Friday, December 11, 2009

of playoffs, and how best to make them work

Almost everyone, it seems, is a BCS hater, with the notable exception of people actually on the BCS payroll. Even Congress appears to be getting involved. At this point, people's disposition toward the BCS is now so negative that thus far the best argument anyone can come up for keeping the stupid thing goes something like, "Um ... well, can YOU do any better?"

(Note: One of my favorite things to hear people say about Congress' potential involvement is the tired, "Don't they have more important things to do?" And the answer is yes, but they do them badly. Would you rather have Congress focused on the BCS or pushing through a massive health care bill with damaging long-term ramifications? The BCS or illegally wiretapping millions of Americans without their knowledge? The BCS or giant bailout programs that reward people for taking foolish risks with money that wasn't theirs to begin with? I thought so.)

Anyway, we CAN, in fact, do better. Over the past week, a number of different playoff proposals have been advanced in and around the blogosphere.

(Another note: Why EA Sports hasn't yet added a "Playoff" option to people's Dynasty formats on the NCAA series is beyond me. Are they on the BCS' payroll, also? Let's get a Congressional sub-committee on this.)

Before we begin to seriously address any of these proposals, we must answer two rather large questions:
1. How much do we want the regular season to mean?
2. Should the bowl games stay or go?

As you know if you've kept up with this blog at all, I personally have vascillated on the subject. My original idea was for a 6-teamer, which would a) allow us to keep the bowl system basically as it is now and b) keep the regular season meaningful (because the top-6 would all be capable and deserving of national consideration, and the top-2 would receive bye weeks); at some point I settled on the 16-team idea, essentially arguing that we should blow up the whole friggin thing and start over (bowls be damned).

Let there be no mistake: anything beyond a "plus-one" or 6-team model is a call to overhaul the entire college football system. You'd have to reduce the regular season by at least one game (possibly 2) and get rid of conference championships. And the bowls will go the way of the dinosaur. If you're OK with these things, then let's do it. But you should at least think twice about it.

(Note: I say, if we're going that route, we should also reduce the size of Division I by at least half, then make a rule that nobody gets to play below its division. That will improve the quality of play in Division I, also.)

Anyway, here are a few other ideas:
— At, they imagined a world in which the entire top-25 plays in a staggered format.
The NFL uses a 12-team playoff, Division I FCS uses a 16-team, Division II a 24-team, and Division III a 32-team so really anything is feasible. With that mindset I took the final BCS top 25 and made a 25-team bracket, with the top seven teams each getting a first-round bye.

This is a novel concept, but offers too much room for ... something crazy. It's one thing for a 6 seed to catch fire and win the basketball crown, but in football? I'm not OK with that – the champion should be the champion of the entire season, not just the last 3 weeks of it.
— At The Sporting Blog, they offered this (very catchy-sounding) alternative idea: The Tournament of Champions.
It's more than just semantics, actually. Invite the conference champion from all 11 FBS leagues into a tournament, adding in the FCS National Champion to make a 12-team playoff. Sorry Notre Dame, if you ever want to get into the Tournament of Champions, you'll have to suck it up and join a conference.
With 12 teams, four would get byes, and those four teams could be determined by a modification of the BCS rankings. Personally, I'd put more weight on overall strength of the conferences; because each team is representing their conference as its champion, the rankings would be weighted toward conference RPI. For example, this playoff system would not include Florida -- they'd play in one of the remaining bowl games (just like they are doing this year, by the way) -- but due to the overall strength of the SEC, thanks in part to the Gators' fantastic season, Alabama would easily earn the top seed, and a first-round bye.
In theory, this system protects four of the six BCS conferences from playing a first-round game, with the fifth seed playing the FCS Champion. If it were weighted on team success, TCU would have a bye this season, but based on the overall strength of the Big Ten or Pac-10, Ohio State or Oregon would be awarded the bye over the Mountain West Champion.

One problem: conference affiliation seems like an arbitrary way to earn a playoff spot. Is it fair, for example, for the champs of the milquetoast Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives to have a shot at a national title? Over a team like Florida? Really?

Of course, any system is flawed; even March Madness, as Wilbon writes, won't stop screwing around with its format. But all of these ideas sound better than the tepid BCS, which has reached such absurd heights, even SNL took notice.

But what do you guys think? What's your best idea for a playoff proposal? Do we keep the bowls? Lose them?
Feel free to give your input in the commentary section.


Rob said...

1)Cut the number of Division IA teams to 72.
2)Six conferences of 12 teams each.
3)Champion determined by 11 game round robin like the Pac-10.
4)6 champions are seeded via random draw. Two teams get draws, rotated
among the conferences.
5)Bottom two teams from each conference move down to Division IAA, and the top 12 of Division IAA move up to IA. I always liked this from the English soccer leagues.

UmcMatt said...

Rob, that can never happen because you have too many out of league games that are too important. Do you think that FSU-Florida is willing to give that up? You think Georgia or Georgia Tech will agree to this?

You have to be able to play at least 1 or 2 out of conference games each year.

Rob said...

No, I don't think they will give it up. Although something can be said of inter league play ruining the rivalries in MLB.

I also don't think we should have a playoff.

The biggest reason not to have a playoff is that congress is involved. Once the government gets involved it won't stop. This year they will mandate a playoff, next year they will increase the teams that are in it, the year after that they won't like how they are chosen. It won't end.

Everyone mentions the NCAA tournament, but I don't understand the appeal. You still have an arbitrary process to pick the majority of the teams. Plus you have two conference winners having to play into the tournament. I think congress needs to get on this.