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Wednesday, January 5, 2005

Why not an NCAA Football Final Four?

Another college football season is over, and another round of disagreement about who's number 1 is with us. The Bowl Championship Series has crowned USC the national champs, but the fellows down at Auburn, who also had an undefeated season in a tough conference, beg to differ. They say they should have had a chance to play for the title.

Defenders of the BCS say its system, though not perfect, is the best that can be done to reconcile all the competing polls, computer rankings, and other punditry that take a shot at naming a national champ. They also point out that a multiple-round playoff system, such as those that prevail in pro sports and college basketball, isn't feasible in college football.

But it would be easy to settle the perennial disputes, wouldn't it?

Why not take the top four teams under the current system, and pit them against each other in a two-round playoff? No. 1 would play No. 4, and No. 2 would play No. 3. The next week, or a couple of weeks later, the winners of that round would play each other for the national title.

Given that there's now a month or more between the end of the regular college season and the bowl games, it should be relatively easy to squeeze in one more game day. Surely the two finalist schools wouldn't mind the extra revenue. A team that came in fifth or sixth might complain that it should have been allowed in the playoffs, but its claim to No. 1 status would be more attenuated than that of a team like Auburn.

An NCAA Football Final Four -- can somebody explain to me why it wouldn't work?

Comments (23)

Of course it will work. Linfield is the National Champion of Division III, so the next time Dave "It's Too Hard On The Students" Frohnmeyer pooh-poohs a playoff for Division I-A, ask him where his concern for Division III athletes is.

The reason Division I-A doesn't have a playoff, like every other sport known to man, is because the current bowls have bought off too many presidents, athletic directors and coaches. It's all about the money, bay-bee. Even though a playoff would likely generate MORE cash, the current powers are too comfortable wallowing in their greed to try the deeper pool on the other side of the street.

Any sport that finishes with 3 undefeated teams cannot claim to have awarded a championship. A champion, by definision, defeats all challengers. I don't see any loses in Auburn's or Utah's records, so USC can't make a moral claim to a championship. Simply put, Division I-A does not have, and NEVER HAS had, a champion.

I hate the current arrangement.

even so, Utah would never have had a chance to see if it could beat all comers in Jack's scenario.

I basically support an NCAA football play-off, but I recognize some potential problems. The first NCAA basketball tournament (won by the University of Oregon, by the way) had 8 teams. Currently, the tournament has 64 teams (65, if you count the "play-in" game added a couple of years ago).

If you pick four teams for the play-off, the outcry from the fifth or sixth teams will be as great as it was from Auburn this year. The pressure to expand the play-offs will be hard to resist. Why don't the lower division play-offs keep expanding? Because there's no money in them.

A college football play-off would be a huge money maker--far more profitable, I believe, than the current bowl games. But the impact on the students will be greater than for basketball tournaments. Why? Because you can play the first three rounds in a week in basketball, but you can't play more than one football game per week.

I think 'slippery slope' arguments are bad, but I'm going to make one anyway, because I think we're halfway down the slope as it is. We started with a bowl system with polls, now we've gone to the BCS, now the BCS stinks, etc., etc.

Jack wants a four team playoff; I think you can get away with arguing that 2 extra games would not hurt the schedule too badly. (You'd probably have to cut a bye week, jigger more games in there, etc.) But at some point, people would begin to complain that there just aren't enough teams in say, the NCFP ('made up playoff system') and man, I hate the NCFP, it's so unfair, etc., etc. You'd start having people beat the drums for a 8-team playoff, and then a 12 team playoff. I don't think anyone would be happy until we got a 64-team football playoff in this country.

Moreover, where are you going to get the room for these games? You'd have to cut the schedule of the teams down by a game or two (Linfield played 9 regular season games and only 5 at home.) Where is the revenue going to come from for these extra games?

I challenge playoff fans to come up with a feasible plan, Jack style. Do people think his plan would be liked? I don't -- not because it's not good, but because it's not *enough*.

Oops! Jack Roberts basically said the same thing I did, just much better. Oh, well.

One more thing: remember, every single media person out there who shills for a playoff has a clear reason to: there'd be that much more TV revenue, stuff to argue about, papers to sell, etc. I know that there's fan interest in it, but they're stoking it for their own reasons.

In the not-exactly-relevant department:

2003 season:
USC 23, Auburn 0
Matt Leinart's first game.

My plan calls for only one aditional game. This year, it would by USC vs. Auburn -- a pretty good game.

Read the transcript of the new BCS plan to begin in two years ...

