Time to fix College Football's flawed Championship Structure (again)


Keith R. Thompson,

October 21, 2007

Last Thursday night the football world was treated to another very scintillating match in which then unranked Rutgers University outlasted then #2 ranked University of South Florida 30-27 to knock the USF Bulls from the ranks of the undefeated and once again send a powerful jolt across the landscape of College Football. With just eight weeks of football completed the number of undefeated teams have now withered down to a measly five. The last time only five undefeated teams remained after the week 8 schedule of games (back in 2003) none went on to finish the season undefeated. Will the 2007 season go down as another similarly wild affair, and another wasted opportunity for College Football to fix its very broken Bowl Championship structure?

Back in 1992, after two successive seasons that failed to produce a consensus National Champion, the Bowl Coalition was born. It’s sole purpose was to provide a matchup of the top two teams in the country, however, with two of the premier conferences (the Big Ten and Pac Ten) missing from that Coalition it was doomed to failure after just three years. Subsequent attempts to bring all of the top conferences – including the Big Ten and Pac Ten – into this Coalition resulted in first the Bowl Alliance, and then the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) being formed in 1998. With the BCS experiment now in its tenth season, however, we are still no closer to crowning an unambiguous National Champion in College Football. In the 2006 Title game, for example, 12-0 Ohio State was matched up against 12-1 Florida for the right to be so crowned. However, can anyone say definitively what the results would have been like had that Ohio State team played a 12-0 Boise State team, or one of the three 11-1 teams in Michigan, Louisville or Wisconsin. It is true that Ohio State did defeat Michigan earlier in the season but the victory was by a measly field-goal, at home. Would the results have been different on neutral soil? None of this is to suggest that Florida was not a worthy opponent for Ohio State. Indeed their performance in that championship game proved that they were more that worthy challengers. However, College Football needs a better system to ensure that a team is not too heavily penalized for one loss. Florida lost their seventh game of the 2006 season but still came back to earn a berth in the championship game. Michigan, by losing its twelfth, was not so lucky.

This season a number of teams have an excellent chance of finishing the season with only one loss. Among them are Oklahoma, LSU and West Virginia. In fact, there is a very good chance that no team will remain undefeated at the end of the regular season. How then does the BCS propose to correct for this fiasco. A system that was supposed to guarantee the best matchup for the National Championship game may end up bringing us exactly where we started, that is once again over-relying on the biases and subjectivity of human voters in deciding who should be granted the privilege of contending for the title.

Within this quagmire into which College Football has once again found itself how can the NCAA and the various Bowls restore confidence in the system. How about considering this revolutionary proposition. With the existing BCS arrangement expected to expire in the 2009-10 season a playoff system could be instituted the following year which includes only the top-ten ranked teams as determined by a system similar to the current BCS ranking format. The proposed playoff format could be as follows:

First round (played on the first Saturday in December) – the top six ranked teams receive a bye, while the seventh through tenth-ranked teams battle in a one-game knock-out.

Quarter-finals (played on the second Saturday in December) – the top six-ranked teams plus two qualifiers compete against each other.

 Semi-finals (played on the third Saturday in December) – the winners of the Quarter- finals matches battle each other.

Finals (played during the first week in January) – the winners of the Semi-finals matches square off for the National Championship.

Losers within the Playoffs can then compete in the various major Bowl Games that are competed for in early January.

Minor Bowl Games (i.e. those played in December) can be competed for between the Semi-finals and Finals match-ups, and allows those various Bowls to select teams that are not competing in the Playoffs.

 It should be noted that except for the first round to semi-final playoff match-up the proposed system of Bowl games and National Championship game is similar to the existing arrangement whereby a National Championship game is played exactly one week after all of the January 1st Bowl Games. The proposed playoff format therefore will not eliminate the need for Bowl Games, but instead will ensure that each of the top teams have an equal shot at qualifying for the Title game. In order to minimize the strain on teams who might now play too many games under the proposed format the NCAA could revert to the original 11-game regular season format, or even a 10-game regular season. Alternatively, the NCAA could eliminate the first-round of the playoffs and instead only include the top eight teams, and begin play in the quarter- finals stage.

A decade ago the BCS injected a measured improvement into the College Football landscape. However, the changes were more of a band-aid rather than a real structural change. Now we have a historic opportunity to finally fix the system. Let’s not continue to penalize some of those one-loss teams (especially those losses that are suffered late into the season) just because some of the pollsters aren’t fully capable of accurately assessing where some teams should rank. South Florida’s loss to Rutgers should not automatically disqualify the Bulls from championship considerations in this otherwise successful season. .

 

2007 PER Sports, Inc.

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