Sometimes it’s scary how great minds think alike.
Kyle King at DawgSports was kind enough to post a word of praise for something I wrote recently about the BCS and RPI. His post in turn spawned a comments thread in which I participated where the discussion focused on the flaws in the BCS selection process. And while I disagree with some of what LD of Gunslingers fame (congrats on your announcement, BTW) wrote, I do think he has a valid point when he argues that what the BCS needs is more objectivity in the process of how schools are chosen to play for the MNC.
What he means by “objectivity” is that, as opposed to a bunch of wise men sitting around in a room, or voting in a poll, or stroking a computer in order to decide who gets to play, the system should set some specific goals that, if met, mean that a school goes to the postseason to play for all the marbles.
The obvious model here is the NFL: win your division, or be a wild card, and you go to the playoffs. No muss, no fuss, no bother. While I don’t like wild cards in football or in poker, I do like the certainty of the rest of the NFL process.
Let me say again that I’m not opposed to D-1 football playoffs. What I am opposed to is any sort of postseason that undermines what makes college football special – a regular season that is relevant and vibrant unlike any other sport.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Florida and Georgia were not traditional rivals of Tennessee, but since 1992, there has been a fierce rivalry that has sprung up between the Vols and the two schools, because only one of the three can claw its way out of the SEC East and on to a bigger stage in the post season. With a 32 or 64 team playoff, that intensity will vanish overnight.
That’s why I can live with the current version of the BCS, flawed though it may be. But I do wonder if it’s possible to have something better – something that would give us more of LD’s objectivity without spoiling the greatness of the regular season. How might the NFL’s playoff setup translate over into D-1 football?
There are some formidable roadblocks – Notre Dame, the Rose Bowl and antitrust issues are just a few that come to mind – that would have to be overcome to make it work. But what I like about the concept is that, if properly implemented, it would serve the relevance of the regular season, as opposed to diminishing it (my non-negotiable point of beginning in any discussion about D-1 football playoffs, of course).
Anyway, to make a long story short, I’m thinking to make something like this work, there’s going to have to be some restructuring of the football conferences and D-1 as a whole. So what do I find on the blogosphere? Kyle’s weighed in on the subject of conference realignment! (And he’s not kidding when he calls it “radical”, at least judging by his remaking of Conference USA here.)
I’m going to approach this from a different standpoint than he has, though. Rather than figuring out which school goes where, I’m looking for an overall structure that will deliver an exciting, meaningful postseason without destroying what makes the college football regular season so special. So without further ado, here goes.
Step One – Expand D-1 to 130 teams. Currently, I believe there are 117 schools playing D-1 football. I would modestly increase that number to 130. Don’t panic yet – there’s a method to my madness here. I think there will be thirteen 1-AA schools that would be interested in stepping up after hearing my proposal.
Step Two – Establish a First Division and Second Division in D-1 football. I freely admit to stealing this concept from British soccer. D-1′s First Division would be comprised of eight power conferences of ten teams each, for a total of eighty schools. The Second Division would feature the remaining fifty schools in five ten team conferences. As you might guess, there would be a mechanism by which a Second Division school could move up to the First Division – more on that in just a moment.
Unlike Kyle, I’d prefer to leave existing conferences intact as much as possible. For those conferences with more than ten member schools, I would apply a “last in, first out” approach, which would mean that the SEC would shed Arkansas and South Carolina, the Big 10 would lose Penn State, etc. By my count, that would cause seven schools to have to relocate, which together with, say, the three or four independents that would choose to affiliate, would allow the powers that be to strengthen the two non-BCS conferences to balance the scales more fairly between them and the BCS conferences. (If there were a desire to do some modest reconfiguring beyond that, I wouldn’t have a problem.)
Step Three – Scheduling. Every school would play a twelve game regular season, nine games against its conference opponents and three games against other schools in its division. Schools could select one non-conference game to schedule, to preserve longstanding rivalry games. The other two non-conference games would rotate (home and home, over a two year period) against schools in other conferences, with a rough attempt made, a la the NFL, to match schools of equal strength against each other.