Starting Jan. 2007, this will happen:
"After consultation within each respective conference at the athletic director and presidential level, we're moving forward with a BCS National Championship game model that would be played within four BCS Bowls. The new arrangement would begin after the 2006 regular season. Under this plan, there will be four bowl games in the BCS arrangement, and each year, one of those bowls will host its regular bowl game and then, about a week later, would be the site of the national championship game."

This national championship game will NOT be a matchup between the two best teams of the 8 playing in the first four games. No, it will be a matchup of the top 2 teams as determined in early December. This model brings 2 more teams into the BCS bowls, nothing more.

One more bowl, still no playoff! But more money!

I'm a Penn St. fan, and even though my team (should they ever consider being competitive again) stands to benefit from the BCS system, it's so painfully wrong that I'm ACTUALLY commenting on a blog....

It's elitist. It's unfair. And except for the fact that it enriches a few at the expense of the majority, I'd say it's un-American [not so subtle dig at the American political system].

My biggest complaint with the current system though? That the "preseason" rankings that come out Aug. 30 actually have an effect on who the top 2 teams are at the end of the season. The general consensus is that if a team continues to win, you don't drop them. One rare occasions, this isn't the case... but as you saw this year, it was impossible for preseason #18 Auburn to claw it's way to the top when preseason #1 USC and preseason #2 Oklahoma kept winning.

That is my biggest peeve with the current system.


One more game would add a different layer of anger. Utah would be left out. Which is another current injustice...the "mid-major" conferences have the deck stacked against them. Three games (four teams) would be the bare minimum.

Yes, if there's question between the fourth-best and fifth-best teams, that'd be controversial. But I'd rather have the potentially-fourth-best-team complaining than the probably-first-best-team (like USC last year).


How about we go back to conference champions playing conference champions all on New Year's Day so I can go back to watching great games on one day with a beer on one side and chips and clam dip on the other.

And if a game sucks, I can switch to another being played at the same time on another channel. And when my team wins the Pac-10 (go Ducks!) I get to travel someplace warm (Rose Bowl). If my team makes it to a minor bowl, I can think about traveling.

Why the hell do we need a national champion anyway? I just want to enjoy college football again.

I'd rather have onion dip. Other than that, I agree with Chris.


Three games (four teams)

If we get it down to four teams, why would we need three games? No need to play for third place...

two semi-finals plus a championship game

We already have what I would call the semi-finals -- the Orange Bowl and one other. So we'd be adding just one more game to what we already have.

The problem is that #3 Auburn had to play #8 Virginia Tech. The semi-finals would have been #1 USC vs. #4 Texas and #3 Auburn vs. #2 Oklahoma.

Okay, I'm a little late to this party, but as an Auburn fan and a student of the BCS, I can't help but open my mouth with my bizarre suggestion: (I apologize for the wordiness)

Put 12 teams in each major conference (SEC, PAC-10, Big East, ACC, Big 12, Big 10). Have each conference play a championship game around the first saturday in December (Dec. 4th, this year). The winner of the six conference championships and two wild cards go to the tournament. First 4 games are the next weekend (Dec. 11). Next 2 games are the next weekend (Dec. 18) then the championship game is on Jan 2nd or whenever.

The wild cards should be decided by rank - 2 highest ranking teams after the championship games (whether from mid-major or major conference). All the minor bowls can happen just as they had before and the big boys can split up the tourney through rotation like they do the BCS now.

Of course people will complain about which teams should be the two wild cards, but the fact of the matter is that any team that would be excluded from the tournament will have at least one loss, which means that they had the opportunity to be in the tournament if they had gone undefeated throughout the season.

This year the teams would have been Auburn, USC, Michigan, Oklahoma, Louisville, Va. Tech, Texas and Utah (factoring in the Big East realignment and assuming that conference winners would win a conference championship game where there wasn't one this year). Tell me that you wouldn't call the winner of that tournament the national champion!

There will be no more situations where a team did everything it could and still lost out. Auburn and Utah this year. Penn State in '94, etc. This tourney system preserves the power of the big conferences and gives everyone a shot.

I don't think this arrangment would be affected by the "slippery slope" argument because any team that is a legitimate national contender would be in the tourney and it consolidates the power to preserve the structure in the hands of the people who would want to preserve it (72 teams will be in tourney conferences, so they could always outvote the 56 or so that are in minor conferences).

Well, that's probably too long a comment to be actually readable, but hey, 13-0 out of the SEC... I've got a right to be a little obsessed.

A little fun fantasy follow up:

Just guessing and extrapolating, and assuming that 1 played 8, 2 played 7, etc., this could have been this year's tournament:

1st round:
USC-Va Tech

2nd round:

3rd round:

Is there a single game in there that you wouldn't want to watch?

The semi-finals would have been #1 USC vs. #4 Texas and #3 Auburn vs. #2 Oklahoma.

