Every year the Bowl Championship Series choreographs the "No. 1" team in the nation against the "No. 2" for the right to be called National Champions. This current system continues to leave other worthy contenders no chance at the title, leaving coaches, players, and fans pleading for a playoff installment.
Before a discussion involving the playoff system occurs, an understanding of the current system has to be addressed.
The Bowl Championship Series, known to many as the BCS, is a series of five games. One of the five is the national championship game, pitting the top two teams in the country against each other. The other four games involve eight highly rated schools, aligned to "create exciting and competitive matchups."
The athletic director of Notre Dame and the 11 commissioners of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), along with representatives of the bowl system, decide who shall play in these five games. The reason why Notre Dame is so special as to have its own athletic director with such power is due to Notre Dame being an independent school, not affiliated with any of the conferences.
Now there aren’t just five bowl games. Altogether there are 32 bowl games—the BCS is just the cream filling inside a large bowl system. 32 games means 64 teams are invited to partake in a bowl game out of a possible 119 teams. If the percentages are calculated, that’s more than half of the nation's teams making a postseason trip.
Joey Fosko of the Paducah Sun makes a valid point in his article, “Ranting on BCS’s formula irresistible.” Created in 1998, the BCS began by using three computers to help determine the national championship game and produced four games instead of the current five.
In the first stages of the BCS, a “safeguard” was installed to eliminate the chances of one computer destroying one team’s chances of making it into the championship game.
Doug Hartman further explains how the “safeguard” was calculated, elaborating that, "A team's worst ranking would not be allowed to be more than 50 percent beyond the average of the better two rankings. Should the worst score be beyond the safety net, it was to be replaced with the safety net value. If the worst score did not exceed the safety net, then it was allowed to remain."
Based on this arrangement, if Texas had a ranking of 2, 4, and 6, and California had rankings of 3, 4, and 5, Texas would get into the championship game even though understandably both teams had the same average.
Luckily these changes were fixed before the next season, and the BCS didn’t have to live the nightmare which would have been delivered, because fortunately for the BCS the teams involved in the possible nightmare lost, and the BCS survived a controversy.
Five years later a nightmare did appear for the BCS, when Louisiana State University (LSU) and University of Southern California (USC) became co-national champions in 2003, creating the most controversial issue in NCAA history. The LSU Tigers, ranked second in the nation, played the number one team Oklahoma, and the Tigers defeated the Sooners.
The third-ranked USC Trojans also beat their opponent, and at the end of the season both teams had only one loss and similar points when strength of schedule and other polls were involved, ultimately declaring both teams champions of the 2003 season.
After this horrendous incident, the system was changed once again. The changes for the 2004 season were calibrated into the teams of the 2003 season, and it revealed that LSU and USC “would have met in the game that everyone had been speculating about."
The point is that every year the BCS remodels and or changes flaws that have been exposed by others. Over its nine-year history, the BCS has added the importance of strength of schedule, an Associated Press (AP) poll which didn’t want to be a part of the BCS after seven years, a possibility of a fan poll, added more computers, and even changed the percentage worth of polls (Dufresne).
The reality is that no matter how many years the BCS continues to fix flaws, the only real solution is a playoff system. College football continues to clog water spouts with pieces of gum, creating more pressure instead of just installing a new wall.
The ideal answer to the many conflicts of who should be in and who should be out of the National Championship game is a playoff system. A playoff system is in effect in Division II and III—why not Division I?
A playoff system would guarantee an undisputed champion. There are no complaints on any system that actually has a playoff, other than team performance, but that is a given.
Some will mention that a four- or an eight-team playoff structure would be plenty to find the champion, but the reality is that a 16-team playoff is the only fair system proposal, especially when realizing that both Division II and III have 16 teams.
The reason why 16 teams are so magical is that it would be enough to include every conference champion and five spots for highly rated teams in the toughest conferences.
A tournament would give the same, if not more excitement then the current March Madness basketball tournament. The majority of the tournament would take place in December, so a name like December Delirium seems fitting. December Delirium would showcase 16 competitive teams battling for the right to be called national champions.
To be honest, the word “national champion” has lost some meaning over the years. Not to take anything away from the official “national champion,” but as stated earlier, LSU had as much right to claim themselves as the champions in 2003 as USC. To make things even more appalling, three teams had undefeated records the very next year.
The BCS is afraid that the playoff system would mean that the regular season would lose meaning.
Mike Tranghese, the Big East Commissioner, explained the importance of the regular season: "Bowl games bring a measure of importance to the regular season not seen in other sports. If teams are simply playing for seeding for a playoff, the outcomes would not mean as much, and the interest and excitement, likewise, would not be as feverish..."
Former West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez also said, “Every game is a playoff. Once you lose one game, you’re mostly out."
Michael O’steen, a current college athlete and a previous writer about this subject, finds this quote comical, agreeing with the fact that “the BCS requires a perfect record to get into the only meaningful game.”
O’steen emphasizes that the power conferences that started this alliance often complain that it’s too hard to pull off an undefeated record. So basically the power conferences that once set up the Bowl Championship Series cartel are finally getting tired of getting shorted by the system they created.
A playoff system could provide true contenders who might have accidentally slipped up once, or even actually improved during the regular season, a second chance.
Bowl Background also offers insight that Bowls are part of tradition, being “a part of college football for 90 years.” The selection committee—not only of the BCS, but the entire bowl system—“provides meaningful season-ending opportunities to teams."
There would be no reason to get rid of all bowl games if a playoff was installed. Bowl games could still be intact for the other teams who weren’t good enough to be in the tournament but would still provide job security for the coaches, payday for the institution, and even better, a fun road trip for their fans.
One fact almost disturbing is that some critics argue that class time would be missed if extra games were installed. The harsh reality for those critics is that the two teams that are bound for the national championship game are authorized a minimum of five off weeks between the last regular season game and the championship game.
The talk of players missing class time is unrealistic: Anyone who has ever gone to school knows that December is when winter break begins. Even if missing class was an issue, football players still would miss the least amount of class time compared to any other major collegiate sport. The games are played on Saturdays, a day where classes aren’t even open.
The BCS argues that bowl games give the opportunity for teams to end the season on a high note, not only for the players, but also for the institution by gaining revenue. According to Bowl Background, “the more revenue the bowl brings in through ticket sales, sponsors, etc., the more money can be paid to NCAA schools.”
To believe that the BCS is all about generating money is a fair assumption to make. The BCS is simply afraid of the playoff idea because they can’t predict what type of revenue would be produced due to a playoff.
But with a playoff system installed, logically the power teams are more likely to win most of the early round games. Thus they would continue to get extra bites at the apple, because each week that they survive, they also continue gaining revenue. This is especially true if the games are played at the site of the better seed, meaning more ticket sales, equaling more money made.
Altogether there should be 15 playoff games instead of the BCS’s current five. Instead of watching a great team like Michigan take on poorly rated New Hampshire State in the currently meaningless bowl game setup, Michigan could have the opportunity to play another great team like Auburn in the third round of the playoffs.
This overall means that more people are going to watch a Michigan-Auburn matchup in a game that decides who will play powerhouse Florida, rather then a “Your-Sponsorship-Here Bowl” where only fans of the teams playing would watch.
Don’t get too excited, college football, but that once again suggests revenue increase.
The fact that over half the teams make it to a bowl game means this is not a postseason—it’s a kindergarten awards ceremony where everybody gets a ribbon.
The current college football structure needs a new engine. Sure, the brakes and tires have been replaced, but the little improvements are worthless until a new engine is installed.
The truth is, no matter how much complaining is done by outsiders, the owner has to realize the damage and fix the problem.