College Football 2012: What Should a 4-Team BCS Playoff Look Like?

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College Football 2012: What Should a 4-Team BCS Playoff Look Like?
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College football’s highest subdivision will finally have a playoff.

After meeting for two days in Hollywood, Florida, the 11 conference commissioners and Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick agreed to scrap the current system when it expires in 2014 and replace it with a four-team playoff. The group will discuss “two to seven” proposals when they meet again in June.

Even though the conference commissioners have decided to implement a playoff, they still need to iron out some of the details.  They have the daunting task of determining which four teams will qualify for the playoff. They also need to figure out where and when each game will take place.

With so many proposals in front of them, what should the conference commissioners do?

For starters, they need to reinstate the quality win component into the BCS calculations. Under this rule change, a win over a team ranked No. 25 in the BCS standings will deduct .04 from a team’s BCS total. The value will increase by .04 as the opponent’s ranking goes up, with a victory over the No. 1 team resulting in a full one-point deduction from the final tally.

Adding this feature back to the BCS formula will fix some of the human bias that exists in the current system. Alabama qualified for the BCS title game last year because voters in both polls—including Alabama’s Nick Saban and Missouri’s Gary Pinkel—voted Oklahoma State fourth on the final ballot.

Adjusting the formula would also reward teams that beat elite competition. This will encourage top teams to schedule tough non-conference games instead of playing glorified scrimmages against FCS foes.

With the quality-win component in place, the final BCS standings should have no trouble determining the best four teams in the country.

Why is this important? A new playoff system must select the top four teams. After all, the purpose of the BCS is to “ensure that the two top-rated teams in the country meet in the national championship game."

Despite its stated intention to get the best teams on the gridiron for the national championship game, several of the proposals in front of the conference commissioners fail to do this. One of these plans calls for a “champions only” clause, which states that only conference champions will qualify for the playoff.  Other plans call for the establishment of a BCS Selection Committee, which would select the teams for the playoff to make sure that the “right” teams qualify.

Unfortunately, neither of these plans will guarantee that the best four teams make the playoffs every season. If the playoff system had adopted the “champions only” rule since the inception of the BCS in 1998, at least one of the four top teams would not have made the field 71 percent of the time. Establishing a selection committee would not solve the problem either, because its members would have the freedom to pick whatever teams it wanted to, regardless of ranking.

The only way to guarantee the top four teams play for the national championship is to select the four highest-rated teams in the final BCS standings. With the modified BCS formula in place, the playoff system would get the four best teams on the field every time. It would consider a team’s entire body of work, rather than how they performed the first week in December.

The next question in front of the conference commissioners is “who should host the playoff games?” Some proposals call for campus sites to host the games, while others want the existing BCS games to host these contests.

What’s the solution? Simple: split the difference between the two.  Under this plan, the higher-seeded teams get to pick a neutral site for the semifinal games. A school could choose to play at an NFL stadium or at one of the existing bowl sites. Since these venues routinely deal with large crowds, BCS officials do not have to worry about the logistical problems associated with a game of such magnitude.

This proposal will make the playoff system more equitable than the bowl system is now.  Currently, most bowl games are played in a warm weather climate, which puts the schools from the North at a disadvantage. However, under the new system, a team from a cold weather climate could choose to either play in the elements at a venue like Lambeau Field or a controlled environment such as Lucas Oil Stadium.

The National Championship game will rotate every season, with the game being awarded to the highest bidder. This provides the same type of electricity at the National Championship game as there is at the Super Bowl.

The final thing that the conference commissioners need to figure out is when the games will take place.

Semifinal round games should take place two weeks after “Championship Saturday.” This will provide each team plenty of time to get healthy and install some new wrinkles for the next game. It will also prevent teams from experiencing any rust from a month-long layoff.

The National Championship Game will be played the first Monday following January 1.  By playing the game on this date, the title game will still have an exclusive time slot but will not interfere with the New Year’s Day bowl games or the NFL games.

If the BCS officials adopt the suggestions made above, they will finally have a credible, objective system for crowning a national champion.

This is something college football fans have been waiting for since the creation of the Bowl Coalition in 1992.

You can follow Terry Johnson on Twitter @TPJCollFootball

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