Friday, April 9, 2010

The Solution: It's About Conference Champions

This is the final part of the BCS Bash series. For part one, click here. For part two, click here. For part three, click here

The BCS structure is about conference champions. While it holds the altruistic aim to match number one versus number two, the BCS is influenced much more by the automatic qualifying status for the six self-proclaimed elite conference champions. Being a conference champion in the Big 10, Big 12, Big East, ACC, SEC, or Pac-10 is so reverred that teams with four losses and barely ranked in the top 25 are not stripped of the right to play in an elite bowl game against a team that is truly elite; that teams catapult up the rankings in the final week of polling only because of the conference champion label; that an undefeated season guarantees a spot in the national championship (barring the rare occurrence that three teams are undefeated).

This obsession with conference champions is the solution to creating a fair and equitable BCS. It is, after all, the Bowl Championship Series. The corrective action that the BCS needs to take is to stop filling six out of 10 bowl slots with conference champions and start filling 10 out of 10 bowl slots with conference champions. The BCS will be inherently unjust until all conferences have equal access.

As presently constituted, the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) of NCAA football has 120 teams grouped into 11 conferences, with three teams remaining independent (Notre Dame, Navy, and Army). As presently constituted, the BCS has 5 bowl games that 10 teams compete in. Without making any changes to the existing conference alignments or the BCS set up, my proposal to correct the injustices of the BCS would be the following:

• The 10 BCS slots would still be filled using a system to rank teams;
• The ranking system will be programmed to emphasize overall record and use head-to-head results if two teams have identical records;
• The ranking system, however, would only be applied to all 11 conference champions and the three independents (only for the purpose of determining the best independent team);
• The top 10 teams (10 conference champions or 9 conference champions and the best independent team) would fill the BCS bowl slots;
• The top 10 teams would be paired 1 vs. 2, 3 vs. 4, 5 vs. 6, 7 vs. 8, 9 vs. 10;
• The pairings would be adjusted, as necessary, to avoid rematches from the regular season, including and especially for the national championship (no double jeopardy) unless the number two team beat the number one team in the regular season, then a rematch would be in order;
• The revenues would be shared equally as well: 1/120 for each team in your conference, except bowl revenues would be proportionate to the seeding—the 1 vs. 2 would be the highest, the 3 vs. 4 would be $500,000 less, etc.;
• The bowls would continue the rotating double hosting system for the championship game, and they would rotate which pairing they hosted each year so that the bowls host each pairing once every four years.

To illustrate, here is what the BCS bowl games would have been for 2009 if this system was used:

National Championship Game: Alabama vs. Texas
Sugar Bowl: Cincinnati vs. TCU
Rose Bowl: Oregon* vs. Ohio State
Fiesta Bowl: Boise State* vs. Georgia Tech
Orange Bowl: Central Michigan vs. East Carolina
(Note: These pairing were made using the final BCS standings and the last USA Today poll before the bowl games.)

* = Following the 1 vs. 2, 3 vs. 4, etc. order, Boise State and Oregon would have played in the same game. Since they played during the regular season, I paired Oregon with Ohio State for a more traditional game in the Rose Bowl. Another alternative would have been to pair Boise State vs. Ohio State and Oregon vs. Georgia Tech.

For all the traditionalists out there, which I am one, I would be willing to allow the Rose Bowl to continue hosting the Pac-10 Champion vs. the Big 10 Champion, as long as both are in the top 8, but not in the top 2. That means the worst case scenario would be 3 vs. 8 and 4 vs. 7, which should still be good games. The price would be that the Rose Bowl would have the pay out that would normally go to the pairing for the lower seeded team (i.e. If the Rose Bowl is team 4 vs. 6, the pay out would be for 5 vs. 6 and not 3 vs. 4).

This solution would guarantee access to the BCS for a team from 83% of the 12 groups of teams in college football, as opposed to 50% of the groups that the current BCS format guarantees. If we want to be truly all inclusive, then we have two options: 1) Force conference realignment to form 10 conferences of 12 teams each, or 2) add the Cotton Bowl as a sixth BCS bowl.

Yes, we would still have controversies, but nothing in life is without opposition. The whole point, though, is to crown a national champion. The only teams that should be eligible are those who were champions of their conferences. The only teams that should compete in this series are champions. It’s like the Olympics. To make it to the finals of an event, you have to win the qualifying rounds. The qualifying round for the BCS would be the regular season, and a qualifying mark would be to win your conference.

