Eight teams. Three weeks. One champion.
I've wanted to write this article for a long time, but held back considering the overdose of discussion on the subject in the preseason. However the time has come to deliver the argument to end all arguments (no, I am not crazy enough to believe there won't be people who hate this idea) against the BCS and for a playoff system, because despite the efforts of the littles of the world -- Boise State and TCU -- their BCS conference opponents have once again made it nearly impossible to crash the National Championship Game party.
For the sake of full disclosure, I am absolutely in favor of the BCS over the system used before 1998. The BCS is nowhere near perfect, but it's better than what we had before. It's just time now to take the next step.
As Michael Wilbon so aptly put it earlier this week during his weekly segement on the Tony Kornheiser Radio Show, "Viriginia Tech let Boise State beat them twice." Here's the major problem; while highly embarrassing, Virginia Tech's loss to FCS school James Madison does not end any chance the Hokies have of reaching a BCS Bowl. It's perfectly conceivable that Virginia Tech recovers enough to win a putrid ACC and receives the automatic bid to one of the major bowls.
Besides the obvious, how is this so unfair to Boise State? It's simple; Virginia Tech lost their opportunity to reach the ultimate goal -- the National Championship Game -- through their own actions by losing to Boise. From the first week of the season, the Hokies were already delegated to winning the ACC or not receiving a BCS bid.
Boise State, through no fault of its own, now has almost zero chance of sneaking in to the National Championship Game because their best opponent during the regular season decided to no-show in Week 2. Sure, if Boise goes undefeated in the regular season they will undoubtedly play in a BCS game, but due to reasons the team could not control their ultimate goal is almost assuredly unattainable.
The most frustrating aspect of the problem the BCS system causes is that the answer is right in front of us, yet no one seems to have seen the light. My solution is relatively simple and I believe it appeases almost everyone. Even the purists may have to take a moment and consider this idea. If I'm able to achieve that, I'll mark this down as a victory.
Eight teams, three weeks, one true National Champion. (Dates based off 2011 calendar).
Week One. The top eight teams (still determined by the BCS voting system or something like it) in the country square off on January 1st (Saturday) and January 3rd (Monday) at the four BCS Bowl sites. All other minor bowls are played as presently constituted leading up to and on New Years Day. With the rankings as they currently stand in the AP Poll, the games and locations would look like this:
1) Alabama vs. 8) Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl.
4) TCU vs. 5) Oregon in the Rose Bowl.
3) Boise State vs. 6) Texas in the Orange Bowl.
2) Ohio State vs. 7) Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.
Week Two. The four teams left standing play each other at the site of the highest seed at the start the tournament. Meaning, the winner of TCU/Oregon will play the winner of Alabama/Nebraska at the Fiesta Bowl, and Boise/Texas play OSU/Oklahoma at the Sugar Bowl. Clearly the higher seeds entering the tournament gain an advantage here of not having to travel each week. Also, geographically this works out very well, as the trip from Pasadena to Glendale and from Miami to New Orleans are both pretty tame. These games take place on January 10th and 12 (Monday and Wednesday) in order to avoid the NFL Playoffs. Teams each get nine days to recover and prepare for the semifinal. The top seeded team, in this case Alabama, plays on January 10th so that if they win and move on, they receive the advantage of two extra days rest leading to the final. A fitting reward I think for entering the tournament as the number one team in the country.
Week Three. The National Championship Game is played in the Rose Bowl on Wednesday, January 19th, again to avoid the NFL Playoffs. Each year the four BCS sites rotate in significance, just like they do now, so that in 2012 the Orange Bowl would hold the final game, and so forth.
Here are eight reasons this system works on every level, from fan enjoyment all the way up to the NCAA as a whole:
1) Three out of the four BCS bowl locations have two games played at their site every year, instead of the way it is now when only one site receives two games -- the normal bowl game and the title game.
2) All other bowl games are still played just like now. These games are not minimized any more than they are today, and all worthy teams and players get to enjoy the celebration of their season the way they always have and still should.
3) The timing is perfect, as all games occur over Winter Break so no classes are missed. As I mentioned already, this system avoids any problem with the NFL by playing the games during the week, just like the NCAA does now with its BCS games. Since the NFL and NCAA work together in terms of scheduling, this will make both sides happy.
4) While I know this aspect is not perfect, travel remains relatively geographic as I mentioned above. Only one team through the whole playoff has to travel across the country, and since the games take place over a break from school there should be no concern over timing. Not all fans would be able to afford the time or money to attend all of these games, but it's crazy to think each game will not sell out.
5) I'll ask a question to shut down this particular argument: Would you rather have the third ranked team or the ninth ranked team in the country complain about being left out? I won't feel bad for #9, because they will have blown their chance to make the field during the regular season.
6) Speaking of which, under this system the regular season in college football is still of paramount importance. The pressure is still on every single week to avoid a bad loss and make a statement to the voters. Also, you cannot tell me this system bastardizes the importance of the regular season we have now when Virginia Tech could still conceivably reach a BCS bowl. Yes, a team that lost to James Madison can still play in one of the top five games of the year. That would never happen in a playoff system.
7) This leads into the idea some have had regarding the involvement of each conference champion in a playoff system. I'll quickly shoot this down by asking if the winner of the ACC or Big East this year should really be automatically involved. Let's make the system a complete meritocracy instead of a half-hearted one.
8) Needless to say, the NCAA would like this in terms of financial rewards, and I believe university presidents would be much more hesitant to poo-poo the idea when they see how little has really changed. The only differences are a maximum of 15 games for two schools and a lot more money. With regard to the extra games, I would prefer to have this playoff system take away conference championship games, but there's no way that will happen so I won't even bother.
I would love to hear other opinions and arguments against this system, so have at it. And hey, what's more fun than hypothetical arguments about events that in all likelihood won't happen for five years, if ever?