Stop me if you've heard this before: college football needs a playoff! It needs a playoff like fish need water, like birds need trees, like I need caffeine.
It must happen sometime. Which is where this article comes in.
I've heard suggestions that entail an eight-team playoff. Reasonably sound, and not too out-of-this-world. However, that's thinking too small. Eight teams are not enough, whether you're talking about giving the non-traditional-power programs a shot at glory, total revenue that could be generated, or simply eating up the time that the full bowl schedule contains.
I think sixteen teams is doable, feasible, much more exciting, and better able to satisfy those money-grubbing, dirt-encrusted, slimeball businessmen masquerading as university presidents, conference commissioners and athletic directors. And the clinching factor...
...we won't have to scrap the BCS.
Playoff Seeding and Home-Field Advantage
There are more articles, comments, and general curse-words damning the BCS then I care to count or list. The concept of using computer formulas and several different human polls to decide who plays who in the games that matter is unnecessarily complex, which is horrible both for transparency concerns and publicity. It is a flawed, corrupt and misguided system--at least, if you use it to pick which two teams play for the national championship.
Picking sixteen teams and seeding them...well, this might be the BCS's true calling.
Here's how it would work: seed all the teams in one single bracket, 1 through 16, a la a March Madness regional. Guarantee the top seven seeds--and the home-field advantage that goes with them--to the six power-conference champions (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Big East, Pac-10 and SEC), as well as the highest-ranking mid-major conference champion. These seven would be seeded according to their BCS ranking, highest to lowest (Florida would have been the top seed last year, with Oklahoma #2).
As for the other nine participants, the BCS will be used to select the highest-ranking teams that remain. The top-ranking "wild-card" team would also get home-field advantage as the 8 seed, followed by the 9-16 seeds.
Obviously, this system places a big emphasis on winning your respective conference championship, like the current model. Being a conference champion entitles you to an advantage that can't be quantified--playing on your home field--as well as the potential revenues that hosting a playoff game would generate (but that's another section).
However, just because you were unlucky enough not to even get a crack at the conference title (like the teams in the Big 12 South last year, and at least one SEC team a year) doesn't mean you shouldn't get a chance to test your mettle in college football's Big Dance...provided you're ranked high enough to get in.
Neutral Sites: What To Do With The BCS Games
I'm thinking that while using the higher-seed-plays-at-home model is great for the first two rounds, it's not so good when you get to the national semifinals. And playing the national title game on anyone's home-field is simply unfair (USC has abused this with the Rose Bowl being as near as it is, but this is out of context). Besides, despite the tendencies of the newer generation to disdain tradition, we shouldn't completely abandon the sites of so many monumental moments in college football's history.
What I propose is that of the four BCS bowl sites, we use one to host the national title game (rotating every four years, of course) and two others to host the national semis. Hopefully, this puts the opposing teams more at ease, knowing they won't have to go into another team's yard for such enormous games.
However, this means that one BCS site will not be used in any given year. To help soften the blow, I suggest that this site be the one that hosted last year's national title game--the Fiesta, if I'm right in remembering. The site of the Fiesta, Glendale, Ari., would not be used this year by the tournament if this system were in place. It would, however, host a national semi over the next two years before the big one cycles around to it again.
While there will be some complaints (particularly from the separate Bowl Committees), this can definitely work in everybody's favor if they commit to it.
Scheduling: When Will They Actually Play?
In the basketball tournament, it takes three weeks for the eventual champion to play all six games. For football, expecting an eventual winner to play four games in three weeks is unreasonable. Therefore, it stands to reason that we give the teams at least one week between the end of their regular season and the start of the tournament.
There is a problem, however: Not every team ends their regular season at the same time. Because of conference championship games in the SEC, Big 12 and ACC, the seasons for those teams don't end until the beginning of December. By the time the tournament is ready to start, it will already be the middle of December.
A further challenge to scheduling is the fact that there's no way the networks will allow eight playoff games to be played on the same day, in overlapping time slots--they'd lose money if that happened, and losing money is the last thing everybody involved wants. If I were an executive, I'd suggest staggering the first round's games like this: two on Thursday (6 EST and 9 EST), two on Friday (6 and 9 EST), and the last four on Saturday (12, 3, 6, and 9 EST).
