You can’t fix a problem by making it worse.
That’s just common sense, but that’s exactly what some Bowl Championship Series critics are trying to do. For those who haven’t seen it yet, the current BCS agreement expires in 2013, and will be subject to change at that point. One proposal for its replacement is to have the BCS handle only the national title game, and make all of the other BCS bowls independent again, selecting their own teams. This would only make things worse. Now, teams from outside the top conferences can only make an impact by reaching a BCS bowl as at-large teams. But with the BCS only handling the title game, even this option would be denied to mid-major programs, since all bowl invites would be conference-specific. We would have no chance for 2006-’07 Boise State to showcase its unique brand of football against Oklahoma or for 2008-’09 Utah to beat Alabama.
No, what college football needs is a playoff. Not the lousy “Plus One” model, where the top four teams in the BCS rankings would play a single-elimination four-team playoff, either. That would be an improvement on the current system, but it would only make debates over which one-loss team was the most “worthy” even worse than they currently are. In response to the unusually lopsided BCS bowls of 2007-’08, I began constructing my own playoff model for college football’s FBS division. (That season featured BCS games in which the winners won by 32, 31, 20, 14 and 3 points.) This model was built around the idea of answering every possible objection to a college football playoff and crowning a true national champion.
This system would begin by taking the 11 conference champions of the Football Bowl Subdivision conferences and giving them an automatic spot in the playoff, then comparing the best record of an independent team to each of these champions’ records. If the independent team has at least as many wins as at least one of those champions, the independent will also receive an automatic spot. Those 11 or 12 teams will be the top 11 or 12 seeds in the playoff, seeded using the BCS rankings formula (and for any champions not ranked, using overall record). The BCS rankings would then select eight or nine more teams to fill the bracket out to a grand total of 20.
The top 12 seeds would get a bye in the first round, and seeds 13-20 would play in bowl games that also serve as first-round games, boosting the importance of several lower-tier bowls. The second round of games would feature the winners of these games, as well as seeds 9-12, playing at the top eight seeds. The quarterfinal games would be played at the four bowls which currently make up the BCS. The semifinal games and title game could be played in stadiums across the country chosen on a yearly basis, much like the NCAA Basketball Final Four. Let’s take a brief look at what this year’s bracket would look like.
Gildan New Mexico Bowl (Dec. 17): No. 15 Arkansas vs. No. 18 South Carolina
Winner plays Dec. 24 at No. 2 Oklahoma State
This would be an interesting pair of games — Arkansas and South Carolina are two very strong Southeastern Conference teams, and the winner of that game would duel Oklahoma State, the team many thought was snubbed from this year’s title game.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (Dec. 17): No. 13 Alabama vs. No. 20 Baylor
Winner plays Dec. 25 at No. 4 Wisconsin
The matchup everyone would want to see — Alabama, possibly the number-two team in the country, battling a Big 12 powerhouse, with the winner playing at Wisconsin on Christmas. That’s right, a team from the South playing AT Wisconsin, in December. This is part of why conference championships are so important in this model.
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl (Dec. 18): No. 14 Stanford vs. No. 19 Virginia Tech
Winner plays Dec. 24 at No. 3 Oregon
A showdown of one of the best Pacific-12 teams and the losing Atlantic Coast Conference finalist. If Stanford wins, it gets the chance for payback against Oregon, otherwise the Hokies get to prove themselves against two Pac-12 teams in a row.
Beef O’Brady’s Bowl (Dec. 18): No. 16 Boise State vs. No. 17 Kansas State
Winner plays Dec. 25 at No. 1 LSU
Who wouldn’t want to see this? The two best coaches in college football squaring off in a first-round matchup, with the potential for a Boise State-LSU duel in the second round. Both the Broncos and Wildcats were probably BCS snubs this year as it was, so a road to the title that goes through LSU in Round 2 seems like a fair test.
Other second-round matchups
No. 12 Louisiana Tech at No. 5 Clemson (Dec. 24) — The Western Athletic Conference champions face a stiff test from ACC winners Clemson. Louisiana Tech probably doesn’t deserve this much, but in this system you get that chance when you win your conference.
No. 11 Brigham Young University at No. 6 Texas Christian University (Dec. 25) — Independent BYU takes its skills to the test at TCU, which shockingly was denied a BCS Bowl spot this year despite beating otherwise unbeaten Boise State and winning a tough MWC.
No. 10 Northern Illinois at No. 7 Southern Mississippi (Dec. 24) – An interesting game in which the Mid-American Conference champs get to take on the surprise champs of the Conference USA. Likely a tough game, but the winner is unlikely to make it much further.
No. 9 Arkansas State at No. 8 West Virginia (Dec. 25) — The Sunbelt winner takes on the winner of the Big East in a matchup between two champions of relatively weak conferences.
The last three rounds would be played in the Jan. 2-3 BCS bowls, the Jan. 9 semifinals, and a Jan. 16 championship game.
Who wins? Everybody. Alabama (or Oklahoma State) could become a real national champion, not one people can question. Boise State, Kansas State and Arkansas would get to play in games that matter. The fact that 20 bowl teams would fill the slots of nine existing bowl games means that two more bowl-eligible teams would get to play (this year, Western Kentucky and Ball State were eligible but not selected).
This system avoids the problems that come with most proposed playoffs. Conference championships retain their importance: now if you don’t win your conference, you cannot get a home game in the playoffs, plus you have to play an extra game. Bowl games not only retain their importance, but eight bowl games (the BCS bowls and the four that become first round games) actually become more important. The other bowls remain roughly unchanged. Finally, you don’t extend the season and take players away from class. Most teams actually end their season sooner under my playoff; under the current system, most of the 20 teams will be playing in January. Under mine, only eight will.
So let’s make the Bowl Championship Series actually a series of games in which every game determines the national champion. Make “Every game counts” a fact, not a slogan. It’s time for a playoff.