Three teams, 12-0, conference champs, and from the top three conferences; how can it be determined that one team deserves a championship less? This was the case in 2004, USC (Pac-10 champ), Oklahoma (Big-12 champ), and Auburn (SEC champ) all had their justification for playing in the game, yet Auburn never had their shot at a title, due to no fault of their own, only that they started the year ranked lower than the other two teams (“College Football Standings”). There has to be a better way to determine a champion. If a team from the conference that has the most ranked teams, year in and year out, never loses, why should they not be allowed to compete for a title (“College Football Rankings”)?
College football has always had a controversial postseason. For years, the national champion was decided solely by a poll after all bowl games had been completed. Then, in the wake of the controversy this caused and multiple shared national championships, including one between Michigan and Nebraska in 1997, college football adopted the Bowl Championship Series (BCS), a system created to ensure a National Championship game between the top two teams in the BCS poll. The formula for this poll alone has been controversial, as has the system by which only two teams play for the championship, leaving out other highly qualified teams. At the time it was created, the BCS seemed like a novel idea, but today it is outdated. The flaws of the system were exposed over the last eleven years and it is time for a change. The current BCS system is losing support of the fans and something needs to be done in order to ensure a more fair championship system. That is why a tournament is a better solution, although there are many arguments against it, to decide a true, undisputed national champion.
In one proposal, six teams qualify for the tournament to decide a champion. The top two teams from the BCS poll, currently in existence today, qualify for first round byes, keeping the top two spots of today above the rest, while not excluding other teams that had unforgettable seasons. The next three seeds are determined by the BCS poll, just as the top two are. Then the sixth and final seed is to be awarded to the non-BCS conference team with the highest BCS ranking, unless that team is in the top five, in which case they receive their just seed. The tournament structure then mirrors the NFL playoffs. In the second round the one seed plays the lowest remaining seed and the two seed plays the other. The first round will take place two weeks after the end of the regular season and one will be played at the Orange Bowl, the other at the Sugar Bowl. The second round would occur a week later at the Fiesta Bowl, with the championship being played when it is now at the Rose Bowl. The host sites would then rotate each year in regards to round, and the non-BCS Bowl Season would be unchanged.
One of the numerous arguments against a tournament format is that each week of the regular season will not be a must-win situation. As FOX Sports defines the BCS, it states that the BCS “places great premium on the regular season of college football” and that “it is of great importance that the regular season remains strong and vibrant” (“The BCS is...”). Tom Osborne, former Nebraska coach, also is against a playoff, stating that, “Every game in a college football season is like a playoff, since one or two losses by a team are often enough to eliminate it from contention” (Alarkon). The regular season is what currently makes college football. Week in and week out, college football is a great sport to watch, but the postseason is not supported as 65 percent of fans think that the BCS should be destroyed (“Football”). The sanctity of the college football regular season needs to be preserved, 100,000 screaming fans inside a single venue is a unique aspect of college football, and needs to not be destroyed.
That is why a six-team tournament is best, so that each game keeps its must-win atmosphere. Teddy Greenstein, a sports writer for the Chicago Tribune, supports the BCS system of today because it makes every game matter. He says, “The way we have it now, the SEC title game mattered. The Iowa-Penn State game [in 2008] mattered” ("College football playoff makes no sense"). In the proposed format, though, these games would have mattered. Penn State finished eighth in the final BCS poll of the regular season and had Florida lost the SEC championship game, they would have finished outside the top five. Alabama finshed fifth, but would have done all they could to win that game and perserve a first round bye, and at least ensure a spot, proving that those games would still matter. Almost every year more than five teams have only one loss, so the only way to ensure a title chance is to win out; only with a tournament, winning out ensures a title chance.
Buddy Martin, a sports writer for the University of Florida, also supports the current BCS system, as it keeps the importance of the regular season, but he also says, “Trust the process and we will get it right 80 percent of the time” ("Playoff Smayoff! We Don't Need It"). What about the other 20 percent or more? Just ask Auburn or Texas, Boise State, TCU, or Utah. Almost every year that the BCS has been in existence there has been a controversy, aside from 2002 and 2006. As previously mentioned, the 2004 season found three unbeaten teams, not including Utah from a non big 6 conference, and in 2008 seven teams from BCS conferences had one loss and a small conference team went undefeated. Florida eventually took the championship over Oklahoma, but why didn’t the other teams have a shot? Texas beat Oklahoma at a neutral site and was passed up for a shot at a title. Similarly in 2000, one-loss Miami beat one-loss Florida State, but Miami found itself on the outside looking in (“College Football Standings”). Last year, Boise St. and TCU not only didn’t get a shot at a title, the BCS purposely put them against each other so that the argument for a tournament couldn’t gain more steam after both schools beat power schools in a BCS game. (That was an opinion, but likely true) The BCS only got the championship conclusively right two of twelve years, or about seventeen percent of the time.
