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December 7 - A BCS Alternative

A college football playoff is not a new concept.  I even admit that the idea that I am about to propose is
not even entirely my own.  ESPN’s Sportscenter ran a special on the possibility of a 16-team college
football playoff a couple of years back.  A great website, collegefootballnews.com, makes weekly
updates as to who they think would be the teams involved in a mock playoff system.  These are
mostly their ideas.  But by applying these concepts to the fresh-in-our-memories 2004 and 2005
seasons, the information become relevant.  

Before you dig in, you have to understand a couple of premises that have been put forth before
continuing.  These premises are central to the concept of a 16-team playoff.  Please note that these
are the author’s own opinions:

1.        Bowl games had tradition and dignity only before the creation of the Bowl Championship
Series (BCS).
2.        The BCS has created more problems than it has solved.
3.        Any bit of dignity the bowl games have left becomes increasingly diminished proportionate to
the increasing number of teams involved in a proposed college football playoff.
4.        A college football playoff MUST include mid-major schools (think Cinderella) in order to be
successful.
5.        Only a 16-team playoff is without the flaws of a 2, 4, or 8-team playoff.  All other options should
not be considered.

Those premises being understood, the number one and overarching reason to have a college
football playoff is to have an undisputed national champion.  There have been and will continue to be
disputed national champions under the BCS and bowl game systems.  The coaches and the
Associated Press have crowned separate national champions in multiple instances.  It happened
after the 2003 season when the Associated Press named USC national champions while LSU was
given the same honor by the coaches.  The fact that the Associated Press no longer allows their poll
to be used in conjunction with the BCS should clue you in that there are major problems with the
BCS.  But you probably knew that already.

The multi-million dollar question is “Why should there be a 16-team playoff instead of a 2, 4, or 8-
team playoff?”  The answer is twofold.  First of all, a 16-team playoff would minimize the effects of the
dissolution of the bowl game system.  Secondly, a 16-team playoff would give as many teams as
possible a chance to win the national championship without completely going overboard i.e. a 32-
team playoff.

A 2-team playoff.  Why it won’t work.

The most likely scenario for a 2-team playoff would be a single extra game to be played at the
conclusion of the current bowl game system.  In my own opinion, this is a better option than the
current BCS setup.  But it is not preferable to a 16-team tournament.  For lovers of the bowl games, a
2-game playoff would keep the bowl games intact.  Admittedly, I love watching bowl games.  My
argument is that I think people would enjoy watching a 16-team playoff even better.

Other proponents of a 2-team playoff might say that it keeps the tradition of the bowl games alive.  
Well, if you’re like me, you lost respect for the tradition of bowl games when the Rose Bowl ceased to
be played on New Year’s day with Pac10 and Big10 teams.  Ever since then, I’ve lost respect for the
tradition of bowl games.  If they could restore the conference rivalries like a Big10/Pac10 Rose Bowl, I
would have more confidence in this proposal.  Until then, I cannot accept it.

Even if old conference match-ups were restored, a 2-team playoff still may not ensure that all
deserving teams get an opportunity to play for the national championship.  Take last year for
example.  Would the so-called experts have chosen Utah to play in a 2-team playoff?  Doubtful.  
Auburn probably would have been the likely choice even though Utah was undefeated.  But Utah
deserved a chance.  Yes, I’m aware that Utah would have been an underdog and probably would
have lost.  But they at least deserve that chance to make some magic and make history.  To give hope
to all underdogs everywhere.  In a 16-team playoff we could have seen just how good Urban Meyer’s
team was.  Were they an Elite Eight team?  A Final Four team?  The number two team in the nation?  
National champions?  Only a 16-team tournament would have answered those questions.

Another question now arises.  The BCS currently places the number one and number two teams in
nation in the BCS championship game.  In the case of 2004, this happened to be USC and
Oklahoma.  If there were to be a 2-team playoff at the conclusion of the bowl season, would it still be
advisable to pit the two best teams against each other prior to a playoff?  Probably not.

Had this been the case in the 2004 season, one would think that USC and Oklahoma would have
played in separate bowl games so there was still a possibility that both teams were undefeated
heading into a 2-team playoff.  But whom would they have played?  Maybe Auburn or Utah who were
both undefeated.  Possibly Texas or California who were both rated higher than Utah in the BCS
rankings going into the bowl games.  

The only fair way, in my opinion, would have been to have all four undefeated teams play each other in
the bowl games in 2004.  This way there only would have been two undefeated teams left in the
country prior to a 2-game playoff.  This makes sense to me, but remember that the folks running the
BCS only allowed Utah to play Pittsburgh in their BCS game.  Pittsburgh had the worst record of all
the schools in the BCS and only qualified for the BCS as the Big East champion.  Due to this
injustice, I cannot trust the people at the BCS to do the right thing.  As you can see, this is an inexact
science and many kinks would have to be worked out before this system could be instituted.  Only a
16-team playoff could solve these huge question marks.

A 4-team playoff.  Why it won’t work.

There are two possibilities for a 4-team playoff.  One option is to have a playoff at the conclusion of
the current bowl game season.  The other option is to designate three bowl games to serve as a 4-
team playoff.

To have a 4-team playoff at the end of the current bowl season would be pushing the conclusion of
the entire college football season into mid or late January. For two teams this would make three post-
season games: one bowl game plus two playoff games.  If you count conference championship
games, that pushes the number to three or four post-season games.  The argument for a 16-team
playoff is that if you’re already playing three or four post-season games, wouldn’t the 16-team option
be preferable?  It would involve more teams, and it wouldn’t last into mid January.
    