It doesn’t matter if Boise State played the 96th toughest schedule and only four teams in its conference had a winning record, while Texas played the 38th toughest schedule and was one of seven teams with a winning record in its conference. It doesn’t matter if Boise State is from a state with a total population less than the Austin metropolitan area. Playing a tougher schedule, playing in a certain conference, and having more money supposedly makes you better, but the real measuring stick is if Boise State can beat Texas. If they can despite the disadvantages of playing a “weak” schedule, playing in the WAC, and having less money for facilities, recruiting, coaching, etc., that is what matters. The BCS is bowl games. That is all it pertains to—the bowls. All of this other mumbo jumbo trying to justify the discrimination is irrelevant. To stick with the Olympics comparison, we never hear criticism that an athlete did not deserve to be in the Olympics because of the country he or she came from or the inferior facilities, coaching, etc. available to that athlete. That athlete qualified by being the best in his or her country. If that athlete then goes on to surprise everyone and win a medal we do not say he or she did not deserve it because it was easier to get to the Olympics by living in that other country. The BCS should not discriminate and exclude based on stereotypes—not on conference affiliation, schedule strength, or media markets. There is a reason the Super Bowl is the most watched television event EVERY year, regardless of who is playing. We love football and will watch whoever is playing in the championship game.

All 120 teams in the FBS make up the success of college football and the bowl system. The truth is that, just like a big family, Texas, Florida, Ohio State, Alabama, and USC all benefit from San Jose State, North Texas, Navy, Troy, and Wyoming, and vice versa. While each child of the family differs in age, strength, and abilities, the parents work together to ensure that each child is loved, is safe, and eats dinner at the same table. The parents of college football, the NCAA and the BCS, are not working well together. The BCS has turned into a domineering, controlling spouse that the NCAA is scared to stand up to. Some outside the family (the rankings) see what is going on, and they simply form their judgments to fit what is happening in the house. The BCS is a parent that plays favorites with its children. The abused children have been unable to find redress with the NCAA. The oppression has led the abused children to seek government assistance to get the help that they should find in the family.

Epilogue—No Playoff?
Many of you may be disappointed that I have not proposed a playoff as the solution. Fundamentally, I am opposed to a playoff. As I mentioned earlier, I consider myself a traditionalist. Honestly, I like the bowls (yes, there are too many, and I want January 1 to be what it once was). The bowls give one last chance to binge on college football before hibernating for almost nine months. The bowls have also become a launching pad for the next year’s Heisman Trophy campaigns and other awards. The bowls give players an opportunity to increase their draft stock. I believe a playoff will have a negative impact on rivalries and other defining characteristics of college football.

The biggest reason I don’t want a playoff is because I don’t want a three or four loss champion if a one or two loss team exists. Having played organized football for many years, I learned to appreciate that an undefeated season is a major accomplishment. Most years only one or two teams finish undefeated (we may be witnessing a paradigm shift, however, with the BCS, which has placed an increased emphasis on undefeated seasons, therefore, what happened last year—5 undefeated teams—might become more regular), so throughout the regular season a process of elimination is already happening. If a team was able to finish the year 12-0, with all that entails (overcoming injuries, not having a slow start to the season, avoiding trap games, avoiding a mid or late season let down, surviving down the stretch with a bulls eye on your back), that team should not have to put that perfect record on the line against a 9-3 or 10-2 team. It was hard enough to swallow the first two loss national champion two years ago (no offense to LSU, I realize a two loss team was, pretty much, our only option).

In the future, I will not be surprised to see a plus-one system. If three or more undefeated teams becomes the norm in college football, I will gladly support the plus-one system. However, that presents other issues. If we had a plus-one in place this year Boise State would have been left out and Utah would have been left out last year. After the bowls, however, it was obvious that they were underrated all year and deserved to play in a plus-one game. In any case, a playoff system with more than eight teams would be inappropriate. Player safety is a real issue. A long playoff system would increase injuries, and I can’t find any reason that you need to field more than eight teams to ensure that the best team is included.



  1. Very Interesting Solustion.

    Not sure how I feel about it completely, but I will say it would be more fair than the current BCS. Very Good!

  2. Why are conference champions so important? If I was in charge (which I am not) I would eliminate the conference championship games and create an eight team playoff. This would mean that only two teams play one additional game each year (a national championship game). The most a team would play is three games where in the current system they may have played two (a conference championship
    game and a bowl game).

