12.04.2006

Counterpoint: BCS Is Total Shit

One of our frequent commenters (and a good friend, surprise!), Jason decided he felt the need to weigh in on the whole BCS situation in order to shoot down my every argument. So, I present to you our very first ever guest post.

College football needs a change.
While I believe the BCS system has enhanced college football, a simple playoff system would increase its popularity and fairness. First, what has the BCS done right? The BCS allows the number 1 and number 2 ranked teams to play each other for the national championship. This was a very important step for college football and took a great deal of work. A playoff system is the next step in the evolution of college football.

We will start with a little history. In 1990 and 1991 college football saw co-national champions. Because we don’t like ties, for the 1992 season the Bowl Coalition was formed. This system tried to improve upon the system of conference tie-ins to bowl games by allowing the top two teams to play for the national championship. The problem was that the Rose Bowl would not break its tie-ins so the Pac 10 and Big Ten were excluded from the arrangement. In 1995 this system became the Bowl Alliance which changed a few things but still did not include the Pac-10 and Big Ten. Only in 1998 were these two conferences included to create the BCS. The BCS tweaks its formula each year, but in 2006 has automatic bids for the ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-10, and SEC conferences. On top of that, four other schools can earn bids through a number of detailed rules. Finally, if Notre Dame wins more games than it loses and Charlie Weis tells the media he deserves to be in a BCS bowl, Notre Dame goes to a BCS bowl.

In order to make a playoff work, it has to improve upon the BCS, but stay within a number of ground rules.

Players are student athletes and a playoff should not increase the number of games. This is a major argument against a playoff. To think that major conferences and FOX really care about the education of the football player is a stretch. Why would you introduce a twelfth game if you’re worried about the education of the youth? Because of this rule, a playoff system can only contain two or three rounds.

Don’t kill the regular season with a playoff.
Any playoff system needs to ensure teams can’t coast at the end of the season.
It also has to keep the interest of the lower tier schools.

College football has peculiar institutions that add to its appeal. College Football has unique systems like polls and bowls that should be a part of any playoff. Any system that allows Boomer Esiason and Anthony Munoz to vote has to be kept in order to keep the support of the Bengals fans.

Respect the conferences. Conferences and conference rivalries are huge in college football. A playoff system should respect the major conferences by giving automatic bids to conference champions.

Money Money Money
Any system needs to make boat loads of money because that’s what its all about these days, right?

With these rules I propose my plan which has probably been proposed by 500 other people.
I’m sorry. I’m too lazy to read what other people wrote unless it was put on The Goat.

The Proposal

I propose an 8 team playoff to decide the national championship. The eight teams would come from automatic bids from the six major conferences and two at-large bids. The two at-large bids would come from the two highest ranked teams which are not conference champions. The polling could use the current system or some other alternative as long as Boomer and The Rocket still have a voice. All other bowls should be kept and this system will not detract from them anymore then the BCS does now

An eight team playoff would require three weeks. By subtracting the twelfth game (Should teams really be able to go to a bowl with a .500 record?) this would be in line with the current system. Only two teams would play a fourteenth game. Just this year, Purdue will play fourteen games so the academic argument is void. The first round of the playoffs would be played the week after the final week of the season. The top four teams would play home games to give them an advantage. This keeps the regular season competitive. Teams will need to compete to win their conference and will also have to win to stay in the top 4 because of the importance of home field advantage. It also adds a second tier of interest for the schools competing for the two at-large spots. Those schools will add the spoiler element that makes college basketball so enjoyable.

After the first week the winning teams would play each other and the losing teams would play each other in the traditional bowl games. The winner and loser bowls would rotate with a loser bowl always hosting the national championship game. This is how the money comes into play. The first week will add a lot of TV revenue and the second week will keep or exceed the current BCS revenue. Finally, the national championship game would pit the two top teams against each other a week after the bowl games just like the current system.

Discussion

The proposed playoff system is an easy architecture to implement to advance the current BCS system. The system does not increase the number of games. It keeps the regular season competitive. It keeps the bowls, the polls and the importance of the conferences. I know people will argue that this system will have its own controversies and its own problems. This is true. The system will not be perfect, but it will improve upon the system that we have today. In 1992 people argued about the Bowl Coalition because it crowned mythical national champions. They cried in 1995 when the Bowl Alliance did nothing to fix the problems. Today we still argue about the BCS. Many of us relish the days of the 10-10 tie or think about the replay implications of the Stanford band entering the field or the personal four for running over the trombone player, but those days are over. College football is big-business, and if that’s the way it has to be then lets at least continue the trend of improving the crowning of a champion by implementing a playoff system.