If you were to designate three bowl games to act as a 4-team playoff, I assume it would look
something like this:  Two games (such as the Sugar Bowl and the Orange Bowl) would include the
top for teams in the nation.  Those two games would be played on January 1st as normal.  The
winners of those two games would go onto play in a championship game one week later, in the Rose
Bowl for purposes of an example.

This aforementioned option is the second best possibility for a national playoff taking a backseat to
only a 16-team playoff.  It would only extend the length of the season by one week by adding only one
post-season game on to the current bowl season.  The problem remains about which four teams
would be included in the playoff.  Would Utah have been included last year?  What would the criteria
have been?  It keeps all the current bowl games intact, although less fan and media attention will be
paid to the games not involved in the playoff.  Again, my stance remains that unless the Rose Bowl is
being played with Pac-10 and Big 10 teams on New Year’s Day, I would rather see a playoff.

The problem still remains about which teams would be included in a playoff.  Would Utah have been
included last year?  What would the criteria for inclusion have been?  Now think about the current
2005 season.  What if Oregon really is the second best team in the nation behind USC?   Would they
be included in a 4-team playoff?  Probably not if the folks at the BCS had any say in the matter.  But
Oregon would definitely be included in a 16-team playoff.  Just imagine if Oregon could beat Texas.  
They would deserve another chance to defeat USC if they could get by Texas.  Only a 16-team tourney
would give them that opportunity.

An 8-team playoff.  Why it won’t work.

An 8-team playoff is beginning to be a lengthier proposition.  I think it’s safe to say that an 8-team
playoff wouldn’t be tacked onto the end of the current bowl season.  An 8-team playoff could be played
side-by-side along the other bowl games, but it would probably render all the other bowl games
virtually meaningless.  And, to many of us, the bowl game have already lost their meaning since the
invention of the BCS.

So why keep second-tier bowl games around (like the Peach, Gator, Cotton, or Outback Bowls) when
any shred of respectability those bowls might have had left would be nixed by an 8-team playoff?  At
least the second-tier bowls can be included in a 16-team playoff, as you’ll see later.
    
An 8-team playoff also wouldn’t be able to accommodate all 11 conference champions.  One could
argue that there could be three play-in games (like basketball does) for the six least deserving
conference champions.  Yet if only conference champions are invited, another snafu occurs.  In a
hypothetical 2005 8-team format, deserving teams like Oregon and Ohio State would be left out of the
mix.  But not in a 16-team tournament.

On the flip side of the coin, if only the eight best teams in the entire nation are invited, entire
conferences become afterthoughts.  I can’t imagine players at any school in the Mountain West,
Conference USA, WAC, MAC, or Sunbelt would feel good knowing that there is a 95 to 99% chance
that any single school from these conferences would not be included under this format.  The mid-
majors need to have something to play for.  Imagine mid-majors like Gonzaga and Valparaiso not
being able to join the Big Dance in basketball.  Now please remember that the old bowl system has
been rendered meaningless with an 8-team playoff.  A berth in a bowl game for a mid-major would
be an insult.

A 16-team playoff.  Why it will work.

Most importantly, a 16-team playoff would include all 11 conference champions.  And, of course, five
at large bids could then be added to flesh out the 16-team field.  This way, teams like Oregon, Ohio
State, and Notre Dame could all be included in a hypothetical 2005 version of a college football
playoff.  There will always be arguments about which teams would make the 16-team field, but those
are problems people can live with.  Few people think any less of the NCAA basketball format as far as
who makes the field.  At least the top five at large teams will be included.

The season would not have to be extended any longer than it currently is as well.  A 16-team playoff
can start the week after the conference championship games.  In the case of 2005, the first round of
the proposed playoff would begin the weekend of Saturday December 10 with a slate of eight games.  
Perhaps the powers that be might even choose to spill over into Friday with four games on Friday and
four games on Saturday.  I envision this being a college football fan’s dream come true.  Call it
December Madness.  People would love to watch this playoff play itself out complete with Cinderella
coming to the ball.
    
For those of you who are concerned with money, let all the current big bowl game cities and sponsors
continue to be involved in the playoff.  Every one of the 15 games constituting a 16-team format can
still be called a “bowl” game.  By looking at the attached 2005 hypothetical bracket, the Rose Bowl
has been designated the championship game with the Orange Bowl and the Sugar Bowl hosting the
semi-finals.  The rest of the first and second-tier bowl games round out the remaining 12 game
sites.  

I don’t claim to be an expert on the economics of college football, but I do know two things.  Number
one – I imagine the major bowl game sponsors will still be happy if they are involved in a playoff.  
Number two – Neither fans nor the universities seem to have a problem with how individual schools
are paid in the NCAA basketball tournament.  Use the same payment formula for a football playoff.

If there’s the argument that a 16-team tournament would last too long, you have only to take a look at
the NCAA Division I-AA football tournament.  Guess what?  It is a 16-team tourney, and it receives
high praise from many.

Finally, the old bowl games would not even have to be eliminated completely.  There could still be
bowl games for those teams that do not qualify for the 16-team field.  There could even be something
like an NIT tournament.  I imagine the folks at the NIT would be excited to incorporate football into
there area of expertise.

All the faults found with 2, 4, and 8-team tournaments are not present in a 16-team tournament.  I
never used to think I’d like a playoff.  I love bowl games.  But with all the possibilities, and intrigue,
and high level competition of a 16-team tournament, I have been persuaded otherwise.  Change is
good.

Check out these other football playoff ideas from The Writers:
Trevor Freeman | Eric Mirlis