To coincide with the release of the first BCS poll of the 2008 season, it seemed like an appropriate time to introduce my plan for a six team, college football playoff in 1,100 words or less.
To begin with, the playing field isn’t level for all teams. Almost every team plays 12 games. Almost every team belongs to a conference, but not all conferences host a championship game. Some conferences, the Big East for example, only play seven conference games, while other conferences play eight, giving teams like Louisville and West Virginia five non-conference games, thus improving their chances of earning a BCS Bowl berth by scheduling three or four cupcakes.
Here’s the fix. Every team plays the same number of total games (11 or 12) and the same number of conference games (8). Every conference holds a championship game. Your team doesn’t belong to a conference? Join one.
Of the BCS conferences, only one doesn’t have enough teams to play an eight game schedule, the Big East. If Notre Dame, Army and Navy joined, there would be more than enough teams. If a team refuses to join a conference, they are no longer eligible for the playoffs.
Incidentally, Notre Dame would annually play one of the toughest schedules, and meet all of the forthcoming qualifications for playoff eligibility just by keeping some of their traditional rivalries like Stanford, USC and Michigan if they joined the Big East or the Big Ten.
With all teams playing the same number of conference games, it then becomes a matter of the non-conference portion of the schedule. To keep the playing field even, teams can only play one 1AA (FCS) team, and if they choose to schedule a 1AA team, their remaining non-conference games must be against BCS conference opponents.
If they choose not to play a 1AA opponent, then at least one of their games out of conference must be against a BCS conference team. At least one of the non-conference games must be played on the road during an 11 game schedule, two during a 12 game season.
Now that every team is playing the same number of conference games and regulations are in place to limit the number of weak opponents a team can schedule, the current BCS formula will work, only with two minor tweaks. One, as long as a team is undefeated, and meets all of the above criteria, they remain in the playoff hunt.
And two, teams must at least tie for their division in conference play, with a maximum of two teams from any one conference. Any team that doesn’t meet the above requirements is ineligible for the playoffs.
This way, wins count for more against BCS teams, while losses count for less. Wins against FCS teams count for less and losses, like the one Michigan suffered against Appalachian State would be catastrophic for a team’s title hopes.
There would be incentives for scheduling tougher teams, and because more teams are playing against better competition each week, there would also be a weeding out of sorts. The top teams would naturally rise to the top.
Now, the playoff doesn’t mean that the other bowls would be eliminated. Fans of the Meineke Car Care Bowl would still be able to celebrate their champion. And, the creation of new bowls won’t be necessary for this playoff idea to work. The traditional BCS Bowls can serve as the playoff games for both the first and semifinal round games, keeping the BCS Title Game for the umm…BCS Title Game.
Here is where this playoff idea is different from most of the ideas that are currently being suggested. Beginning on New Years’ Day, the Sugar and Orange Bowls alternate from year to year serving as the site of the first round game and the East regional final, with the Rose and Fiesta doing the same out West.
The top two teams in the final BCS poll (polling would begin in Week Eight and end after the conference championships) get byes in the first round and play the winners of the opening round games the following week.
This does two things.
One, it keeps teams from having to travel across the country two or three weeks in a row. Two, it allows fans to know in advance where their next game will be played and when. This overcomes the objections about fans having to travel cross-country several weeks at a time to support their team.
One of the biggest arguments against a playoff is that it would render regular season games meaningless. Under this format, however, every game would be just as important as it is under the current system. Teams would still be vying for one of six spots. In fact, it might make games more important since at least tying for one’s division is a prerequisite for the playoff.
Phil Steele of philsteele.com made a compelling argument for a four-team playoff in 2007, when he said that the fifth team in the BCS poll rarely had a case for deserving to play for the National Championship. Likewise here, the seventh team in the BCS poll would be too far-removed from the top to make a strong enough case. Likely, the seventh team in the BCS would be happy to be number seven, getting the best remaining bowl bid.
Like March Madness, the last team out could make numerous cases for their inclusion, but in the end, they would have to answer for one of three things. Did they win every game? Did they at least tie for their division in-conference? And, did they schedule the right teams? Besides, the teams that are left out would still get to play in one of the remaining 25 or so bowl games.
With this system in place, college football could more legitimately crown a National Champion, and teams that were left out of the picture would still get to go out with a chance to play one more game in tropical climes. And, think about the drama that would unfold.
Most importantly, the NCAA still makes a large profit off the bowl season, and fans everywhere are happy because the championship will finally be decided on the field, where it belongs, instead of in the minds of some shortsighted, agenda-driven sportswriters and their laptops, where it doesn’t.
After all, the media is supposed to report the drama that unfolds in sports, not help to create it.