact that 3 or 4 other teams from these conferences are more deserving due to the much tougher schedules they've faced. Of course, that's a moot point, but it doesn't mean there aren't going to be quite a few rightfully unhappy programs that are as deserving of a shot at a national championship as one or both of the teams that are selected for the BCS title game.

I've been working on a mini-BCS playoff system in my mind for over a year now. This is actually the first time I've attempted to write it down and make some sense of it.
  • The BCS ranking system is still used, but in this case for more than just to determine the two teams who get to play in the "national championship".

  • Conferences are free to determine their championship game participants in whatever way they choose, but are encouraged to scrap their division formats and simply pit their top two BCS teams against each other. This would avoid a situation such as in this year's Big 12, in which the top four teams in that conference are in the same division.

  • Four additional teams are awarded at-large bids, also based on their BCS rankings, and are seeded 7 through 10. These four teams are selected from among the remaining conference champions, teams that did not win their conferences, and independents.

  • Obviously, the fact that they would only be eligible for the at-large berths puts the independents at a bit of a disadvantage, but if they're among the top eight teams in the country, they're virtually assured of a bid. There are currently only four FBS independents, and with the Notre Dame program being a bit of a mess, this seems less important right now, but these teams would be encouraged to join a conference.

  • The quarter-finals are played the third weekend in December, with the semi-finals on New Year's Day and the finals a week later.

  • The remaining two quarter-final games and the 7 vs. 10 and 8 vs. 9 games are awarded to the Cotton, Capital One, Outback and Gator Bowls, or whatever four are considered next in the pecking order.
I can't say for certain that this system addresses all of the concerns that seem to have been preventing such a playoff system from happening, but I'll try to cover as many as I can think of. First, the bowls remain as prestigious as ever and, in fact, take on added importance due to the fact that every one of the eight involved in this system are elimination games.

Second, the automatic bids to the top six conference champions virtually assure that a team that didn't win their conference won't make the playoffs over a conference rival that did. Also, the inclusion of the conference championships essentially adds an extra round to the tournament without having to extend the schedule. Additionally, this significantly extends the pool of teams that are playing that game for a chance to make the BCS tournament, essentially making it comparable to a playoff game for them.

There are a couple of minor drawbacks that I'm aware of. First, if all of the top six conference champions are not ranked in the BCS top ten, then there will be top ten teams that don't make the playoffs. Still, no matter what the solution, some team will be disappointed at being left out, but it's much better when that team is at #9 rather than #3. Furthermore, I think it's important to assign a high level of importance to the conference championships.

Another potential drawback is the fact that this will extend some teams' seasons to 15 or 16 games. I'm not really sure how seriously the NCAA would frown upon this, but I do know that my plan only extends the season into the holidays, so I don't think it should be considered a major problem.

Lastly, by using so many of the bowl games for this playoff system, and therefore having several teams play in multiple bowls, it reduces the pool of teams that get to play in one of these games. This is the major downside of this plan, in my opinion. I'm not sure of a way around this. Obviously, it's easy for me to say that a few bowl games could be added, but I have no idea how feasible this is.

The bottom line is that this season's outcome, in which there will be as many as two undefeated and five one-loss teams locked out of the BCS title game, just reinforces that it's about time that major college football instituted some type of playoff system. But, of course, we've all heard that one before.

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