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Monday, December 17, 2007

What's the Solution?

Once again, the build-up to college football's premier event is mired in controversy. Hawai'i (12-0), the nation's only unbeaten team, is not in the title discussion thanks to a weak schedule. That said, Ohio State (11-1) and Kansas (11-1) are the nation's only once-beaten teams. Both teams played weak schedules, yet the Buckeyes are ranked number one in the BCS and the Jayhawks are not in the discussion. LSU (11-2) was beaten twice, but ranks ahead of Kansas. Missouri (11-2) also lost twice, both times to twice-beaten Oklahoma (11-2). Neither of these teams is in the title game and the former is actually not even in a BCS bowl. However, thrice-beaten Illinois (9-3) is thanks to (a) traditional Big Ten ties with the Rose Bowl and (b) a BCS rule that does not allow more than two teams from one conference to reach a BCS bowl (Oklahoma and Kansas are already in, so Missouri is out). Then there's Georgia (10-2), Southern California (10-2), Arizona State (10-2) ... I could go on but you get the point. This is a colossal mess!

This brings me to the title of my article ... what's the solution? I'd like to entertain a few possibilities here, and then open it up to you folks to tell me which idea you like the best.

1) The BCS plus one system: This seems to be the direction college football is headed, so let's start here. This system would pit the four "best" teams in college football in a final four of sorts - a two-round playoff consisting of two semifinal matches and a final between the two winners. Essentially, this system would push the controversy from "Who's number two" to "Who's number four." Try the scenario out for 2007, as an example.

Semifinal #1: Ohio State (11-1) vs. Oklahoma (11-2)
Semifinal #2: LSU (11-2) vs. Virginia Tech (11-2)

Wait, isn't that the same Virginia Tech that LSU pasted 48-7? You bet! Are the Hokies more deserving than the Georgia Bulldogs? Well, the Hokies did win the ACC, though most would agree the third-best team in the SEC is probably better than the best team in the ACC. What about Missouri? The Tigers were the #1 team in the nation one day before the bowl selections came out. What about undefeated Hawaii? Southern California? Kansas? Arizona State?

At least in 2007, the plus one format would not have solved much in the way of controversy.

2) Playoff: This seems to be the people's choice in the world of college football, so let's explore this one next. Protecting academic interests aside, the first question becomes, "How many teams should be invited," followed by, "by what method should selection be done?" If you just took the top 8 teams based on the AP poll or BCS standings as one method, both would leave Hawai'i (#10 AP/#10 BCS) out of the discussion. As you might guess, this would not go over well.

BCS Top 8
#1 Ohio State (11-1) vs. #8 Kansas (11-1)
#4 Oklahoma (11-2) vs. #5 Georgia (10-2)

#2 LSU (11-2) vs. #7 USC (10-2) (finally ... just 3 years too late)
#3 Virginia Tech (11-2) vs. #6 Missouri (11-2)

Well, you could expand to the top 16 teams. You'd probably be able to safely assume that the best team in the country is in the pool if you go that deep. However, you'd be including 3 and perhaps even 4-loss teams into the title discussion at this point, which would make traditionalists bemoan the trivialization of the regular-season schedule.

BCS Top 16
#1 Ohio State (11-1) vs. #16 Tennessee (9-4) (#16 seeds never win in NCAA basketball, but here it might actually happen)
#8 Kansas (11-1) vs. #9 West Virginia (10-2)

#4 Oklahoma (11-2) vs. #13 Illinois (9-3) (no matter which system, Zooker winds up in a matchup he can't win)
#5 Georgia (10-2) vs. #12 Florida (9-3)

#2 LSU (11-2) vs. #15 Clemson (9-3)
#7 USC (10-2) vs. #10 Hawai'i (12-0)

#3 Virginia Tech (11-2) vs. #14 Boston College (10-3) (gee this looks familiar)
#6 Missouri (11-2) vs. #11 Arizona State (10-2)

Now, playoff proponents would argue that you could still have bowl games in addition to the bracket. Yeah ... right. I defy you to look at the other available teams and create more than two or three even remotely interesting matchups. Wisconsin vs. Texas. Okay, I'm out of ideas. Your turn.

