Saturday, December 20, 2008

A College Play-off Idea That Should Make Everyone Happy

With the college football bowl season underway, I am detecting less venom than usual towards the BCS system. Perhaps people have grown weary of complaining about the same thing every year, perhaps they feel that this year's championship game is a reasonably fair match-up, or perhaps this year people are confronted with other, more pressing concerns. But it was about one year ago that I wrote that most sports leagues don't need a play-off to determine the best team, while pointing out that ironically the one association that needs a play-off is the one that doesn't have one. I don't think this has changed in the last year. But since we are no closer than we were a year ago toward reforming college football's postseason, I suppose I will do my part and present a proposal for a resolution that I think should make most people happy.

Before I articulate my proposal, let me first list what I understand to be key arguments against a play-off in college football:
1) There is no guarantee a play-off would be any more fair in its selection methods than the current system
2) There is a strong tradition inherent in the Bowl System (and the elimination of bowls would result in an economic impact on both schools and cities)
3) There a desire not to prolong the college football season
4) A play-off would diminish the importance of the regular system

I think all of these concerns can be met with an eight-team "Tournament of Champions" that would commence on New Year's Day. The eight teams would consist of the champions of the six major conferences, the conference champion of an additional conference (this year, Utah would be the obvious choice), and the highest ranking non-conference champion (which would allow this year's #3 team, Texas, to get into the field). These teams would compete in the four major BCS bowls around New Year's (personally, I'd love to see a quadruple-header, but I suppose it is possible to spread it out over two days). The Final Four would take place the week after New Year's (instead of the BCS championship), and the national championship game would be played around January 15. Here is how I think anti-play-off arguments are addressed:

1) There is no subjectivity in picking conference champions, so no team can say that they have been unfairly excluded from the championship picture. Furthermore, the system is a lot more inclusive than the BCS, as a school from a non-power conference has a legitimate shot at a national title.
2) All of the non-BCS bowls would not lose anything, and might actually benefit, as some prestigious conference runner-ups may fall out of the top tier of bowls.
3) There is a slight extension of the season for a limited number of teams, but it is likely that all participating schools would end the season before the beginning of their second semester of classes.
4) Because each conference is guaranteed only one spot in the play-off, competition for that spot would be so fierce that the regular season would continue to be very meaningful

And the advantages of this proposal are obvious: fans would be treated to a thrilling tournament, teams would have a chance to compete for a legitimate championship, and colleges, networks, and host bowls would reap a financial windfall.

But this probably makes too much sense to ever happen.


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