That's exactly what I'm proposing. Whoever else any of these four teams played in bowl games could have played each other, but this would have been the Final Four. Sorry, Utah.

I know there could be better systems in a fantasy world, but this would be better than what's there now, and immediately feasible, with no one changing conferences, wild cards, etc.

Of course, the drawback of the 2 round tournament is that it is completely infeasible and will never happen, but it is fun to think small I suppose. Also, it would do very little to solve any of the problems of the current system.

It is a fantasy to think that there is a simple incremental solution. The BCS was a giant step forward and has created a great opportunity to implement actual change, not timid modifications.

In answer to the original question, the top 3 specific criticisms of the 2-step tournament:

1. Continues to place so much emphasis on subjective polls as to make the process illegitmate. This year, hypothetically, when USC utterly obliterated Texas and Auburn did the same with Oklahoma, everyone would be up in arms, arguing that in fact Cal and Utah should have been in the 2-step tournament.

2. Creates an even more uneven distribution of the lucre of the tournament system. BCS bowls and conference championships are where the big money is now. Once you create a tournament, no matter how tiny, the vast majority of the money will be concentrated there, so in this case you will have at most 4 conferences sharing a piece of the annual tournament jackpot.

3. The big conferences want to stay big. A four team tournament doesn't advance their interest because it doesn't include them all and also puts them on an even competitive ground with mid-majors. Imagine, for example, that this year USC had lost to UCLA, Louisville had beaten Miami, and few other near misses actually hit and you would be looking at Auburn, Oklahoma, Louisville and Utah in the tournament. I'll let you guess exactly how many years that would have to happen for the big boys to walk away from the 4 team tourney and it would be naive to think this hasn't occurred to the big conference commissioners.

In short, any 2-step process (whether a 4 team tourney or a plus-one) is just the result of typical unproductive college sports thinking, where you try to solve last year's problem today. From the fans' perspective, it only looks good when there are three possible contenders for the championship, but fails in almost any other scenario.

The conference-oriented 8 team tournament comes closer to solving these problems, would be more palatable to the people who would have to implement it and would provide a lot of entertainment for college football fans.

Put 12 teams in each major conference (SEC, PAC-10, Big East, ACC, Big 12, Big 10).

How many teams are you proposing to have switch conferences? The phrase "snowball's chance in hell" comes to mind.

typical unproductive college sports thinking, where you try to solve last year's problem today

That's the beauty of my proposal -- the people who run college sports might actually go for it. I'll leave the "ideal" system for dreamers. I've got two fantasy basketball teams to run... 8c)

To rearrange the conferences, you would have to put one team in the Big 10 (Notre Dame would finally go for this now and the Big 10 has wanted it forever) and 2 in the Pac 10. The Big 12, SEC and ACC are already set.

The only basketcase is the Big East, which has like 8 teams next season and honestly I don't know how you could realign that because they are so insistent on destroying that conference. Obviously BGSU, Marshall, Miami (OH) and Navy would be great fits, but Navy will never join a conference and the Big East management doesn't have the gumption to pull teams, even from the MAC.

A conference championship game puts about $10-$15 million directly into the conference every year, and you have to have 12 teams to do it. This is a relatively recent development and the changes have already started happening (this is a big part of the Big East's near death). A conference championship is a powerful financial incentive to create 12 team conferences.

However, if you wanted to be incremental about it, you wouldn't need to require a championship game at all, and it would probably happen anyway in the PAC-10 and Big-10. You could just let the conference winners go to the big show.

The problem with your idea is that it sounds appealing to fans, but not to the people who can make decisions and will never be implemented for the reasons mentioned above, among others. This is a situation where the solution that sounds simple and acceptable is really not and the solution that sounds possibly more complex is more effective and implementable. I can't help but notice that your only criticism so far is to suggest that the ongoing process of conference realignment will stop in spite of financial incentives for it to continue.

I know it sounds "big", but go back to 1997 and imagine hearing someone say "I have a plan that will put Texas in the Rose Bowl while USC and Oklahoma play in the Orange Bowl for the national championship".

(See, I have the misfortune of only enjoying College football and baseball, so now I get to spend a few months thinking of pretty much nothing but the business of sports.)

Notre Dame won't join the Big 10. We didn't want it back then, we don't want it now. So what if we're having a few bad years. We're not that desperate. That said...

The BCS is going to have to do something, otherwise it going to have to deal with the teams and the fans. And who controls the money? The fans do.

This has happened twice in a row now where there have been two undefeated teams. Conferences aside (frankly, I don't understand them anyway), there has to be one championship team, and so far the BCS hasn't really demonstrated a way to resolve the problem.


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