As of Tuesday January 8, 2008, the LSU Tigers are the National Champions of college football. The Bayou Bengals were picked by countless pundits in the preseason to be in the national title game and potentially win it. They are clearly one of the best teams in the country, certainly one of the most talented. The problem? We don't know if they're the best team in the country. But that does not mean the BCS is illegitimate.
Ok, so that was months ago and we have moved on. But have we really? This playoff idea continues to come up and people don't seem to get that the system does not work as poorly as one may think. To be clear, I am not a BCS supporter, and have not been for some time now. This year in college football was one of the craziest in history. There seems to be little discussion about that. After Kansas defeated Virginia Tech, USC drilled Illinois, and Georgia decimated Hawaii, all four teams seem to have legitimate cases for being considered the best team in the country. The problem is, the BCS does not determine the best team in college football, it determines a champion. Oh wait, that is exactly what the Super Bowl does, what the NCAA basketball tournament does, and any other playoff system you can think of. When the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Detroit Tigers to win the World Series, we did not say "The Cardinals are the best team in baseball." We said "The Cardinals are World Series Champions." The Cardinals played their best baseball in the playoffs and beat an inexperienced Tigers team. That is how champions are crowned.
Another big hurdle to denounce the BCS, they do get it right. The very first BCS Title game, Tennessee was the best team in the country and everyone knew it. They won the game, and there was no debate, the BCS had worked. Would a playoff have proved that? Maybe not. What would happen if Vince Young's Texas team hadn't met Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush in the BCS championship because VY got hurt in a playoff. We never would have had one of the greatest game in the history of the sport. The 2001 Miami team who won it all, was one of the greatest teams of all time. 2003, 2004, and now 2007 have been the only times when legitimate cases could be made for split national championships. The system HAS worked.
The biggest hurdle to a playoff is simply that it is not plausible. In order to get to a plus 1 or 8 team playoff would likely mean getting rid of conference title games. However, a number of conferences have divisions now because of size and as a result need a conference championship game to crown a champion. In order to get to a playoff system, we would have to completely rearrange a number of conferences in order to create balance among conferences. That may not be a terrible idea, but college football is, and always has been about tradition. Lately, it is about the money. Too much money in bowls, conference championship games, and big divisions.
In a perfect world, I would love an eight team playoff. Football is not like March Madness, and there are not serious upsets even available because there is no 5-12 match-up. It would simply be 8 power house teams playing an extra 3 games MAXIMUM. Ditch the conference championship games and make it an 11 game season for everyone in the country. Then take the conference champions from the power conferences and two other highest rated teams in the country much like in the NFL. Simply taking the top 8 ranked teams does not reward conference champions enough and assumes some sort of balance among conferences, which we know to be untrue. The NFL system rarely leaves out deserving teams or includes undeserving teams, and the lack of balance between the AFC and NFC would be eliminated because the national rankings are not affected by a conference split. If anything, a college playoff system with 8 teams eliminates the kind of unbalance we see in the NFL or NBA when one conference is clearly superior.
A plus 1 only works AFTER the bowls, which is completely ridiculous because part of the problem of the bowls is A.) there are about 25 too many and B.) the layoff between the end of the season and bowl season is far too long. If you give every team a bye week, then take a week off before the playoffs, with an additional week before the national championship much like the Super Bowl. We are looking at a similar schedule in turns of the season being over. There would be no 50 day layoffs, or advantages to those who play championship games. There are 117 Division 1A schools; taking 8 out and keeping bowls like the Fiesta, Sugar, Orange, and Rose Bowls as sights for the playoffs does not, in any way, take away from the ability for the rest of the bowls to attain reasonable match-ups for the other 25+ bowl games. In the NFL and NBA they hand out championship trophies for winning conference titles on the way to the finals, there is no reason not to say a team can take a meaningful win out of a bowl that means nothing in directly determining a national title.
Well, that is exactly what the bowl games are now. You reward the students, so give the m a chance to play for something REAL. The BCS is the best system we have right now, and it is the only way to crown a "champion" given the structure and priorities of college football administrators. Don't be too quick to jump on the anti-BCS bandwagon. Parody in college football is like parody in college basketball: it will continue to bring more talent to more schools, because even small schools have a shot at getting in the BCS bowl picture. A playoff system would create the kind of buzz the NFL Playoffs and March Madness brings, I'm pretty sure they find ways to make money off of that. Change it to an eight team playoff and we will argue about that. But then, maybe we'll have the system befitting a game with such tradition and history.