Fixing the BCS

I blogged back in November about adding the simple rule of only allowing conference champions play in the BCS title game. That would have remedied the situation we had this year where LSU is the official SEC champion and Alabama is the National Champion.

There are several issues with what happened. They are:

  • Who is the real SEC champion? We have an official champion, but I feel the conference now has a split title.
  • Is the SEC really the best conference? By not beating another conference in the championship game, that is a fair question.
  • If only conference champions can play, who should LSU have played?

People can argue that the BCS achieved its goal of matching number one versus number two. Of course, that isn’t the true goal. That is just the means to the real end, identifying the best team in the nation and having a true National Champion.

The Constraints

For any proposal to have a real shot at success, you have to keep the bowl games attractive. There is a lot of money made by the schools and television networks that you can’t just ignore, mostly because the decision makers aren’t going to ignore it either.

You have to make sure that it doesn’t significantly impact the regular season. Schools make big money from hosting their home games. Shortening the season by even one week will be a tough sell.

Football is brutal. Forget the impact to academics. That is usually just an excuse used to fend of play-off arguments. The real reason for not adding too many games is that you increase the risk of injury. While this is a “minor” factor, have you noticed the push-back by NFL players against going from 16 to 18 regular season games? As it stands now, several college teams play 14 games.

The Suggestion

I thought of this a while back, but you’ll just have to take my word for it as my friends that I rant to regularly aren’t reliable witnesses (though it was Ivan who inspired me to write this now).

Remember, the goal is finding the number 1 team, not the top two, four or eight teams. Here you go.

  • After the conference championships are determined, take the top four conference champions from the BCS poll. If an independent is in that “top four” than they get a spot instead of the fourth champion.
  • Seed the teams using the BCS poll. 1 v 4 and 2 v 3. I can see an argument to be made for having the opponents decided regionally, but that raises all sorts of fairness issues.
  • The weekend after the conference championships are played, the top two teams host their assigned opponent.
  • After the games, the winners play in the National Championship game. The losers are given BCS bids and play with the other BCS teams.

This has several advantages beyond reducing controversy.

  1. Increase chance of getting the top team a shot at the Championship game. If you are the best team, but started ranked low, you are dependent on the teams above you losing to get into the top two. Now you only have to reach top four and non-conference winners won’t get in your way. Think Auburn in 2004 or Oklahoma State/Oregon in 2011.
  2. Reduce the rust of the teams. Both participants in the Championship game now have the same amount of time-off before their final game. It also reduces the gap by at least a week. We should get sharper play. This will greatly help teams that win because of their timing and execution.
  3. Broaden the regional reach of the Championship process. Four teams will have a shot, but you still have to win during the regular season. Winning the Big Ten won’t get you there if you aren’t ranked high enough.
  4. Removes the perceived need for an undefeated season. While you don’t want to sink too low, one loss won’t automatically eliminate you, unless it is a conference game.
  5. Winning the conference becomes priority one. While many don’t care, and some would argue that this is a negative, winning the conference is a goal that coaches love. This starts the season out with a a goal that is reachable. It allows focus. It also means that losing a non-conference game doesn’t have to sink you like it did Oregon in 2011.

There is a lot to like about this proposal. There is more money to be generated, greater access to the big game, and less complaining from people like me when a team that isn’t even the best team in their conference competes to be the best team in the nation.

By keeping it to four champions or independents, you can reduce the “deserving” flag. One of the biggest controversies each year seems to be who gets the at-large bids for the BCS. If you expand the playoff pool to eight, you get the same issue. The argument goes from “are they the best team in the country?” to, “are they one of the top eight in the country?”

We really care about that first question.

I cannot recall many seasons, if any, where the debate going into the bowl season around the top team involved more than four teams. Sure, once you open it up to four teams, more will want in, but for those people I have two words.

Just win.


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