College Football: A Radical New Bowl System That Can Save the Game
I love college football. There, I said it. I love the bands, I love the atmosphere, I love the tradition, and most of all, I love the drama. I can recall the thrilling finishes like they happened yesterday: Boise State stunning Oklahoma, Michigan beating Michigan State in 3OT, Ohio State’s controversial win over Miami for the National Title, and my favorite, Vince Young’s stellar performance to lift the Longhorns over the Trojans.
Fall is my favorite time of the year, and it’s not because I enjoy raking leaves.
It’s these attributes that make college football’s bowl subdivision the most successful college sport in history, with a passionate fanbase that rivals the NFL. Even so, there aren’t very many happy faces around college football these days.
Over the last several months, the NCAA has watched as the Bowl Championship Series’ already questionable reputation was tarnished further by corrupt Fiesta Bowl CEO John Junker’s political contributions. Those contributions violated the non-profit status of the Fiesta Bowl, (which I’m pretty sure is the first non-profit in history with a CEO salary of $600,000) and embarrassed the system as a whole.
And on the heels of that scandal, two others have grabbed headlines. Just last week, it was reported that college football behemoth USC would be forced to relinquish their 2004 National Championship due to the Reggie Bush situation.
Days later, news surfaced that Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel and starting quarterback Terrell Pryor would be leaving the school amid allegations of illegal benefits and cover-ups. In my mind, the NCAA has set a precedent, and OSU will lose their National Championship as well.
This has suddenly become a very important time for the NCAA; I liken it to the steroid era in baseball. Recruiting violations are exploding across the country, and it seems that the number of players receiving improper benefits has skyrocketed.
In addition, it is becoming more common to have undefeated programs left out of the National Championship race. Schools like Stanford, TCU, Boise State and Nevada have asserted themselves recently, but the current system is squeezing these fringe contenders out of the championship picture.
Why the BCS Doesn't Work
The Bowl Championship Series, in one form or another, has been a part of college football since 1992. In its current form, it uses a head-scratchingly complex formula to combine poll standings, strength of schedule, quality of wins and other criteria to rank the top teams in the nation.
The final BCS standings determine the bowl match ups, with the No. 1 and No. 2 schools playing for the National Championship. Such a system prevents discrepancies between the AP and Coaches’ polls, ensuring there is an “undisputed” champion at season’s end.
Of all the BCS’s flaws, its most glaring is it’s built in bias. The number of mid-majors given an opportunity in the big money bowls is low despite their incredible 4-1 record. More so, the idea of conference champions receiving automatic BCS bids is ludicrous: see Big East 2010.
The simplest answer is, and always has been, a playoff. But questions about season length, field size, bowl revenue, and logistics seem to have permanently log-jammed the process.
I have found the solution.
A Bold Idea Inspired by English Football
Of all the concerns voiced over a college football playoff, the loudest and most convincing is that it would take away the importance of regular season games.
Presently, it almost always takes an undefeated season to play for the National Championship. This makes every regular season game a battle, and many feel a playoff would ruin that intensity.
My solution borrows an idea from the English Futbol League system and could change everything; promoting and demoting teams based on performance.
First off, to make this work the NCAA would take over scheduling responsibilities for the teams to promote the fluidity of the competition. Teams would no longer sign long-term matchup deals, and we wouldn't have to suffer through two opening weeks of cupcake competition.
Instead, each team would play a 12-game schedule, with 10 of those against teams in their Flight (more on that in a minute). The remaining two would serve as “Heritage Games”, where teams like Michigan and Michigan State could play if they find themselves in different Flights.
The teams would be divided into 10 Flights based on their regular season performance. Flight 1 will be the top grouping and feature 12 teams. Flight 2 is the next highest group, and will also have 12 teams. At season’s end, the two teams with the lowest record in Flight 1 will be demoted to Flight 2, while the top two finishers in Flight 2 are promoted to Flight 1. The benefits of moving into Flight 1 include national exposure, bragging rights, and most importantly, a guaranteed playoff spot.
In all, there will be 10 Flights, each with 12 teams, the only exception being Flight 10 which will grow as schools add 1-A programs. The promotion/demotion works the same in all the Flights, with 2 teams being promoted and 2 being demoted at the end of every season.
Dr. Pepper Premier Division: Flight 1
The Dr. Pepper Premiere Division would showcase the top 12 teams in the nation. These games will give fans what they want: a level of competition that would rival the current SEC.
With playoff seeding and demotions on the line, every game will be a must win. The Premiere Division match ups will give prime time bowl-quality games week in and week out. Set your DVRs folks.
Allstate Good Hands Division: Flights 2 and 3
The Allstate Good Hands Division features teams on the cusp of greatness. Using last season's rankings, the division would include college football powers such as Michigan State, Virginia Tech, Arkansas, South Carolina, Nebraska, Notre Dame and Florida.
Expect the games in this division, and especially in Flight 2, to be some of the most hotly contested of the entire season as teams try to set the tone for a deep playoff run, as well as guarantee themselves a playoff spot for next year.
Under Armour PROTECT Division; Flights 4 and 5
The third tier of competition is called the Under Armour PROTECT Division. This group includes teams like USC, Texas Tech, Arizona, Michigan, Miami and Illinois.
These teams had a rough 2010, but they all have big-name recruits and star veteran players ready to contribute in 2011. The talent level wasn't reflected in the win column for a lot of these teams, but any one of them could be a bracket buster come January.
