Well here we are once again. The BCS is coming to its rather unexciting conclusion and the debate has arisen as to whether a solution is needed in college football and what it should theoretically be. Last year I was unrelenting on the current system; I railed against the choice of Oklahoma over Texas and how Utah did not get an opportunity to win the title. Listening to the debate that is running this year I realize there are those out there that prefer the system the way it is. For one reason or another they like the BCS. They either like the money it generates, see that their team/conference benefits greatly from the system, or have some kind of circuitous logic about how the sport is unique and pure is some way. One important lesson to learn in life is that other people do not see the world you do and while it may make no sense, you have to at least respect that to a degree if their point of view is not completely illogical. Now it is easy to say that the BCS is illogical but despite being in my mind a sham, it has been in place for over a decade and the Ari Fleischer's of the world are paid to defend it. Questions have arisen as to how to put together a playoff, and my system answers all of them. BCS defenders point out that even if a playoff is instituted there will be dissatisfied people but you will never make everyone happy and if you do not know this already then welcome to life. I believe my system takes as much into account as to be one that most people in college football would agree on. My playoff solution after the break.
I favor a 8 team bracket because I believe that in a given year that is the suitable number of teams that earn a shot at the title. But here is my wrinkle to counter the argument that in some cases teams ranked 7th or 8th do not deserve a shot: The field will be cut to 6 or 7 teams if there are not enough teams to qualify. In this case the two highest ranked teams would get a first round bye. Therefore extreme emphasis will be placed on getting the top two BCS spots, just like it is now. The field cannot fall below 6 however and that will be explained later in regards to the BCS bowls.
The first round of games will be held the 3rd week in December. This gives teams that have played in a conference championship game a week off to rest and prepare. The top 2 seeds will play a game at their home stadium (again emphasis on getting the top two spots) with the 3 vs. 6 and 4 vs 5 games taking place at 2 of the BCS bowls. If only 6 teams qualify, they top two seeds get a bye. If only 7 teams qualify, only the top team gets a bye.
The BCS bowls will rotate spots in the playoff so from year to year a BCS bowl will have a first round game or a semi-final game. The title game will rotate as well. Having 6 teams assures that all the BCS bowls will get a playoff game every year.
The semi-final round will take place on/around New Year's at the 2 remaining BCS bowl sites. The championship game will be played at whatever BCS bowl's turn it is in the rotation approximately 10 days after the semi-finals.
The BCS bowls make good money. A lot of money. This would keep the playoff within the control of the major bowls. In a perfect world this would not be the case but in order to have any chance at getting this approved I think this concession would have to be made. There would also be a rotating choice system for the bowls meaning that the bowls would pick which games they would host. So if a bowl has choice priority they could choose to host a 4-seed Penn State vs. 5-seed USC match-up instead of a 3-seed Utah vs. 6-seed Pitt game.
Here is where most fans, even those in favor of a playoff, disagree about what to do. One complaint I always have about the BCS and voters is that there are no standard set of criteria for determining who is the highest ranked team. Again there will always be room for debate but I think these are the most effective regulations for filling the bracket.
A. You must win your conference to qualify
Want to place emphasis on conference play? This is how you do it. Even if a team is good they do not get a pass if they fail to win their conference. This will keep conference championship games as important (if not more) as they are now. Of course there will be certain exceptions which will be detailed below.
B. If you are undefeated and ranked in the top eight, you must receive an invitation
If you have not lost a game, then fulfilling A will not be a problem and if it is the other rules should clarify. If there are more undefeated top ten teams than spots available (don't know how this would be the case though) than the highest ranked team(s) would fill the remaining spots.
C. BCS conferences still receive an automatic bid but in order to receive the bid
i. They must have two losses or less
ii. Be ranked in the top 8
This will be the hard part in convincing the big 6 to sign on but if their conference champion fails to meet i or ii do they really deserve a title shot? It helps prevent teams like possibly Nebraska of this year from backdooring their way into the tournament.
D. All rankings will be determined by BCS rankings.
There is a caveat to this: The rankings need to get their act together. Voters need to be held more accountable and I would suggest a stronger emphasis on strength of schedule be factored in. So, the BCS bowls are intact and so are the rankings which determines a team's place in the standings, looks like we are keeping a lot of elements to the old system people.
