BCS System vs. Playoff System: Debating the Pros and Cons of Each Format

Matt Fitzgerald@@MattFitz_geraldCorrespondent IIINovember 30, 2012

BCS System vs. Playoff System: Debating the Pros and Cons of Each Format

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    The new four-team playoff in college football is tabbed to begin in 2014, but until then there is much to be debated about its specifics and whether it is a superior alternative to the current BCS system.

    While it could be argued that dismantling the current Bowl Championship Subdivision format would diminish the significance of the regular season (h/t BigEast.org), it is a smart middle ground to have a small playoff for now. That way, there is still a ton of room for other bowl games and plenty of opportunity for revenue.

    But who wouldn't love more football, which is what would happen with a larger playoff system?

    Here is a weighing of the pros and cons between the current format of college football's postseason and the proposed, incremental change that is taking place a couple of years from now.

BCS Pro: If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It

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    As polarizing as the BCS can be, it certainly creates plenty of interest around the sport. Getting people interested and engaging in debate is ultimately how college football is so successful, and the BCS has a huge hand in generating that discourse.

    So why change it? Would college football be less interesting without it?

    The system appears to be flawed, but it ignites strong reactions from people on both sides of the spectrum. And it makes a lot of money.

    Particularly because BCS advocates seem to be in the minority—since, you know, a unanimous decision to implement the new playoff system was reached by those involved—the pot continues to be stirred. That's never a bad thing for those with a stake in the sport.

    The computer rankings are based on wacky statistical formulas, yet it's precisely the element of unpredictability that allows the system to serve its purpose.

Playoff Con: 4 Teams Doesn't Go Far Enough

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    Go big or go home.

    If there's going to be a playoff, it might as well include more than four teams. Does the little man/mid-major have any more of a chance than before of being included?

    Perhaps, but it's unlikely that the playoff selection committee would risk picking a non-power conference team with a superior record over a traditional elite program in the fear of losing viewers and a blowout outcome.

    Although creating more games in the postseason may shorten the regular season as a result, it would cut out some of the excess on schedules. Top programs would likely only schedule one cupcake game and seek out tougher competition more frequently.

    The enhancement in quality and stakes of fewer regular season games would be worth implementing a bigger playoff.

Playoff Pro: No More Automatic Qualification

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    Maybe the smaller programs do have a better chance. The rotation of the four big bowls—Rose, Sugar, Fiesta and Orange—will all play host to semifinal games four times in the 12-year deal approved by the commissioners, according to Mark Schlabach of ESPN.

    But the introduction of two new bowls from the four-team playoff makes for seven total big-time games rather than five—two semifinals, championship Monday and four marquee bowl games.

    This means that teams from the SEC, ACC, Big East, Big Ten and Pac-12 will all be able to get into these games easily, but from there it's a matter of choice by the proposed 15-person committee.

    Maybe the programs that aren't quite top-notch will struggle initially to break into the semifinals. That said, having better odds of playing in a prominently featured bowl game will give them more hope—and something slightly more "realistic" to shoot for.

    Teams like Boise State, TCU and Utah have run the table in recent years and not really gotten a consolation prize.

    Schlabach's report also notes that experts predict more revenue should be generated from the playoff system, which will only help those mid-major schools even more.

    Just imagine the ramifications of one of those programs winning a semifinal and emerging victorious in the title game.

BCS Con: The Computer Rankings

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    The element that makes this current setup so effective in the eyes of some drives most people up the wall with its unpredictability.

    Consider: if it were up to only these statisticians' mind-blowing postulations, Florida would be the No. 2 team in the nation right now.

    The same Gators team that barely beat Missouri and Louisiana-Lafayette and had some trouble with Jacksonville State would be ranked ahead of both Georgia and Alabama despite those two playing for the SEC championship on Saturday.

    To say the least, it would cause serious outrage—and diminish the significance of Saturday's showdown. Thankfully the "human" polls are here to save us, although the computers are just humans who come up with silly equations to determine the fate of others.

    Another big aspect of the computers is that they hate the underdogs, due to their perceived weakness of schedule. A lot of intrigue can be created with the power conference teams, but a greater chance of dismissal of the smaller programs is imminent with the continued madness of the computers.

    I'm sure I'm not the only one who wants to go all Office Space style on those machines—whatever they look like, wherever they are.

BCS Pro: Ramifications of More Teams on National Stage

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    Teams that go .500 are essentially guaranteed a postseason game in college football these days. In what would otherwise be a bummer of a year, the players have something to shoot for even if their school starts off the year horrendously and quickly ejects itself from the national and conference title pictures.

    With this game, the school gets a nice payday, the teams have the opportunity to be together one last time and there is more football across the board for everyone. Sounds like a win-win scenario.

    Another benefit to this format is that lower-caliber teams that may even reside in the reputedly best conferences in the country get a chance to prove their worth against at least a decent opponent from another conference.

    It's always exciting to see how, say, the worst postseason team in the SEC stacks up with a mediocre or high-end team from another conference.