AFLAC Take Flight Division: Flights 6 and 7
Similar to the Under Armour Division, the AFLAC Take Flight Division features 24 teams that are a bit down on their luck. Even so, there is no shortage of fire power in this division. Teams like Cal, Texas, Oregon State, Clemson and Tennessee will provide stellar match ups as they all look to prove they have what it takes to compete.
Because the talent pool in college football is so deep now, and because teams can make such incredible strides in just a year, seeing an AFLAC team post a win in the round of 16 is a definite possibility.
Lowe's Climbing the Ladder Division: Flights 8, 9 and 10
The Lowe's Climbing the Ladder Division will give up-and-coming teams the opportunity to play other teams of a similar skill level.
In my mind, there's no reason for teams like Minnesota or Ball State to match up with powerhouses like Wisconsin and Stanford. Nobody wins in these lopsided contests.
But in this system, the lower Flight teams have the opportunity to climb up the rankings as they improve and build their programs. And if by chance, a talented team finds themselves in the lowest division, they'll still have an opportunity to make their mark in the playoffs. I envision these games being played outside of prime time.
Let's Look at an Example from Last Season
The easiest way to explain is to take a team from last year and show how my idea would work. Let's take Oklahoma State for example, they finished the 2010 regular season ranked 13th. That would put the in line for a promotion from the Allstate Good Hands Division to the Dr. Pepper Premiere Division for the 2011 season.
In 2011, they would play a 10-game schedule against their Flight, facing Auburn, TCU, Oregon, Stanford, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Boise State, LSU, Nevada and Missouri (also promoted). They would also have two "Heritage Games" scheduled against Texas and Texas Tech. The Heritage games are an opportunity to keep rivalries alive if teams are in different flights.
It is a bruising schedule to be sure, but the Flight system compares apples to apples; meaning an 8-4 record in the Premiere divison would not have to be compared to a 12-0 record in the PROTECT Division. We would no longer have to decide if an undefeated team with a weak schedule deserves a chance at the championship. Now, if you win your Flight, you control your destiny. This system puts success in the hands of the teams.
Top Teams in Each Flight Battle for Playoff Berths
After the teams have played their 12 games, the post-season begins. In this format, all 12 members of the Dr. Pepper Premiere Division are guaranteed playoff berths. The other four spots are up for grabs as teams from the lower divisions battle it out in a two-week play-in tournament centered in four locations: California, Texas, Florida and Tennessee.
For the play-in tournament, the regular season Flight champions will play the runner-up from the other Flight in their division.
For example, the Flight 2 Champions will face the Flight 3 Runner Up, and the Flight 3 Champions will face the Flight 2 Runner Up. The winners of those two games would then face off for the Allstate Divisional Championship. Similar games would occur for the other three divisions as well.
The winner of each Divisional Championship earns a spot in the sixteen team field. Ideally, these play-in games would retain their sponsors and bowl affiliations to keep the revenue streams going for the cities and the businesses. So for the Lonestar Region, the semifinals would be the Texas Bowl and the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, and the final would be the Valero Alamo Bowl.
This way, we keep the sponsors active in the sport, and it gives the new system a classic feel.
The 16-Team Playoff
Once the Division Champions are crowned, the 16-team playoff begins. It is a classic 1 vs. 16, 2 vs. 15… format, and the teams are not reseeded after each round. This will give America a second bracket challenge to fill out, and possibly rival March Madness in popularity.
All in all, the result is a championship that is indisputable. The top teams in every Flight are given the opportunity to make their mark, and the last team standing is undoubtedly the best. If a team from a lower Flight runs the gauntlet and makes it to the National Championship game, the maximum number of games they would play is 18. I know that sounds like a lot, but hear me out.
The Alabama Crimson Tide’s 2011 schedule is 12 regular season games, with the opportunity for 2 more if they make the SEC title game and a Bowl game. That’s 14 games.
Currently, for most of the elite teams, the entire month of December passes without playing a game, and many times a team that loses their bowl will use the layoff as an excuse. If we can instead use the month of December to narrow the field down to the final four teams, the timeline of the season would be no different than it is currently. The teams would have less time off during the winter break, but I believe this is a sacrifice most would make for an opportunity to play for a title.
The play-in teams would have, at most, 18 games, while the Premiere Division would have 16. Seeing as how a good number of the Premiere players will be making the jump to the NFL in the future, a bump in the schedule length could actually prove to be beneficial.
And Finally, We Have an True Undisputed Champion
I expect there to be a lot of readers that support this idea, but I also anticipate a lot of criticism. With every change comes a struggle, but I don't think television rights, or existing conference brands should get in the way of fair competition.
All-in-all, my system preserves a large portion of the revenue for sponsors, as well as for the bowl host cities. The removal of the conferences, though drastic, will pave the way for a new and exciting brand of football in this country. Television channels dedicated specifically to the upper divisions will spring up, and the contract to name the Premiere Division will be massive.
This system is good for everybody, but most of all, it's good for the players. By pitting teams of similar skill level against each other, you give the coaches, players, and programs the opportunity to improve and grow. In addition, the Flight system gives struggling teams something to fight for in the final weeks of the season (avoiding demotion), and provides balanced match ups and great football.
It gives the top 12 teams in the nation, in addition to the top teams in each Flight, the opportunity to lay claim to the championship by suiting up and competing. By including 16 of the nation's strongest teams in the playoff, it will provide an incredibly exciting two months of football, but even more so, it will provide us with a true champion.
I appreciate all comments, and thank you for reading.