E. If they are any conflicts that arise between teams, seedings, or playoff spots the BCS rankings will be the tiebreaker.
This would be put to use for seeding but also if there are less than 6 teams that qualify. In order to fulfill the 6 team requirement for the tournament the team not already part of the tournament with the highest ranking will get the bid. This, along with the requirements for BCS conference winners means that it is possible for schools who fail to win their conference could potentially get an at-large bid but in order to do so they would have to be highly ranked.
F. If a team is ranked in the top 5 of the BCS and the 8 spots are not filled by the above criteria, those teams will receive at-large bids.
This is a prevention to keep teams like Texas and Alabama of last year from a playoff spot. Cincinnati and Virginia Tech were both ranked outside the top ten last year at the final BCS rankings. Their spots would have been occupied by Texas and Alabama. The seedings would have to be re-done because there would be a rule that teams from the same conference would not be allowed to play each other in the first round. Also, these at-large teams would not be allowed to host either of the two first-round games not played at the BCS bowls.
This Year's Example
To see how this would play out to this year we have to make a guestimate of how the conference championships play out but the theory remains the same. Based on this year's rankings the first round would look like this[Updated for final BCS rankings]:
Games played on December 19th
(8)Ohio State at (1)Alabama, in Tuscaloosca
-Ohio State jumped Georgia Tech after Tech's loss to Georgia. It would be a really close call on which team gets in if the rankings are tweaked to favor schedules more. OSU played USC and lost to them and Purdue, while Georgia Tech lost at Miami and to UGA. Here is a major crux of the argument: better to argue over which of these teams gets in than any of the top 4 this year.
(7)Oregon at (2)Texas, in Austin
-Is Texas a fraud? This game will help us find out?
Games played on December 18th
(6)Boise State vs. (3)Cincinnati, at rotation determined BCS bowl
-Battle of undefeateds, no shortage of offense, take the over.
(5)Flroida vs. (4)TCU, at rotation determined BCS bowl
Games played on Saturday January 2nd
(5)TCU vs. (1)Alabama, at rotation determined BCS bowl
-If I had to pick I would say Bama wins and TCU beats Florida. Just a gut feeling but even if the Gators win it would be part 2 of the big game.
(3)Boise State vs. (2)Texas, at rotation determined BCS bowl
-Texas gets by Oregon at home, and I think Boise beats Cincy at its own game.
Game played January 11th(played on Monday because NFL playoffs start that weekend)
(2)Texas vs. (1)Alabama, Rose Bowl (since that is this year's championship site)
-Forget whoever makes it to the title game, it would a blockbuster either way and if it ends up being these two, no one can debate that they did not prove that they deserve to be there.
Will It Work?
I do not see any reason why not but there would have to be compromise by different parties and that is always a tricky proposition. But the important thing to remember about the system I just proposed:
-The big 6 conferences still have the advantage to getting teams in but deserving non-BCS schools have their shot to earn their way to the title. This year TCU will get shuttled to a BCS bowl to play most for a game that means only as much as Utah's did last year. Boise has gone undefeated and despite being ranked in the top 6 at the moment may not get the table-scrap BCS bid at all.
-I think that in order for the BCS conferences to sign on, you would have to guarantee them some kind of slice of the pie if one of their teams fails to make the tournament. With all the money this would generate and consider that ESPN owns the BCS starting next year and this tourney would be under the umbrella of the BCS, profits would explode and you could make sure a non-qualifying conference would get theirs.
-There will be the same, if not more money made through this system. All of those games are good match-ups that will get tremendous ratings. It will be like March Madness times Avagadro's number, everyone in the sports community will be discussing the games.
-I would keep all the other bowls the way they are now. Let Central Michigan play Middle Tennessee or whatever. It will not diminish these bowls anymore than they have already been diminished by the BCS.
-No more low-rated BCS games. Even if you had a Orange Bowl like last year (V Tech vs. Cincy) people will tune in because the game means something and the winner advances.
-There is a huge advantage to securing the top 2 spots in the BCS.