(I’m sorry this is
so boring. I write technical papers for the government. Passive voice is my life. Think about it: Jeanne Zelasko as a sideline reporter.)

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great post. I basically agree with you since I posted much the same plan the other day. Deadspin's got a link to a guy who pretty much posted this today, and the idea has been floating around so there's definitely some kind of desire to see it adopted if CFB ever goes to a playoff system. There's two problems I have with the plan as you've constructed it, though.

1) Forget the two at-large bids. One of those bids needs to go to the highest ranked non-BCS conference champ or independent. The little conferences have to have a place in the playoff system and since the at-large spots are going to be dependent on voters, to some extent, the little guys are never going to get up into the two highest at-large spots because they'll never be ranked high enough at the start of the season. Boise St. went undefeated and they could only get to 10th. I don't remember how high Utah got a few years ago, but I think it was somewhere between 8th and 12th pre-bowls. You're basically saying non-BCS schools have to go undefeated and have everyone else lose 3 games for them to get high enough in your system. That's unrealistic.

Just take the highest at-large team and leave it at that. This year that would be Michigan, with LSU getting left out. And who cares about LSU? They couldn't even make it into their conference championship game, so they are, at best, the 3rd best team in their own conference and they'd probably be lower since I think they'd end up tied with Auburn, who beat them. LSU is only as high as they are now because they were so highly ranked and lost early in the season.

If the NCAA is worried about some undeserving non-BCS school making it in, keep the current rule where they have to be ranked at least 12th in the BCS rankings to qualify.

2) There's no need to get rid of the 12th game. Too many schools need that 12th game for revenue. On most campuses football and men's basketball are the only two sports that make money and they have to pay for everything else.

I think the way you've got the bowls tied in would work. If this coming weekend we had 4 quarterfinal games and then had the semis on New Year's Day/Night, then the Championship Game a week later that would work. Of the 4 BCS Bowls you could have 3 hosting the semis/finals and one featuring the best game of the first round losers, which would also be on New Year's Day. Or that game is on New Years and the semis are on the following night. Whatever - the logistics can be ironed out if they ever get to a playoff.

One benefit of a playoff based on conference play is that we would likely see an increase in marquee, interconference games, much like college basketball. Since the key for every team but one (in my system) or two (in yours) would be to get as high as possible, they'd hopefully be more willing to schedule big games because there's not as much downside for them as there is now. Only in-conference losses are really going to hurt them and once bigger teams start scheduling tougher non-confernce games to help them in the standings, other teams will have to follow to keep up.

The real key to any playoff, though, is keeping the BCS bowls happy.

And, unfortunately, for enough inside-the-NCAA support for a playoff system to really take hold we need the BCS to work, not fail. Every year it fails, they tweak it but they keep the bowl system. The NCAA loves the kind of controversy they get this year because everyone yaps about it and it keeps CFB on the front pages and on talk-radio. They're probably only going to introduce a playoff system when no one is talking about the BCS and they need a boost in popularity.

That's fucked up, which is why it makes perfect sense for the NCAA.

Jason said...

I struggled with the at-large bids. I do like the way they've tweaked the system this year to give a mid-major a better chance at getting into the money. I thought about a play-in game, kind of like college basketball, for the at-large bids, but went against it since it would add another week. As I said, the plan needs tweaks as it evolves, and this is an area that could be improved. I think the major conferences need to get on board first though before we can start worrying about the mid-majors.

I wanted to keep the number of weeks played in December limited for academic reasons. I still kid myself into believing the athletes are students. The middle of December is crunch time academically. I'm able to believe a football player who cares about his academics can keep up during the season, but he needs a week or two in December to worry about finals. Adding the extra weeks in January doesn't bother me because the beginning of the semester is usually cake.

Anonymous said...

Another alternative is described at [1] using the Swiss system tournament. It's specifically designed for short tournaments with large number of participants and provides excellent games in each round and a robust system to determine the beat team.

[1] http://onehundredyards.blogspot.com/2006/12/alternative-to-current-bcs-system.html

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