Every year around Thanksgiving, my family sits around a large-ish table and we eat turkey, stuffing, and pie. This is not a new tradition. Over the past 10 years, however, a new tradition has been added, and depending on your own family's level of insane, you may have noticed as well. It's the post-dinner BCS discussion, whereupon my dad, myself, and to varying degrees any guests that have the misfortune of being present, hash out the current scenario and, in a tryptophan haze, opine on how a playoff system would theoretically look. Nothing is accomplished, sometimes people get angry, and eventually we drift off to pretend to watch the Cowboys while we sleep.
While we are indeed discussion College Football, this is not a good thing. Any time the majority of discourse in a sport revolves around how the league is structured, you've got problems. In Major League Baseball, there is very little discussion from fans about how the playoffs are figured out, structured, and executed. Sure, from time to time there is a qualm about who gets homefield, or whether the most important games of the year should be played in snowslushhailrain. By and large, however, people talk about the matchups instead of the structure. I love talking about College Football. My girlfriend got me to admit just this morning that I have a crush on Tim Tebow (I mean, he would just fit so perfectly into our offense...). I talk about this stuff way more than anyone should. But we should be talking about the matchups on the field, not the structure by which those matchups are created. This is not the problem of the fan, but rather a fundamental flaw within the league that is NCAA football. Orson simply throws up his hands and tells you to be happy with what you can control.
Over the past few days, there have been some elegant arguments on how, exactly, we should change things. I find MgoBrian's thoughts particularly relevant:
You cannot oppose a playoff and be in favor of the BCS in any form: the BCS is a playoff. It is a two-team playoff in a field of 119 teams. Those teams play 12 or 13 games and have schedules so segregated it's impossible to distinguish between one-loss teams in difference conferences. It is the worst playoff that has ever been conceived. It sanctions the idea that there is a real national championship to pursue, then awards it in the worst way possible. I would prefer anything to it.
If you are going to sanction a real-life National Champion then you need to have a system in place that allows for no doubt as to who that Champion is. The BCS is not that system; it is broken; it needs to die.
Or does it?
Another quote from the same post:
So, I say this to Peter and Texas fans everywhere: I don't know. I don't know if you are a better team or had a better season than Oklahoma. I don't know if Florida or Alabama did. I don't know if USC or Penn State did. Since the devolution of college football scheduling has deprived us of more than a half dozen meaningful comparison points between one conference and another, I am guessing.
The italicized section is my own emphasis, and it's got me thinking. Maybe we're going about this the wrong way. Instead of trying to tinker with a post-season playoff, why don't we tinker with the 119-team playoff that is the regular season?
The way I see it, nearly every team that has a legitimate shot at a BCS title game not named Ohio State or USC is nearly guaranteed to enter conference play undefeated. The devolution of scheduling, as Brian put it, has made this the norm. If we had more comparative points between teams, we could more easily decide who the "best" of any two given teams would be. This year, Oklahoma is getting major points because they've beaten TCU. If you were to replace TCU with, say, Georgia, would that argument be made stronger? Even if you end up with a bunch of 2 loss teams, the comparison between them would be made much easier if they had played their non-conference games against BCS opponents.
I don't think the answer here is to necessarily strengthen the "strength of schedule" metric in the current calculations. Rather, I think a more sweeping rule should be in place. This could take many forms:
1) If you don't play at least 3 of your OOC games against schools from BCS conferences, you don't get to play for the national title; outlaw teams from playing 1-aa schools (sorry, App State, you'll have to be content dominating your own sandbox and leaving us the hell alone...)
This works because it all but eliminates teams from playing the likes of Citadel and Richmond. It doesn't work because there are enough cupcakes within BCS conferences to make it so that teams can most likely still skate by playing cupcakes. However, it would probably ensure that every team with a legitimate shot at the title game at least play a team like Michigan State or Oregon, or somebody like that, which gets us one more good "comparing" point.
2) Create a relegation-style "super-class" of 20 teams or so, regardless of conference. If you want to reach the title game, you must schedule and play 2 of the teams from this class.
This is, admittedly, half baked. It doesn't work as it's laid out above, but the concept is there: make the really good teams play each other. It allows for matchups between those already in that class, and anyone not in that class can probably schedule a few teams that are in there. By having it be relegation style, the metric of "who exactly deserves to be one of the teams I have to beat" is kept fluid.
Look - these ideas aren't a final solution. Obviously, in order for any of these to work, it's going to take a massive overhaul of how schedules are done in the first place. I just think that one possible solution to this mess would be to create a tougher and more interesting 119-team playoff that is the "regular season." If we can create more comparison points between teams with equal records, we can come closer to the current system being a viable option for selecting a "true" National Champion.
There have been some who, amongst the BCS rancor, have said "Screw it, let's just go back to the old way." I wish it were that easy. Unfortunately, too many people are either getting paid, or have an invested interest with the hope of getting paid, in the current system. You would never stumble across something that squirts out cash, then decide to shut off the machine. The biggest stumbling block to any change in the current system is figuring out how to keep that cash-squirting giant flowing. By not tinkering with the post-season, and instead focusing on making the regular season a better measuring stick, you allow those who are getting paid in ludicrous BCS money to continue to collect the cash. I want to stress: I don't have the answer to this. The ideas above are ok conceptually, but probably not in practice. However, it is true that the way the NCAA does its scheduling, and the loopholes that teams have figured out, is not helping the BCS in any way. It is a novel idea to look at how we can improve the regular season instead of worrying about how to improve the post-season.
Any ideas more involved than "BCS SUX!" are welcome in the comments section, or - better - in a fanpost. See? They're right there on the right of your screen. Any idea or concept that is coherent gets bumped.