    The eight teams would be selected from the teams that are undefeated at the end of the season or ranked in the top eight of the BCS standings at the end of the year.

    The conferences may complain because they lose out on the lucrative conference championship game but it is all showboating anyway and an effort to boost BCS rankings. If the conference really has two good teams then it will play itself out in the playoff. The conferences can use whatever formula they want to crown a champion.

    I can not remember a scenario where there was a team not undefeated and not ranked in the top eight that anyone felt deserved a chance to play for a championship.

    This wouldn't be a chance for the cinderellas of the college football work to sneak one over on anybody, rather a chance for those who have done well to get a legitamite chance at a title.

    If you want to get more exclusive, you could eliminate anyone from the list who has more than two losses to teams that are not in the top eight and award byes to the teams that would be their opponents.

  3. The problem I have with letting the conference champions play is that you award mediocrity. What happens when all three independents have a bad year? Or only two of them have a bad year? Why not just cut Notre Dame a check to start off with? How many years of the past 50 years have they been better than Navy and Army? The financial incentive would be for teams to go independent if they think they can beat Notre Dame more often than they can be conference champions.

    Every week an undefeated team has to line up against a team that may have more losses and put their "perfect record on the line." Champions aren't made by avoiding playing other good teams, they are made when they are given the chance to play the next best team and beat them.

  4. TCU, good to see you back. I like several of the points you made and will respond to them.

    1."Why are conference champions so important?"
    My solution is mostly an effort to address the inequalities of the BCS. The BCS is the one that emphasized conference champions, which is what created the inequality in the first place, and the best way to fix that is to either extend the benefits to all conference champions or give no conference champions benefits.

    As I said in Part 1, the simplest thing to do was to get all the bowls to reach an agreement that whoever had the rights to the number 2 team would give up those rights to the bowl with the number one team.

    2. "I would eliminate the conference championship games and create an eight team playoff." I like your thinking here. It is the best playoff proposal I have heard of, which could even keep the bowl system in tact as well (as I said I love the bowls and would like to see them continue). The four original BCS bowls could host the first round of your playoff. Put all the games back on January 1 as well. More than 8 teams is too much.

    3. "The conferences may complain because they lose out on the lucrative conference championship game" They would surely complain, but the potential Pac-10 and Big 10 expansions have brought to light that the conference championship games are only a drop in the bucket of the financial benefits of having 12+ teams in your conference.

    4. "The eight teams would be selected from the teams that are undefeated at the end of the season or ranked in the top eight of the BCS standings at the end of the year." I would still like to see the top 8 conference champions be guaranteed access. Just look at this year the top 8 were all in the top 10 (TCU and Boise State, plus the "Big 6").

    This point, plus eliminating the conf. championship games makes the idea of the NCAA forcing a realignment of 10 conferences with 12 teams each, and making each conference play a round robin schedule. 11 games against conference teams, one you can schedule yourself (either first week or later in the year to preserve a rivalry--Florida vs. FSU, or Gerogia vs. Gerogia Tech--but maybe that would be taken care of in the realignment). With 10 conferences 80 percent get to participate and then the playoff is when the real conference prestige can be put on the line since all year teams would only play league games.

    5. "This wouldn't be a chance for the cinderellas of the college football work to sneak one over on anybody." I agree that the playoff should not be for cinderellas, which should come as no surprise. I said as much in my Epilogue.

    6. "The problem I have with letting the conference champions play is that you award mediocrity." I don't think that my proposal would award mediocrity. As the 2009 hypothetical showed, the Sun Belt champ would not get to play, nor would an independent (Navy was the best independent) so if all independents have a bad year, none of them go. If teams want to go back to being independent then fine. It wasn't too long ago when the number of independents was nearly equal to the number of teams in a conference. All the financial benefits of being in a conference should outweigh the money that would come from a BCS game, just as bowl revenues are a small piece of the pie now for most teams.

    7. "Every week an undefeated team has to line up against a team that may have more losses and put their 'perfect record on the line.'" I agree, that is why I think it is insulting to have them do it again in a playoff setting. You do it for 12 games, but game 13 or 14 a 3 or 4 loss team gets "lightening in a bottle" and beats you. I just don't like that. Award teams for being very good from start to finish. If you started slow, or had a mid season slump, or just crawled to the finish, you don't deserve to be called the champion at the end of the year.

    Thanks for the feedback. Keep it coming!