    The hope provided by these games also goes a little distance toward creating more parity in college football. That can only benefit smaller schools and upstart programs over time. By not having the playoffs, it doesn't subtract from the significance of the other massive amounts of bowls.

Playoff Con: Diminished Importance of Other Bowls

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    Some bowl ratings suffer just because the matchups simply aren't intriguing sometimes. But would the games between even some of the nation's marquee teams be as meaningful in light of a new playoff system?

    To the players and coaches, it's another game to strut their stuff, but it might suffer from a lack of viewership and revenue due to the increased attention a playoff system would bring.

    For teams that can make it into the coveted Top Four, it's a massive gain.

    But it's a devastating loss to those who don't, particularly smaller schools. Not only do they lose out on getting a huge bonus that could do wonders in helping them build a program, even to join a big-time conference someday—they are relegated to some other bowl that hardly anyone will watch.

    The brutality and narrowed focus that this playoff system could bring are dangerous to those who reap benefits from the lower-profile bowl games.

Playoff Pro: Implementation of 15-Person Committee

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    The BCS computers may be out the window—or smashed in an open field—but a new human element of controversy could emerge with the 15-person committee that will choose the four national finalists.

    Certainly the AP poll and USA TODAY will play some factor, and it has been noted that this new committee will take into account the aspects the computers have—only without the obscure statistics.

    Strength of schedule will play a factor, whether the team is a conference champion or not, as will how the teams in question have fared against each other head-to-head, if applicable. While this could be a more efficient system than the BCS, there is still bound to be controversy.

    If the BCS were still used as the determining factor, there would be no need for a committee—it would essentially be out of human control as far as who went to the playoffs and who was slated for other bowls.

    This 15-person committee could be a source of new, fresh and polarizing debate, but it should also clear up some of the imperfections that have had so many complaining about the BCS and keyed this change in the first place.

BCS Con: Watered-Down Competition

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    As one example of this, Georgia Tech will be bowl eligible in 2012 even if it drops the ACC title game to Florida State to fall to 6-7 on the year.

    If that's not watering down the competition, then there never was such a thing. However, some of the bowl-game matchups are nothing short of underwhelming. Although it no doubt benefits those schools, it doesn't do much for the popularity of college football as a whole.

    The exclusivity of the BCS tending to favor the traditionally great conferences often results in great mid-major teams squaring off against horrible competition. That's despite the fact that there is a chance they could compete with the nation's best.

    It's a double-edged sword, though.

    Some of the BCS' Top Five teams do get a great bowl but have to play a terrible team, and it turns into a no-win situation for the bowl selectors. They have to decide between someone who has an automatic bid instead of a higher-ranked team that would produce a better product.

    This may call for an overhaul in the conference-locked selection processes of the other bowls currently in place.

    Perhaps a human-friendly change for the four-team playoff can have a trickle-down effect in that regard.

Playoff Con: Too Many Repeated Matchups from Regular Season

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    If the SEC continues its reign of dominance, there could be multiple instances in the first couple of years of the playoff system where there would be rematches of regular season clashes between those conference foes.

    That would be a catastrophic occurrence for the new system as it begins, as fans would cry favoritism for the nation's deepest conference and become fed up with the same matchups replaying themselves.

    Say that the playoffs were in effect this year. The semifinals would pit No. 1 Notre Dame against No. 4 Florida and No. 2 Alabama against No. 3 Georgia.

    Those latter two will actually play this weekend, so let's take one of them out of the picture. Say that somehow the Bulldogs pull off the upset. In that context, it would be Notre Dame facing Oregon and Georgia facing Florida—despite the fact that the two played earlier this season, with the Bulldogs winning 17-9.

    Even last year's national championship couldn't avoid a rubber match between Alabama and LSU. Despite the fact that the Tigers beat the Crimson Tide earlier in 2011, they lost when it counted most.

    These problems could continue to arise down the road, and it would ultimately go against one of the main objectives that the playoff system is trying to accomplish: being fairer to the non-elite programs.


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    The four-team playoff is an excellent compromise for now. It feeds the widespread fan demand for a more perceptibly just postseason while not inconveniently lengthening the year, which would be taxing on administration officials, academics, players, coaches and everyone else involved.

    With this 12-year deal locked in and receiving apparently ringing endorsements from conference commissioners, it doesn't seem likely that substantial change will occur for quite some time.

    Even if the committee of 15 people that chooses the four-team playoffs and seeds them turns out to be controversial, it can't be wackier than the BCS computers. That madness can finally be laid to rest come 2014.

    In any event, the best team will be able to distinguish itself from two of the season's best once the year comes to a close. That was the end goal of having a playoff system, after all.

    Despite concerns about regular season rematches and potential preferential treatment still given to big conferences, there should be enough parity to produce the incredible upsets fans have grown accustomed to.

    As long as rematches in the final game can at least be attempted to be circumvented as they couldn't be last year, the four-team playoff should be a success.