The BCS vs College Football Playoffs

Posted By BrokenClaw on December 12, 2008

The controversy continues. Little has changed since I wrote my article before the 2007 NCAA football season. This year, we ended up with no less than 7 major college BCS teams with one loss, plus two lesser BCS teams with undefeated records. So, once again, no matter which two teams ended up on top, there would be good cases to be made for other teams to be unjustly left out of the championship game.

The BCS (Bowl Championship Series) has become the college sports equivalent of the Electoral College. If there are two clear-cut top teams, like there were in 2002 with undefeated Ohio State and Miami, then the BCS rankings are irrelevant. If the top teams aren’t obvious, like they are this year, then the BCS rankings are subject to ridicule.

Oklahoma will play Florida for the championship, but that means that [fill in the blank] was left out. The only way to settle the championship would be a playoff. The two systems most often promoted are the “and one” championship game and an 8-team bracket.

I have no idea how they would implement the “and one” system. Ostensibly, after the bowl games were played, the top two teams would play one more game against each other for the the real championship. Are you kidding me? How would that solve anything? Either you’d have to pre-select the top four teams to play each other, or you’d have to select the top two teams afterward. The key word is select. This year, for example, we’re going to end up with at least three (and we could have as many as six) top division teams with no more than one loss after their bowl game. So any selection of two of those teams would be just as controversial as the current BCS rankings system.

With an 8-team bracket, you’d be guaranteed to get all the top teams in the playoff. But once again, you’d have to select the 8 teams. In my previous article, I suggested that the qualifying teams should all be league champions. Even that system wouldn’t make sense this year, when clearly the Big East champion Cincinnati and the ACC champion Georgia Tech weren’t even ranked in the top 10. On the other hand, the Big 12 South division alone has three teams in the top 10.

I watched two different sportscasters give their theoretical 8-team bracket this year, and as expected, they had different teams. There’s always the spector of those undefeated second tier teams, Utah and Boise State. And what do you do in years when there are four teams that are clearly above the rest? Do you throw in four other teams just to fill the bracket? One could argue that a controversy over the bottom teams in the bracket would generate less passion than trying to pick just two at the top. My response would be, if they don’t matter, then why are they in the playoff?

We all know that the big Bowl games are here to stay. So playoff promoters always say they would incorporate the bowl games into the playoff series. My question of that scenario is, who would go to the games? The Bowl games are an event unto themselves. Fans of the teams take off from work, make travel plans, and spend lots of money, to attend a bowl game. So if your team has to play two playoff/bowl games before they get to the championship game, which game are you going to plan for? Are you going to go to the first game, in case they lose and their season ends, or are you going to hold out for the more important games to follow?

Proponents of a playoff often cite the lower division college football playoffs and wonder why the major colleges couldn’t do the same. Well, the reason is quite simple. The two things are completely different. In the lower divisions, the teams are seeded and play at the home field of the higher seed. The visiting team certainly has some followers, but it is a home game for the home team in every sense of the word.

How would you fit the bowl games into that scenario? While those first-round playoffs would undoubtedly get high TV ratings, do you think they could fill the stands? Using this year’s example, how many fans of Texas and Ohio State would make the trip to the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona, if they thought they had a good chance to move on to another, even bigger game?

Another aspect of bowl games vs playoffs that rarely gets heard is the perspective of the players and coaches. Certainly those top teams that miss out of the BCS championship by a slim margin are going to wish they were in a playoff, but the truth is that they’d much rather be in the championship game than have to compete for the championship game. That may sound obvious, but I’ve heard former players admit when questioned, that they really enjoyed their bowl game experience because they knew it was a once-and-done deal. Their perspective would have to change if it were merely a playoff game.

If BCS college football is ever going to get to a playoff, I think it will have to be some kind of hybrid play-in system using the same rankings we have now. In other words, the lower ranked teams will have to play each other on a home field basis to qualify for a smaller playoff bracket in the bowl games.

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