3) Conference-based system: I don't know if you noticed, but in the above 16-team system, 15 were from the Big Six conferences, with the only exception being undefeated Hawai'i. Is 9-4 Tennessee more deserving than 10-2 BYU? I don't know. However, I do know that one of the arguments for a playoff system in the first place is to give teams outside the Big Six a chance at a title run. Therefore, there at least needs to be a suggestion here that affords that opportunity. One way would be to have automatic and at-large berths, similar to the NCAA basketball model. Here's the problem: there are 11 Div-IA (forget the new "labels" for the divisions I'm always going to say I-A and I-AA) conferences plus the four independents. So, even in a 16-team tournament, you'd only have 5 at-large slots, which I will fill with the five highest remaining teams in the BCS standings. Just for fun, let me make up more rules: conference winners from the Big Six are ranked 1-6. I thought about making conference winners 1-11, but then the #1 team winds up playing someone like Florida while the #7 gets Central Michigan. That doesn't sound fair, either. Here's how that might play out this year:

Conference Tournament
#1 Ohio State (11-1, Big Ten champion) vs. #16 Florida Atlantic (7-5, Sun Belt champion)
#8 Georgia (11-2, SEC at-large) vs. #9 Missouri (11-2, Big XII at-large)

#4 Oklahoma (11-2, Big XII champion) vs. #13 Brigham Young (10-2, Mountain West champion)
#5 Southern California (10-2, Pac-10 champion) vs. #12 Florida (9-3, SEC at-large)

#2 LSU (11-2, SEC champion) vs. #15 Central Michigan (8-5, MAC champion)
#7 Hawai'i (12-0, WAC champion) vs. #10 Kansas (11-1, Big XII at-large)

#3 Virginia Tech (11-2, ACC champion) vs. #14 Central Florida (10-3, C-USA champion)
#6 West Virginia (10-2 Big East champion) vs. #11 Arizona State (10-2, Pac-10 at-large)

4) Conference realignment: The most drastic of possible changes, if done properly this could be the most beneficial. Realistically, this is an infeasible suggestion, but one that is fun to entertain. If all of college football could be realigned into 8, 10, or even 12 evenly distributed conferences in terms of both number of schools and strength of programs, then strength of schedule, conference strength, and qualification for a playoff tournament could be normalized. Perhaps in the coming days, we'll entertain one such scenario to see if it's at all possible, but for right now let's just list it as a dream.

5) Old System: The BCS is a failure. One possible alternative to the current system is to go back to the way things were. Sure, there was no "national championship game," but it hardly seems like there's one now, either. At least the old system was honest to itself.

6) Crazy Go Nuts: Shorten the college football schedule back to 11 games for everyone and have a 32 or even 64-team tournament. Insane you say? Well, 32 of the 64 would wind up playing one fewer game than they do now (since half the field will lose and they'd virtually all have been selected for the 32 bowls), 16 more would play the same, 8 more would play one more, four would play two more, two would play three more. If you cut it back to 32 teams, then subtract one more game for everyone. It's really not that bad. Let's take a look, (Yes, I'm really going to do it.) Now, this would require a selection committee and whatnot, but for now I'm just going to place teams based on region as much as possible, since I think it will be more interesting that way. If a team has conference ties to a conference that are at odds with regional ties (e.g. South Florida in East vs. South), then the region less represented was chosen.

NCAA Basketball-style Tournament
#1 Virginia Tech vs. #16 NC State
#8 Wake Forest vs. #9 Florida State

#4 Virginia vs. #13 Rutgers
#5 South Florida vs. #12 Maryland

#2 West Virginia vs. #15 Navy
#7 Connecticut vs. #10 Central Florida

#3 Boston College vs. #14 Louisville
#6 Cincinnati vs. #11 Georgia Tech

#1 LSU vs. #16 Florida Atlantic
#8 Arkansas vs. #9 Kentucky

#4 Clemson vs. #13 Alabama
#5 Tennessee vs. #12 South Carolina

#2 Georgia vs. #15 TCU
#7 Auburn vs. #10 Texas A&M

#3 Florida vs. #14 Troy
#6 Texas vs. #11 Mississippi State

#1 Ohio State vs. #16 Vanderbilt
#8 Michigan vs. #9 Michigan State

#4 Kansas vs. #13 Tulsa
#5 Illinois vs. #12 Purdue

#2 Oklahoma vs. #15 Indiana
#7 Penn State vs. #10 Texas Tech

#3 Missouri vs. #14 Nebraska
#6 Wisconsin vs. #11 Oklahoma State

#1 Southern California vs. #16 Washington State
#8 Air Force vs. #9 Utah

#4 Brigham Young vs. #13 New Mexico
#5 Boise State vs. #12 Colorado

#2 Hawai'i vs. #15 Arizona
#7 Oregon State vs. #10 UCLA

#3 Arizona State vs. #14 Fresno State
#6 Oregon vs. #11 California

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