As I alluded to in my previous article, the single best thing that can be done for college football is to create a playoff in place of the BCS National Championship.
This has been more or less common knowledge for at least the past decade, and the idea has been around longer than that. The great thing is, now the BCS is finally coming to the same realization.
Sure, the highly-probable move to a playoff format is coming too late for those Utah, Cincinnati and TCU teams, but we’re making progress here. On the other hand, the BCS is still fairly insistent upon keeping out teams like Boise State, Oregon and Kansas State.
The BCS is finally inching towards the direction that the college football fan base has been pushing, but inching is about all that it’s doing. While it’s true that none of the options on the table are two-team choices, it’s also true that none of them feature more than four teams. Everything points toward a Final Four—but that’s not good enough.
Including four teams in the bid for a championship is a 100-percent improvement, but it still leaves a decent amount of room for bias on the part of the BCS rankings. All they have to do is keep the mid-majors out of the top four, and they’re set. Who knows, they might even manage to pack the playoff spots with all-SEC teams again.
At any rate, pushing for an eight- or 16-team playoff format seems like the best way to go to ensure that all of the viable championship candidates are included. The BCS, though, has stated that such options aren’t even on the table, because including more than four teams would “diminish the regular season and harm the bowls.”
The bowls are doing badly enough on their own—they’re too numerous to be valuable, and only one of the 35 games actually matters for anything. But that’s the makings of a different article. Suffice it to say that protecting the bowls in such a way won’t really matter much in the long run.
How many teams should have a right to vie for the National Championship?
Claiming that a multi-team playoff would diminish the regular season, on the other hand, really bothers me.
I find it funny that every other sport under the sun uses a playoff, and it doesn’t seem to diminish their seasons. Take a look at every other level of football: Division III college football has 32 teams in their playoff; Div. II has 24; the FCS has 20; even the NFL has 12.
The BCS, alone, has a single game that determines the national champion. I'm of the opinion that staking an entire season's success on a single game, like undefeated LSU did when the championship was awarded to Alabama on the basis of valuing a single game over an entire season of work, is a concept that actually diminishes the regular season.
The BCS claims that they want to look out for the student-athletes’ best interests by making the bowl games a one-shot affair, where the teams are treated like conquering heroes in the cities they play in as opposed to shuttling to different cities each week for the month of December for another rough game. So they don’t want to treat the players like pros but instead celebrities?
In every other division of the sport, the players are content to go out and play the game. They work their way through a tough championship bracket, playing as many as five games after the conclusion of the regular season, in order to prove their mettle and secure a title. I’m all for getting student-athletes into the community and using their influence positively, but the primary purpose of playing football is to play football.
That’s exactly what I would propose for the FBS. The teams that comprise the BCS should have an eight-game playoff, drawing from the top eight teams in the rankings—no matter what conference they are from, and no matter how many other teams from that conference are already in the playoff.
The playoff would be in a simple bracket, with one playing eight, two playing seven, and so forth. The lower-seeded team should play at the higher-seeded team’s home stadium. This would be more fair to cold-weather teams, who never get to play postseason games at home, and small-conference teams, who don’t have a BCS bowl tie-in.
The playoff would begin two weeks after the conclusion of the regular season to give the players some time to rest, recuperate and prepare strategy. That would make it wrap up about the same time as the current national championship game is played.
Taking only the top eight teams ensures that the teams in the playoff all deserve to be there, and it also leaves plenty of solid teams for the bowl games. Taking 16 teams would remove most of the teams worth watching from bowl season, although it would make for a great playoff.
Most importantly, an eight-team playoff includes all of the teams that would have a case for inclusion in the current BCS National Championship. The days of snubs would be, to a large extent, over, and the fans could just sit back and watch the champions make their case on the field.
The BCS may not like it, but when the likes of South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier thinks that an eight-team playoff is an eventuality, it might just be time for them to get out of the way and let the teams play.