Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Not in a Million Years

I have a half-baked plan to reform the Bowl Championship Series that has a snowball's chance in Hell of ever being adopted.

Some people like the BCS. At least with the BCS there is some prospect that the two best teams in college football will play in a bowl game that will determine a champion. But the system is hardly ideal. Many who follow the sport have been impressed with Boise State, but there is little to no chance that Boise State will ever play for the championship, even if they go undefeated during the season. In addition, whoever ends up ranked 1 and 2 will be there in part because of preseason rankings which are determined by potential and promise rather than actual play on the field. (I'm not completely sure about this: the method used to determine rankings is complicated.)

So here's my idea. According to Sports Illustrated, there are 117 teams in 11 conferences and three independent teams. That's 120 Division 1-A teams, or eight short of what would be needed for a seven-round single-elimination tournament twice the size of March Madness.

First, all of the current conferences would be dissolved and sixteen new conferences would be created, half of which will have eight members and half of which will have seven. (Alternatively, eight additional schools from Division 1-AA could be invited to join, bringing the total number of schools to 128.) This realignment will preserve as far as possible traditional rivalries, e.g., Alabama and Auburn would be in the same conference, Nebraska and Oklahoma would be in the same conference, Ohio State and Michigan would be in the same conference, and so on. Some new conferences should also resemble present conferences, e.g., a new conference would consist of eight schools from the SEC. In general, conferences would represent geographical regions, e.g., the South, New England, the Midwest, and so on, so that the silliness of a conference like the ACC could be avoided. (Boston College and Miami in the same conference? Seriously?)

Each conference would have two divisions. During the first part of the regular season, lasting five or six weeks, each school would play every other team in its division and two or three teams in the other division in its conference. The results of these games would determine how teams are to be seeded for the seven-week playoff. The #1 seed would play the # 8 seed, the #2 seed would play the #7 seed, and so on. Tiebreakers would be necessary, of course, and the NCAA can turn to the NFL to see how those might work. In any event, each conference would be its own region in the bracket, and in the third round of the tournament, a champion will be determined for every conference, on the field. These games would not be played on neutral fields; rather, it would be up to each conference to determine where games are to be played.

Beginning in the fourth round, teams would play bowl games as part of the tournament. And these games would resemble the present bowl games as much as possible. So, for example, the Fiesta Bowl would still be played in Tempe, the Orange Bowl would still be played in Miami, and so on, and these games would have payouts just as they do now. Naturally, in a system like this, a single team could appear in up to four bowl games. That's kind of weird, but do you want a playoff, or don't you? 

The advantages of such a system are obvious. Since the polls would not be needed to help determine a national champion, they would be gone. The champion would be determined on the field. And every team would have an opportunity to win. So we could finally find out whether Boise State is good enough to compete with the schools of the SEC and the Big 10 and so on, or whether they have been mere pretenders all along. And teams like Nebraska would not be able to pad their records with meaningless non-conference games against teams like South Dakota State. Schools would have to face the real prospect of losing their Homecoming games.

What about teams who lose in the tournament? Do they sit idle for the rest of the season? No! Losing teams can still play each other even if they are no longer playing for the national championship. The popularity and excitement of college football will guarantee that fans will be buying tickets and tuning in, even to these non-tournament games. Schedules for this second part of the regular season could not be determined in advance, but I'm hoping that that would not be a serious problem. Schools playing these non-tournament games might even be given the opportunity to play in weird bowl games no one currently cares about, e.g., the Beef 'O'Brady's Bowl or the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

There are tens of thousands of people out there who know more about college football than me and who could also tell me why my idea is incredibly stupid. Many of those same fans are yearning for a playoff, however, and I wonder how they would reform the BCS. Perhaps some of them will take the time to leave comments for me.

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It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence. ---W.K. Clifford

Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear. ---Thomas Jefferson