Every year we get the same thing in College Football. We get an argument over who is in the National Championship, an argument that the bowl system is super crooked and that we need playoffs and we usually get some pretty damn good football games.
I favor the current system–with some major tweaks–and I’ll tell you why.
First: A Clarification
College Football playoffs already exist. The NCAA created a playoff system when they created the Bowl Championship Series National Championship Game in 2007. It is a two-team playoff. Say what you want about how those teams are picked but we are arguing about playoff expansion.
Note: The first playoffs for a major sport in this country was the World Series in 1903 (or 1884 depending on who you ask). It was also a two-team playoff. Major League baseball didn’t expand its playoffs until the League Championship Series in the 1960s.
Keep: the National Championship, the bowls (even Kraft Food Fight Hunger), the BCS rating system.
Throw out: self-generated out-of-conference schedules, Conference Championship games.
Here’s the plan. Front load the season with conference play. That means every team plays its first eight or so games against conference foes. This gives you the immediate excitement of traditional rivals facing off in Week 1. After the conference schedule allow each school a non-conference rival game.
Now for the big tweak. Make the last four games of the season a non-conference schedule decided by the BCS rating system. Each team would play an opponent of similar strength. A number 1 team would play another team in the top 15. In general the higher-ranked team would get home field, however, there should also be a stiuplation to keep teams from playing three consecutive road games. This essentially moves playoffs to the regular season.
Imagine the last four weeks of the college football season with whole slates of games that can make or break the season for potential national champions. This improves the Heisman race, eliminates soft-scheduling problems faced by teams like Texas Christian, Boise State and Nevada and keeps college schedules reasonably short.
Best Regular Season in Sports
Playoffs diminish the value of the regular season. There is no way around this; the more people you let into the playoffs the less the regular season matters. One of the greatest things about college football is it is the only major sport where perfection matters. Think of week 17 NFL football or post-clinching September baseball where teams lay down to their opponents. Nothing is a greater bastardization of the spirit of competition than theses kabuki contests. Especially when you consider that they can have real implications for the playoff picture (see: 2009 New York Jets).
An eight, 10, 12 or 16 team playoff will mean its okay for Southeastern Conference teams to lose one or even two games. The only other way to get the thrill we got out of this year’s Boise State/Nevada game is to put money on it.
Don’t Fix What Ain’t Broke
Just because we have a need for a more equitable National Championship doesn’t mean we need to scrap what already works. The Rose, Orange and Sugar Bowls have dedicated followings and the prestige of these games should be left as undisturbed as possible. My father and grandfather, who both hail from a Big Ten town, watched the Rose Bowl together every year for 40 years, 20 of which they spent 900 miles away from one another. It meant something to them and these bowls, especially the Rose, mean something to someone else too. Turning them into semifinals or something other than destination is wrong.