If possible, the teams that played conference championship games will play on Saturday, to give their teams the maximum amount of time to rest. While the champions would have a good chance to get a Saturday time, the losers (assuming they qualify for the tournament) would likely get the shaft, especially if they have to go West to play a conference champion on Thursday night.
The quarterfinals, which would be played during the third week of December, would be easier to schedule: a quarterfinal could be played during primetime on both Thursday and Friday, while the other two would be played on Saturday.
The semifinals would be most difficult, as they could clash with Saturday NFL games, and Monday Night Football's finale. There would be some long negotiations needed, but I think the NFL could be persuaded to cede the last Saturday of December for college football's national semifinals.
The national final will be played in the same slot as always: the second Monday of January.
Revenue: The "Real" Reason The Games Are Played
Now we get to the sticky part. The (literally) million dollar question everyone that isn't a fan, player, coach or analyst is asking: Can a playoff generate enough revenue to equal the bowl system?
I think anyone with a grain of sense can answer yes. Consider this: if a program like Florida or Oklahoma were to gain the top seed, they would play a program like Oregon State, Iowa, Boise State or Louisville at home--very good teams all, but they would be over-matched on the road. That hardly makes for good TV.
But, let's say that Texas finished fourth in the nation, earning them the eighth seed (since they didn't win the Big 12). Their opponent, Louisiana State, lost to Florida in the SEC title game, finishing sixth in the BCS and earning the ninth seed. These two teams would meet in the first round at Texas...a very sexy match-up, TV-wise. And if you were Florida, how would you feel knowing one of these two teams--two national championship-quality teams-- would be playing you in the next round?
Also, there's a very good chance that a champion from a weaker conference would play an almost-certain Top Ten team in the 7-10 and 6-11 match-ups at home. These ones would scream upset in a way only March Madness could.
Every first-round game has something for the casual football fan. All the games would sell out, tens of millions would watch on television, and the sponsors would be lining up to take advantage, even in these tough economic times. I figure that if the host schools keep 50% of the revenue they generate during their games and pool the rest into a general pot, and the bowl committees do the same in the national games, all 16 schools could be in for a nice payday.
They would split the revenue evenly amongst themselves--ensuring that all of them get a BCS bowl-like hunk of change. Some would inevitably get more than others, but that's the way the world works.
What About The Other Bowls?
In college basketball, there is the NIT, a second-tier tournament that is older than the NCAAs. That tournament accepts those that didn't make the Big Dance, ensuring that other teams still had the chance to make some money and give their players--especially their seniors--a well-deserved taste of postseason play.
The bowls in football could serve the same purpose. While the BCS bowls would be dissolved, the other bowls can be allowed to continue to operate as usual, under two conditions: that they have to choose their teams after the Tournament does, and that their games cannot overlap with those of the Tournament.
These bowls would be concerned with their own solvency only, and they'll be allowed to choose bowl- eligible teams from the conferences to which they have ties.
What About Notre Dame?
You seriously thought I'd forget about Notre Dame, right?
As usual, there will have to be special rules written in the language for independents. I puzzled over this one for awhile, but I think I've got a solution that could work for those with no conference affiliation.
Independents can qualify as usual, if they rank high enough. However, if an independent were to finish the regular season (the day after the conference championships) ranked in the top ten of the BCS standings, they would count as a conference champion, and be eligible for a home game in the first round. Obviously, only one independent can make use of this rule.
For example, if Notre Dame were to finish eighth in the standings, they would be included in the group of conference champions, denying a home game to the top wild-card team in the process. But, if the Golden Domers finish, say, 12th, they would not be eligible for a home game--and at 12th, would be unlikely to earn the top wild-card slot.
Confusing, I know, but blame Notre Dame. They're the ones that are refusing to join the Big Ten, after all.
Well, there it is. It's somewhat long, but I didn't want to do a usual half-baked "This is why the BCS sucks" article. If anyone has questions or concerns about my crazy idea, or if there's something I missed, don't hesitate to comment about it.