Saturday, November 28, 2009

The BCS Playoff Problem

(Contributed by Josh Carey)

BCS officials have started a website, as a Public Relations tool to say why the BCS is so great. On the front page of their site they ask a series of questions that are supposedly prohibitive to a playoff. Since they are unwilling to attempt to answer them themselves, I have written this open letter (which was also submitted to their group via their contact form) to describe what a college football playoff would look like.

Who would participate?

All 11 conference champions and five at-large teams in a 16 team, single-elimination playoff.

How many automatic qualifiers?

11, one per recognized conference, just like every other NCAA-sanctioned sport.

What would be the criteria to qualify?

At-large teams would be selected on record, strength of schedule, head-to-hand/common opponents and quality of wins, just as in other NCAA sports. All of these elements can be mathematically defined, if so desired. Like other NCAA Sports, a committee would be formed to make those determinations.

What would be the criteria for seedings?

Same as the criteria for at-large bids.

Where would the games be played?

The first two rounds would be played at the sites of the higher-seeded teams, the final four would be played at current BCS bowls and the national championship would be played a week later at the site of a different BCS bowl. The playoffs would not eliminate the current bowl system.

When would the games be played?

Conferences would be required to finished their schedule by the end of November. The first two Saturdays of December would host the first two rounds. The final four would be played in January as with existing bowls.

If you could resolve all that would everyone be satisfied?

The owners of the website claim the answer to this question is "no", which is technically true. But the question is not "would everybody be happy?" It is impossible to design a system that generated 100% happiness. But this system does get five main groups pleased.

1) BCS conference schools: At-large bids will almost always go to these conferences, so their current advantage is maintained.

2) Non-BCS conference schools: The argument of a meaningful regular season in college football under the current system is not true for these schools who can be assured of no chance of winning a national title under the current system. A playoff enhances the regular season for these teams as they would be able to play for the championship by winning their league.

3) Academic Presidents: The system keeps players as free as other sports' players (basketball, for example) during exams.

4) Athletic Departments: Additional high-profile home games during the playoffs would be a boon for hosting institutions. The playoff system as a whole would allow existing bowls to maintain their status and select either non-playoff or eliminated playoff teams, which would generating additional revenue.

5) Fans: While fans of some teams (those at-large contenders not selected, for example) would be upset, the larger number of teams with a realistic shot at the national championship means a more engaged fan base, which is only beneficial for the sport.

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