John Tamny, a writer for National Review Online, is another supporter of the current BCS system. He says that today, “Teams must strive for perfection every single week. There is nothing “perfect” about a loss in college football” ("Playoffs and College Football, Imperfect Together"). He cites the NFL as background for his claim. He supports the current system as it prevents teams from resting their starters the last week of the year, a common occurrence in the NFL, but with only six teams in the tournament, one being from a weaker conference, could a team really survive a loss? Last year, there were seven teams from BCS-conferences with only one regular season loss and 2007 was the only year in the last five, that there were less than five one-loss, major conference teams (“College Football Standings”). With this fact, the necessity of perfection is required still. One-loss can put a team, to use NCAA basketball terms, on the bubble. No coach would dare rest his starters under these conditions.
Another argument in favor of the current system is due to travel, attendance, and money issues. Both the BCS coordinators and sportswriters are worried about these aspects of the game. Greenstein writes that fans would not be willing to spend thousands on hotels and travel to attend a first round game, knowing that another may be looming ("College football playoff makes no sense"). Yet, the college basketball tournament never has any attendance problems and many people buy Super Bowl tickets before knowing who will be playing. If the NCAA adopted a tournament system, it is unlikely the games would fail to sell out. If a regular season Michigan game against a FCS (football championship subdivision) opponent can draw more than 100,000 fans, it’s unlikely that a first-round match up between #3 and #6 would fail to attract fans. Along with the attendance comes money. With the new tournament proposal the total number of postseason games goes unchanged. FOX would still have the same number of BCS/ tournament games to cover and the other bowls would remain intact. It is unlikely that attendance would decrease as is it unlikely that FOX would be willing to pay less, they would probably pay more, than it does now.
Others also argue that a playoff would hurt the bowl tradition, although under my plan, it would go unharmed. Tamny argues that college football is great due to its long-standing tradition of bowl games. He says, “Importantly, the existence of bowls in Detroit, Boise, and Memphis means that college teams not playing for number one still have something to play for” ("Playoffs and College Football, Imperfect Together"). Yet, even with a playoff system these games would still exist. Teams like Troy and Ball State could still compete each year for bids to the New Orleans Bowl and Motor City Bowl respectively, even if college football adopted a tournament system.
The biggest obstacle that needs to be overcome for a playoff system to be adopted is the NCAA presidents and commissioners. Multiple proposals for a championship system have arisen, but have all been shot down. The SEC commissioner Mike Slive said that when considering a championship for Division-1 FBS, three things must be considered: the student aspect of a student athlete, the importance of the regular season, and the bowl tradition (“Bowl Championship Series FAQ”). With a six-team playoff, none of these conditions would be violated. The tournament would occur after semester finals and end before the spring semester begins, and even if it didn’t, FCS plays its tournament all through December, so if they can do it, why can’t FBS? The regular season would still uphold its importance as one loss could land you in the Cotton Bowl, rather than the tournament, and the traditional bowl games, such as the Sun Bowl and Cotton Bowl, would be left unchanged.
Currently there is great support among the fans for a college football tournament. Gallup conducted a survey of college football fans asking if the BCS should be replaced with a playoff with the results as follow:
Yes, should be
No, should not
2005 Jul 22-24
With sixty-five percent of fans in favor of a playoff and only twenty-nine percent against it, the average college football fan conclusively favors a playoff. In another poll, Gallup found that only four percent of fans would be upset if a playoff system were implemented (“Football”). Clearly the fans support a playoff. Even the United States Congress favors a playoff system. Multiple representatives have pursued a way to force college football into a playoff by proposing bills and establishing committees to outlaw the current structure (Alarkon).
Although many agree with a playoff system, how it is to be implemented is a hot topic. Everyone seems to hold their own opinion, ranging from obvious issues, such as the number of teams that should make it, to the minor details, such as where and when to play the games. 3rd Millennium Sports has a huge site dedicated to this cause, but some of its proposal would face severe scrutiny by the NCAA. It proposes that the tournament to consist of the top 12 teams ("Playoff Proposal"). This, though, would cause the regular season to lose some of its importance, as two loss teams would still make it. In this case the Penn State- Iowa game last year would not have mattered. The 12-team system may also make way for more underdogs to win the tournament, taking even more away from the regular season. As an example, only three one seeds in the past six years won March Madness and only seven one seeds have made the championship in the past seven. 12 teams would cause too many undeserving teams to win a championship. Also, the site proposes completely eliminating the Bowl Season, a proposal that the NCAA would never approve. That is why the six-team system is better. Each game in the regular season matters, the Bowl Games are still in existence, and it gives the fans what they want, a true champion.
In 1998, when college football adopted the BCS system, it was a truly original idea that had a lot of support, as it created a true championship game. Now, many people have realized that this system has its flaws, as multiple teams draw the short straw without having played any worse than a team that made the National Championship. This system is unfair. All year, each team strives for perfection in hopes of a national title, but in 2004 Auburn achieved this nearly unattainable goal, playing one of the most difficult schedules, but never got their shot at a National Championship. How can anyone say that this system works?
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"Playoff Proposal.” College Football Playoffs. 3rd Millenium Sports. 6 Mar. 2009 <http://www.collegeplayoffs.com/proposal.htm>.
Tamny, John. "Playoffs and College Football, Imperfect Together." National Review Online. 4 Jan. 2006. 6 Mar. 2009 <http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/tamny200601040936.asp>.