Step Four – First Division championship. Since all conference schedules become round-robin, there’s no need for a conference championship game. The eight conference winners would go on to play in a three round playoff series starting in late December. Teams would be seeded for the first round, based on the polls or BCS rankings (we’d still need that because of the non-conference games), with the top four seeds hosting the games at home. The semis and the final would take place at the top tier bowls, on a rotating basis (or, based on high bidder, if the conference commissioners really want to be completely mercenary about it).
Step Five – The Bowl games. You’ve got a lot of great teams that want to play in the postseason, so there’s still a place for the bowls. Also, don’t forget that coaches like the excuse for additional practices, and ESPN still wants that TV product, which means the money will still be there. As for the criticism that a playoff would diminish the bowl season, it’s possible, although, again, there will likely be some very good teams that don’t win their conferences. As for the lesser bowls, there’s a way to spice them up, as well. All bowl games would be concluded before the playoff commenced.
Step Six – The “Darwin” Bowls. Maybe you’ve noticed that I haven’t discussed a playoff for the Second Division schools. That’s because I have something else in mind for the Second Division conference champs.
If you’re tired of 6-6 teams facing off on a blue field in crappy weather because ESPN can make a couple of bucks, I have an idea for something very different. Take five minor bowl games and schedule the worst five teams in the First Division against the five conference winners in the Second Division with the idea that if certain criteria are met over time, First Division teams can be demoted to Second Division conferences and vice versa. Call ‘em the Darwin Bowls.
Basically, if a First Division school appears in a Darwin Bowl game three times in a four year period and loses at least twice, it’s sent packing. The most eligible Second Division school available, based on its performance on the field and its ability to support the program, would be moved up in class to take its place. I suspect those games will generate significant interest.
There you have it, in six easy (sure…) steps. There are some serious obstacles, like how Notre Dame gets talked into playing along and how to accommodate the demands of the Rose Bowl. Some schools no doubt would raise strenuous objections to being placed in the Second Division. There’s also the loss of revenue from the conference championship games being eliminated to consider, although if your school gets a home seed in the first round of the playoffs, I doubt you’d bitch about the tradeoff.
But look at the positives:
- The regular season retains its significance. You can’t make the playoffs unless you win your conference title. Lulu and Junior would be saved. Plus, a conference champ that dogs any of the OOC games runs the risk of a visitor’s seed in the first playoff round.
- The whining about who should be in or out is largely reduced, if not eliminated totally. You don’t win your conference, you keep your mouth shut, Lloyd Carr. (There might still be a little complaining about the seeding order, but we need to keep a little bit of the human element in play, just so Tuberville will have something to shake his head over.)
- If anything, bowl games become more meaningful – especially when your school makes that second appearance in a Darwin Bowl.
- Regular season scheduling is improved with the elimination of powder puff games against 1-AA schools and with the planned rotation against schools in other conferences (can you say Ohio State in Athens in September? Yeah, baby!)
- Antitrust threats might be diminished. First, mid-majors will be more fairly represented, as two conferences that are not currently BCS will be placed on an equal footing with the six that are. Second, with the Darwin Bowls, it’s possible for a lower tier program to make a serious commitment to stepping up in class and be rewarded eventually for its persistence.
- You get a twelve game regular season and an eight team playoff without extending the season beyond when it ends now. And with the first round of the playoffs at home for four schools, the travel burden is only a little greater for most fans.
Not that this has any chance of happening in my lifetime, but as a purely intellectual exercise, it’s fun to consider. Comments and criticism are welcome – unless you want to include wild cards in the playoff. In which case, go draft your own mad scheme.
UPDATE: Unbeknownst to me, in December, the NCAA in its infinite wisdom decided to rename D-1 and 1-AA with more politically correct titles. Screw it – I’m not gonna go back and reedit the post…