Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A real national champion: Week Seven

The first BCS poll was released earlier this week and Ohio State and South Florida currently hold the all-important top two spots. And while there is still a lot more football to be played, the current system is too restrictive, even allowing for the plus-one game.

That is why I am in favor of a sixteen team tournament, while most playoff proponents prefer four or eight. What makes my suggestion different from most others I have seen is that mine does not take the top sixteen ranked teams. I propose taking the eleven conference champions and five at large teams, which would be the five highest ranked teams in the BCS poll who did not win their conference. I freely admit this is a completely unoriginal idea; it is basically a scaled down version of the basketball tourney. But I have seen virtually no one else propose such a plan for football.

I believe that this plan answers most of the major concerns with a playoff. The most common complaint is that a playoff would de-emphasize the regular season. If you take the top sixteen, that would be a fair concern. But in my plan, a conference championship guarantees a playoff spot, putting more emphasis on the regular season, not less. And this week, the lowest BCS ranked team to get an at large bid was Oregon at #10. Virginia Tech, Cal, USC and Florida all would miss the cut at this point. Try telling them that the regular season doesn't matter.

The other major complaint is that the season would be too long. Beginning this season, a team playing a twelve game season, a conference championship, and BCS bowl game and a plus-one national championship would play fifteen games. I suggest going back to an eleven game regular season plus conference championships for those conferences with twelve teams. Only eight teams would play beyond the standard regular season and bowl game, and I don't think they would be complaining. And it doesn't need to extend too far into January. There is already a huge gap in between the end of the season and the BCS bowl games. This season, conference championship games will be on Saturday, December 1. The first round of the tourney could be Dec. 8, the second on Dec. 15 and the semifinals on Dec 22. That would allow the National Championship to be played on Tuesday, January 1, because as everyone knows, New Years Day is all about college football. Compare that to this season, when the National Championship is scheduled for January 7.

Yet another complaint about a playoff is that it would make all other bowl games meaningless. The way I see it, they are already meaningless. Under the current BCS system, only one game matters. All the others, even the other BCS games, are little more than exhibition games. With a playoff, fifteen games matter: win or go home. And besides, there is no reason not to play the lesser bowl games. If they can survive under the current system, they can still be played along side a playoff, NIT-style.

One of the greatest benefits of this playoff system is that it finally gives the small conference champ a shot. Boise State knocking off Oklahoma last year was nice, but in a tournament they would have had the opportunity to really prove how good they were. And imagine what a deep playoff run would have done for recruiting.

As for where the games would be played, I am open to suggestions. Personally I would like to see the first round hosted by the higher ranked team. This would further emphasize the regular season: if you finish in the top eight, you get a first round home game. From there, the four second round games could be played at the current BCS affiliates, and the semis and final could be played as repeats at three of those, just as this year's plus-one will be played in New Orleans a week after the Sugar Bowl. Another possibility is to open it up to bidding again, just as they did when the BCS first began. This time, seven bowls could bid for the second round on.

On to the seedings. Please understand that nothing is for certain yet, and the 'conference champions' listed below are based on current standings only. In the case of a tie, I have gone to overall record, then point differential. After conference champs were determined, at large teams were selected according to the top five non-conference winners in the BCS rankings. After the sixteen teams are selected, they are re-seeded according to their BCS rank. I have made my best guess to seed the teams not ranked in the BCS (East Carolina, Central Michigan, BYU and Troy in this week's poll).

I have tracked this playoff system the past three or four years, and there is quite a bit of movement at this point in the season: this week's 'conference champ' could easily be next week's 'missed the cut' and vice versa. I'll publish the newest version each week after the BCS rankings are released, so check back to see how our real national championship could have been.

1) Ohio State (Big Ten)
16) East Carolina (Conference USA)

8) Arizona State (Pac 10)
9) West Virginia (At large)

4) LSU (SEC)
13) BYU (Mountain West)

5) Oklahoma (At large)
12) Hawaii (WAC)

3) Boston College (ACC)
14) Troy (Sun Belt)

6) South Carolina (At large)
11) Kansas (Big 12)

7) Kentucky (At large)
10) Oregon (At large)

2) South Florida (Big East)
15) Central Michigan (MAC)

Missed the cut (BCS rank):
Virginia Tech (11)
California (12)
USC (14)
Florida (15)
Missouri (16)

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