I've spent the better part of the last two weeks doing a lot of soul searching. I've consulted family, friends, coworkers, along with the teachings of Christ and Buddha to find the answer. It's led to a string of sleepless nights, long hours of research, and a complete rejection of everything I've grown up to believe, but through all of this introspection, I firmly believe I have found the answer to the single greatest challenge facing this country at this defining moment in our history. I've found myself amazingly inline with both Republican Congressman Joe Barton and President-Elect Barack Obama on this extremely pressing issue. It is without qualification or precondition that I say to you now that we need to implement a playoff system in NCAA Division I football.
Now, I know there are naysayers with a ton of questions. First off, doesn't this trivialize the regular season much like college basketball's 65 team tournament? Not at all. My proposal is a 16 team, 15 game, 4 week tournament that would invite the champions of the ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Conference USA, MAC, MWC, PAC 10, SEC, Sun Belt, and WAC, along with 5 'at-large' teams. The 'at-large' teams would rely on a system similar to the current BCS ranking system to determine eligibility. The regular season absolutely matters, I would argue, even moreso under the system I propose because undefeated teams will actually be rewarded, no matter their conference or 'strength of schedule'. I would remove the conference limits too. If the Big 12 or SEC have 2 national caliber teams other than their champion, they deserve three tournament spots, end of story.
So what about all of those big money endorsements from the sponsors and networks of the bowls? Won't schools lose out on those dollars? This year there will be 33 bowl games. 33. Plus the BCS Championship. Think about how many of those you actually plan to watch. Generally, only about 6 or 7 of these bowls each year are seen as important enough to draw a sizable audience. If you're not a Kentucky alumnus or a fan of the East Carolina Pirates, under what circumstances do you imagine yourself watching the Liberty Bowl? Don't get me wrong, I grew up in North Mississippi, so the Liberty Bowl has a special place in my heart, but truthfully, unless one of the Mississippi schools were in it, it was never a part of my New Year's Day plans. My plan calls for granting corporate and network sponsorship and traditional bowl names to the first, second, and third round games. That doubles the number of games that matter from 7 to 15. The other 19 bowls can remain for those that don't make the tournament, because, let's face it, the Papajohns.com Bowl MUST live on!
So which bowls are endowed as 'tourney' bowls and in which rounds? This is where it gets a little tricky in the 'trying to please everybody' department. Let's start with the first round. I would base these on mid-majors that have higher seed participation, major conference participation, and have been around for a while. I would also force these games to adopt their original monikers, not their corporate namesakes. I'm more than willing to put the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl in the first round, but not the Chick-Fil-A bowl. Based on this, the first round would include the Liberty Bowl, the Peach Bowl, the Sun Bowl, the Gator Bowl, the Independence Bowl, the Holiday Bowl, the Hall of Fame Bowl, and the Alamo Bowl. I'm pretty adamant about Liberty, Peach, Sun, Gator, Holiday, and Hall of Fame, but I'm open to discussion on Alamo and Independence. First Round done, easy enough.
Now for the tricky part. How do we accommodate 4 BCS bowls into a sort of semifinals? My solution is to promote the Cotton and Citrus Bowls to BCS status, giving them, along with the Rose, Orange, Sugar, and Fiesta bowls, a two-bowl, three-year rotation between second and third rounds. For example, the first year, the Cotton, Citrus, Fiesta, and Orange Bowls will be the second round, while the Sugar and Rose Bowls will be considered the third round. The second year, we'd see Fiesta and Orange Bowls in the third round. The third year, we'd see the Cotton and Citrus Bowls in the third round. The Championship game would rotate locations every year to the site of the one of the 6 second and third round games, much like they do now.
Seeding is from where the most pushback will come. I've toyed with the idea of a lottery, but I think this would lead to the possibility of a very weak bracket winner coming in against a very strong bracket winner. This doesn't benefit anyone. That being said I think the best course of action is to grant, based on current BCS rankings, the top 8 tourney entrants vs the bottom 8 tourney entrants, regardless of Championship status. For example, if Oklahoma is ranked #1 in the BCS, they should play Sun Belt Champion Troy in the first round, instead of possible 'at large' team Texas.
Scheduling provides another challenge. 15 games over the course of about 4 weeks is a feat unto itself, but not at all undoable. The tournament would start on the Saturday a week after the major bowl championships with 3 games on Saturday, 3 games on Sunday, and 1 on Monday and Tuesday nights. The second round would include one game the following Friday night, with three on Saturday. The third round would be two Saturday games the following week. This would bring us to the Championship which would fall on the Monday a week later. Brackets would be setup so that the #1-#4 seeds are spaced far enough apart that they'd have a greater likelihood of playing each other in the third round and/or championship. Special accommodations could be made so games fall on Christmas and New Year's Day.
So, let's look out how that would play out this year. We'd open on Saturday, December 13 with Oklahoma vs. Troy in the (Chick Fil-A) Peach Bowl, Penn State vs. Boise State in the Alamo Bowl, and Alabama vs Virginia Tech in the Sun Bowl. Sunday, December 14 would see USC vs Cincinatti in the Gator Bowl, Utah vs TCU in the Independence Bowl, and Texas vs East Carolina in the (Outback) Hall of Fame Bowl. Monday, December 15 would see Texas Tech vs Ohio State in the Holiday Bowl, and finally Tuesday night would give us Florida vs Buffalo in the Liberty Bowl. No doubt there are some potential snoozers, but overall, the matchups are much more intriguing than what we'd see otherwise, and more importantly, each game matters. If Troy were to somehow upset Oklahoma, it would be more than a 'feather in the hat', it would have major consequences on the National Championship.
That beings said, let's assume that the higher rated team won in each instance and we'd get a December 19th Friday night second round matchup of Oklahoma vs Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl and a Saturday tripleheader of Alabama vs USC in the Orange Bowl, Utah vs Texas in the Cotton Bowl and Florida vs Texas Tech in the (Capital One) Citrus Bowl. Now we're talking about four potentially classic matchups. Now, let's assume that the favorites continue to win into the third round. At this point, we'd get Alabama vs Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl and a Florida vs Texas in the Rose Bowl, both on Saturday, Dec. 27. The winner of each would of course play in the Championship game in Miami on Monday, January 5.
So there you have it, 15 potentially great games. The sponsors and networks get their money. The schools get their money. We'll eliminate hundreds of 'what if?' scenarios and see matchups we would have never imagined. There will be much less 'this team got screwed' talk. If the Utahs of the world think they deserve a place amongst the Oklahomas and Floridas of the world, they'll have a chance to show it. Most of all, we'll get a true, undisputed champion through actual head to head matchups instead of BCS voodoo. You would be hard-pressed to argue that any team that beat Troy, Penn State, Alabama, and Florida or East Carolina, Utah, Florida, and Oklahoma or Virginia Tech, USC, Oklahoma, and Florida or Buffalo, Texas Tech, Texas, and Alabama in consecutive weeks is in any way "overrated".
I think it's time the world realized the joy that could be December Madness.
Rodney Hopper II