College Football: The Real Problem (and Solution) with the BCS

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College Football: The Real Problem (and Solution) with the BCS

The Bowl Championship Series playoff and ranking system is one of the most scrutinized and debated topics in the world of sports.  No other sport, professional or college, lacks a postseason playoff.  Further, no other division in college football besides I-A lacks a postseason playoff.

It seems like more seasons than not there is controversy over the two teams that should play for the national championship.  This was extremely evident this past season, as we saw the first two-loss championship game participant since the institution of the BCS in 1998.

Many fans, analysts, and others argue that a playoff is the only way to crown a true champion.  This offseason the BCS even went through a proposal of a “Plus One” format to create a four-team postseason playoff. 

However, I argue that a BCS playoff would be a bad idea.  The current bowl system is very entertaining to watch and great for those teams involved.  Even though many bowls have become “watered down,” fans affiliated with teams in these bowls still strongly support their teams.

The best thing about Division I-A College Football, though, is the regular season.  It is in theory, and with a little tweaking can be in reality, a regular season playoff.  More than that, it has longer duration and includes more teams than any other major collegiate playoff system. 

In my opinion, and often in reality, once a team loses a game in the regular season they are no longer deserving of a national championship.  This is different from basically any other sport imaginable, but it is what makes college football so unique and exciting.  However, because of pre-set schedules it would be impossible to end the season with exactly two undefeated teams each year.

That is why the BCS ranking system is so important.  If either more than or fewer than two teams finish the season undefeated, a selection has to be made.  The worse of the two problems is by far when more than two teams are undefeated, because then more than two teams are deserving.

When one-loss teams (or even two-loss teams) are looked at, then it is still important to make a good selection, but each team in this situation should really consider themselves fortunate to be getting an opportunity. 

The worst season for the BCS was in 2004 when USC, Oklahoma, and Auburn all went undefeated.  A deserving team, Auburn, was left out.  In other years the ranking system has done a reasonable job of picking championship game participants based on information available.  However, a huge problem in many cases is a lack of information.

A good example of that is this past season with Kansas.  Kansas barely qualified for a BCS bowl, even though they were a major conference team with only one loss (recall that LSU played in the National Championship with two losses).  Kansas’ only loss was to Missouri, who was another top 10 team.

The only other team in the country who could make a similar argument was Ohio State, whose only loss was to Illinois.  However, Missouri was a better team than Illinois (they actually played at the beginning of the season).

The knock on Kansas was that they hadn’t beaten any quality opponents.  I find that to be a very poor argument.  Kansas beat who they were scheduled to play during Big 12 play, and they beat up on smaller schools in their non-conference schedule. Almost every other team in the country does the same thing—they schedule extremely weak non-conference teams and then play the schedule they are given in-conference.

Just because Kansas wasn’t given the opportunity to beat good teams does not mean they were incapable.  They actually proved their capability in the Orange Bowl by beating Virginia Tech convincingly.

That brings me to the real problem with college football: the regular season scheduling.  Many teams do not play enough quality competition to allow the BCS to accurately rank them at the end of the season.  This is the reason why teams like Kansas and Boise State (two years ago) get very little respect but end up performing extremely well in Bowl Games.

On the other side of the coin, there are teams like Hawaii that get much more respect than they deserve.  It’s simply too difficult to gauge how good a team is if they have not played quality competition. 

To solve this problem, I propose a modified scheduling structure.  This structure will give a stronger likelihood to teams having more losses at the end of the season, but it will allow teams to play more games against other teams that have performed at their level and also eliminate strong teams from having so many non-conference games against much weaker opponents. 

There should be two games (“Match-Up games”) for every team in a season that matches them with another team of approximately their level.  For college basketball fans, this is a similar idea to what Bracket Buster Sunday gives the mid-major teams.  Here is a sample schedule for a college football team to show you my proposed solution:

 

Game

Current Schedule

Proposed Schedule

1

Non-Conference (Home)

Non-Conference (Home)

2

Non-Conference (Away)

Conference (Home)

3

Non-Conference (Home)

Conference (Away)

4

Conference (Away)

Conference (Away)

5

Conference (Home)

Conference (Home)

6

Conference (Away)

Match-Up (Away)

7

Conference (Away)

Conference (Away)

8

Conference (Home)

Conference (Home)

9

Conference (Home)

Conference (Home)

10

Conference (Away)

Conference (Away)

11

Conference (Home)

Match-Up (Away)

12

Non-Conference/Rivalry (Home)

Non-Conference/Rivalry (Home)

13

Conference Championship (Neutral)

Conference Championship (Neutral)

14

Bowl (Neutral)

Bowl (Neutral)

 

The two match-up games would give lower-rated teams a chance to prove themselves, overrated teams a chance to fall, and strong teams two games that are less likely to be decided by 50 points.  The goal would be not as much to match up the teams who are absolutely alike in ability, but rather to match up teams that are generally the same level.

This solution should also diminish the reliance on preseason rankings, which are often highly inaccurate.  It is no secret that it takes a team ranked low to start the season a long time to climb to the top, while teams ranked at the top tend to not fall as much when they lose (unless you are Michigan and lose to a FCS team). 

The bowl system would remain the same.  It will just be much easier to pick qualified teams for the BCS games and for the national championship game because of more teams having better competition.  This way the entire season will truly be like a playoff with every game being extremely important. 

Some potential problems may lie in preparation for the match-up games.  Teams usually know their opponents well in advance and can collect tapes and other preparation materials for these teams.

However, because there is no Match-Up game at the very beginning of the season, teams can still be given at least two or three weeks' notice of their opponent before-hand.  This would be just as much time as for a bowl game and much more time than for a conference championship game.

Also, in addition to wanting easy wins, many teams schedule weaker teams at the beginning of the season to make sure their teams get confidence and are ready for more challenging teams.  I suggest allowing teams a preseason exhibition game to solve this issue.  The game would not count towards any standings but would allow teams to be better prepared.  It would also allow teams to generate more money from an extra game. 

The first thought to fix college football is always a postseason playoff, but with more thinking better solutions are out there.  A few NCAA-scheduled non-conference games, as I have suggested, is one way to fix that problem, and is something that I believe the NCAA should look into.

A true proposal would naturally have to be more detailed, but I just wanted to give an outline of what I think would improve the system.  I also look forward to hearing opinions and any modifications to these ideas.

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