Deciding a Champion: BCS vs. Playoff Formats

I was not always a college football fan.  The NFL pretty much capped my experience until I enrolled as a student at the University of Texas in 2003.  It was then that the college football subculture engulfed my life.  From the outset, I was surrounded by burnt orange t-shirts, cowboy boots, beer and chants of “Hook ’em Horns.”  It didn’t take me long to realize that Texas football was the biggest Texas pastime beside the fraternity and sorority initiations happening down my street en masse.

College football, to the avid beer-drinkin’ fan, is a quest for #1.  So imagine my surprise when I asked (in such a freshman moment) the oldest kid I could find, “How exactly is a national (college football) champion chosen?”  He told me about how teams are ranked according to their conference, games won, toughness of schedule and human opinion polls.  I was even more confused after he imparted the answer than before I requested it.

“You mean, there’s no playoff?”, I replied.  “No,” he said, “but there are bowl games.”

Bowl games are not playoff games.  They are traditional publicity games.

Under the current BCS system, only the top 2 ranked BCS teams will ever have chance of being crowned national champions.  On top of that, teams that remain undefeated during the regular season from a “lesser” conference could be struck from the top 2 for failing to have “a tougher schedule” or because were underestimated in the human opinion polls.  But hey, if you aren’t ranked in the top 2 and remain undefeated, you can go to one of the millions of bowl games, right?  I mean, what’s better than passing up an opportunity to be #1 than accept a measly payout from the Bowl?  Sounds kinda ridiculous.

Here are the arguments for and against the BCS system:

Creates playoff atmosphere for the entire season
Traditional bowl games

Decides a team based on computer rankings and polls, not head-to-head competition
Often produces controversial champion
smaller, non-BCS conferences disenfranchised

My question is: “why not merge the BCS into a playoff format that still uses traditional bowl games?”  Some will call this heresy.  Most will pay attention.

The proposed “Marriage” of the BCS/Playoff formats can be found here.  The proposal is a little dated, since the BCS has added an additional BCS National Championship bowl game.  The gist of the proposal is still on point.

To summarize, the BCS should still rank teams using the same format.  This handles ranking 80+ Division I teams from 11 conferences.  The top 8 teams at the end of the season, regardless of conference, should enter a playoff format, using the current BCS bowl games as the venue.  All BCS/Playoff bowl games would be played at the beginning of January, much like what happens now.

This proposal does many things:  it keeps the tradition of the bowl games, it eliminates conference discrimination, it enfranchises every team, it produces an undisputed national champion.

In conclusion, the dismantling of the BCS is not the solution – there’s too much money and fan base clinging to the tradition.  The solution is the marriage of equity and tradition using playoff bowl games.