Before I start, let me just say that the BCS, despite its obvious flaws, is a lot better than the full-blown 16-team playoff that some argue for.
The BCS preserves not only the tradition and credibility of the bowl system, but more importantly preserves college football's unique regular season. In that, every weekend is an exciting turn in the road to the national championship.
Think about college basketball's NCAA tournament, which boasts a ridiculous 65-teams competing for the national championship. It's one of the most exciting events in all of sports, right?
But then think of the college basketball regular season. Outside of following a favorite team or conference, only the die hards watch any of the contests outside of UNC-Duke. College football would lose much of its appeal if a large-scale playoff was instituted.
The best option, which was first brought to my attention by college football super-guru Phil Steele years ago, is a four-team playoff, which is often referred to in many trendy circles as the "plus-one" format.
It's simple; take the top four teams in the final standings of the BCS, seed them in two BCS bowls, and have the winners play a week later in the national championship game.
The BCS bowls included would be determined by a rotating system similar to the one used to determine the site of the current BCS National Championship game. To make up for the lost BCS game, promote one of the top second-tier bowls, such as the Cotton Bowl or the Capital One Bowl, to BCS status.
The best part of this system is that nobody deserving would ever be left out. Since the inception of the BCS prior to the 1998 season, there have never been more than four teams with a legitimate argument to be included in the national championship game, and only a few times have there even been that many.
This would require the extension of the season by only one game for two teams, which shouldn't be too big of a problem for student-athletes and fans. This four-team playoff would have included the following teams had they been used in the past:
- Miami and Washington in 2000 (Miami beat FSU, who was in the game, and Washington beat Miami)
- Oregon and Colorado in 2001 (Colorado defeated Nebraska, who was in the game, and Oregon had one loss and would go on to beat Colorado in their bowl game)
- USC in 2003 (finished the regular season atop both the coaches poll and the AP poll, but was left out)
- Auburn and Utah in 2004 (both undefeated and in the top four)
- Michigan in 2006 (lone loss was by three points to Ohio State, who was undefeated in the regular season)
- Virginia Tech in 2007 (finished the year ranked number one by the computers)
- Both Texas and Alabama in this year's game, who both lost only one game to a top-10 opponent.
Sure, there may would be teams in most years arguing that they should be included, such as this years USC and Penn State squads, but you will get that in any format.
Ever watched a post NCAA tournament selection show on ESPN, and see Dick Vitale argue that it's a "tragedy" that some 20-win squad from the Mountain West was "left out" of the tournament? USC and Penn State are each penalized for not only losing to inferior opponents, but for playing in weaker conferences.
The one potential downside of such a format would come in years when there are two clear-cut, undefeated teams, such as the 1999, 2002, and 2005 seasons.
But, honestly who is really going to complain about the two teams having to prove themselves one extra time in a game against a top-quality opponent? And with the growing parity in college football, the years of undefeated team's ruling supreme at the end of the season will become less and less.
A four-team playoff would maintain what makes college football great, which is its regular season, while preserving the bowl system that is so special to the game. It's a win-win for everybody involved, and is the final step in crowning a true national champion.