It may seem odd to include an article on college football in the Ellis County Liberal Examiner, however, HR 390, the College Football Playoff Act of 2009, was sponsored by Joe Barton, the Congressman for TX-6, wherein Ellis County resides. This makes it topical. While I think it's superfluous and wasteful to impose legislation, and I think it's hypocritical of Mr. Barton to trumpet himself as the harbinger of limited government while simultaneously sponsoring legislation that imposes the federal government's will into our beloved college football season, it is without qualification or precondition that I say to you now that we need to implement a playoff system in what is known today as the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision.
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 an Arkansas 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, have large payouts, 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 Alabama is ranked #1 in the BCS, they should play Sun Belt Champion Troy in the first round, instead of possible ‘at large’ team Penn State.
Scheduling provides another challenge. 15 games over the course of about 4 weeks is a feat unto itself, especially while preventing overlap, but not at all undoable. The tournament would start on the Saturday a week after the major conference 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 get conference champions Alabama, Texas, Cincinnati, TCU, Boise State, Oregon, Ohio State, Georgia Tech, Central Michigan, East Carolina, and Troy, along with at-large teams Florida, Iowa, LSU, and Penn State.
We’d open on Saturday, December 12 with Alabama vs. Troy in the (Chick Fil-A) Peach Bowl, Ohio State vs Georgia Tech in the Alamo Bowl, and Cincinnati vs Central Michigan in the Sun Bowl. Sunday, December 13 would see TCU vs Penn State in the Gator Bowl, Florida vs LSU in the Independence Bowl, and Boise State vs Virginia Tech in the (Outback) Hall of Fame Bowl. Monday, December 14 would see Oregon vs Iowa in the Holiday Bowl, and finally Tuesday night would give us Texas vs. East Carolina 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 Alabama, it would be more than a ‘feather in the hat’, it would have major consequences on the National Championship.
That being said, let’s assume that the higher rated team won in each instance and we’d get a December 18th Friday night second round matchup of Alabama vs Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl and a Saturday tripleheader of Texas vs Oregon in the Orange Bowl, Cincinnati vs Boise State in the Cotton Bowl and TCU vs Florida 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 TCU in the Sugar Bowl and Texas vs Cincinnati in the Rose Bowl, both on Friday, Dec. 25. The winner of each would of course play in the Championship game in Pasadena on Friday, January 1.
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 TCU's of the world think they deserve a place amongst the Texases and Alabamas 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, Ohio State, TCU, and Texas or East Carolina, Oregon, Cincinnati, 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.