As I watched the football game between Boise State and Nevada last night, I had several thoughts about the BCS-method of crowning a national champion. Here they are in no particular order:
We already have a playoff in major college football. I'm not talking about the Division I FCS tournament (which is great). I'm talking about the BCS national championship game, a two-team, one-game playoff. The trouble is that when it comes to selecting a playoff field that is so small, we tend to think that more than two teams deserve a shot at winning the championship.
The teams that end up in the championship game do so on the wings of tradition. Only teams from a true power conference can earn enough points to be ranked in the top two by the end of the year. With two weeks left, college football still has six undefeated teams. There might still be five by the time the BCS gets to select its two teams. How can any system select two teams without controversy?
I don't think it is possible, or desirable to eliminate all controversy. And, for that matter...
Expanding the playoff to 4 or 8 or 16 teams would not eliminate controversy. This became even more apparent to me when I was watching the game last night. Boise State will likely go undefeated in the regular season, yet they were in the same discussion as Iowa, Penn State, and Oklahoma State (all ranked worse than 10th). Even an undefeated Boise State team might have trouble getting into a larger playoff field.
What about the 16-team playoff in the Football Championship Subdivision? Is there any controversy about who makes the tournament? You bet. It is called being "Woofed" after the Wofford Terriers, who in 2002 had a tremendous season, but were left out of the playoffs. Just imagine if we had a 6-team playoff and Boise State were left off the list. We might coin a new term for major college football: "Smurfed."
BCS supporters say that they love the BCS because it creates controversy, and the controversy is fun to watch. The case of Boise State shows why that's false. There's plenty of controversy in a playoff. The BCS merely shifts the controversy from the bubble teams (like Boise State and Oklahoma State) to the actual national championship game. To be sure,the Fiesta Bowl means something, but it is less satisfying for fans if that something doesn't go anywhere.
Expanding the playoff would increase (not reduce) competition. BCS supporters sometimes claim that the fragility of the BCS makes the regular season more interesting. Every week matters if a loss ends your national championship hopes. The thought is that this tension makes teams play harder.
That's probably true... for Florida and Alabama, but I am not so sure that it is true for Oklahoma State after they lost their first game... or for Oregon, or Stanford, or USC in the really competitive PAC 10. I doubt national championship dreams had much bite for Ohio State after they lost to USC, or to Penn State after they lost to Iowa... Pittsburgh after NC State or West Virginia beat them .... you get the point. Under the BCS championship, most teams have less incentive on account of national championship dreams.
Expanding the playoff might reduce competition for the very top teams, but you could easily fix that by having a playoff with two first-round byes (for example, with a 6-team playoff). That incentive and the drive to be #1 would probably be enough to keep Florida and Alabama sharp.
After getting off of my soap box, here's my poll of the week:
If you could replace the BCS-method with something, what would you do?
(a) Nothing. The BCS works great.
(b) Replace it with a 4 team playoff.
(c) 6-team playoff with byes for the top two teams
(d) Forget about crowning a national champion. We're all champions from some perspective.
The poll is on the sidebar, and it is open for a week. Please vote early and often. Tell your local spirit squad to vote. I look forward to hearing what you have to say.