-The regular season would not only still be relevant, it would be more relevant now.
Answering the Problem
In an effort to shoot down playoff proposals, the BCS in their infinite wisdom has a site called playoffproblem.com. You really need not visit the site because I will answer their "tough" questions right here.
They ask: Who would participate?
I answer: 6-8 teams, conference winners only, ranked in the top ten, or top 5 ranked at-large
They ask: How many automatic qualifiers?
I answer: 6 from the BCS conferences, undefeated teams in the top ten, possibly 2 at-large.
They ask: What would be the criteria to qualify?
I answered that above in my criteria section A-F.
They ask: What would be the criteria for seeding?
I answer: BCS rankings, the same ones they use for their current system.
They ask: Where would the games be played?
I answer: Two games at the top 2 seeds home stadium, the rest at rotating BCS bowls.
They ask: When would the games be played?
I answer: First round would be the 3rd week in December, Semi-finals the closest Saturday to New Year's, Championship game 8-10 days after the Semi-finals.
They ask: If you could resolve all that(I just did) would everyone be satisfied?
They already answer "NO" (they used caps!) but you would have to have the brain capacity of a troglodyte to say yes to this question. As I mentioned earlier there will always be detractors but I think this proposal satisfies the most arguments from as many people as possible. BCS bowls stay intact, the Big 6 BCS conferences are pretty much guaranteed a spot unless their champion is ranked low, the non-BCS conferences are given a shot to win the title, not just play in a BCS bowl, there will still be tons of money to be had, undeserving teams cannot sneak their way in, and those chanting for a playoff get one.
They then come up with this gem of reasoning:
Just try to create an eight-team playoff based on latest rankings (November 23rd). Should a one-loss Georgia Tech (10-1, #7) get in but not a one-loss Pittsburgh (9-1 #9)? Should a two-loss Oregon (9-2, #8) get in but not one-loss Pittsburgh or any of the SEVEN teams with two losses: Ohio State (10-2, #10), Iowa (10-2, #11), Oklahoma State (9-2, #12), Penn State (10-2, #13), BYU (9-2, #19), Utah, (9-2, #19), or Houston (9-2, #23)? If you think the BCS is controversial, try sorting that out. A playoff would guarantee bigger problems, more controversy, more disappointed teams and more frustrated fans.
I did just come up with an 8 team playoff based on the latest rankings. Georgia Tech got in(projecting they beat Clemson) and Pitt did not because they lost to Cincy(again projected). After that happens(if it does) they would have two losses and be knocked out of the top ten. Oregon would get in because they won the Pac-Ten and be ranked in the top ten with two or less losses. Ohio State gets in the same as Oregon but they have to go play at the Swamp, Iowa lost to Ohio State for the Big Ten, Oklahoma State did not even make the Big 12 title game and has not beaten anyone of note. Penn State? No one can argue they deserve a playoff spot. BYU lost to TCU and is ranked 19th in the BCS, Utah is 21st and Houston 23rd. There will always be frustrated fans but it is possible to craft a system.
The last thing about the site I will address is their introduction of what they call "bracket creep". This alludes to the expansion of tournaments such as the NCAA basketball tournament which now features 65 teams and the FCS. The FCS, in case you do not know, has been running a playoff for years now with few, if any, problems. They will expand to 20 teams next year. The BCS has you imagine a frightening scenario where the brackets expand and more teams get in and the regular season is diminished and the bowl system changed forever. I do not see this happening with my scenario in the near term and if it does so what? If the logistics are feasible to add two play in games then it will expand to ten, but the majority of people beleive it is better to keep the number of teams as low as possible. They act like bracket creep is the blob or something where once it starts spreading the number of teams will multiply into a hideous mass until the FBS season is just one large bracket with all 100+ teams.
So there it is. Not plain and simple and I agree not without flaws but I believe it is the best that can be done with the current circumstances. I do not see this system not helping college football become more popular than it already is. I have no silly delusion that this will assuage both sides of the argument but in the end my only hope is that something is done to make the great sport of college football crown a legitimate champion.
Note: This post has been amended a few times for accuracy and in interest of crafting the best possible system and may be tweaked again, it's an ongoing process.