05 January 2009

Time for a real National Championship

OK, so let's go non-political for a minute (well, maybe not entirely non-political, since I agree with the President-Elect on this one.)

It's time for a real national championship in college football.

We can still market it as a "Bowl Championship Series" if we want to - but it has to be a real championship, not just one game masquerading as a championship like we have now.

The bowl system we have now is failing. Just look at all of the empty seats at games in the last month - they were hard to miss in any of the wide-shots or blimp views. With the exceptions of the big major bowls, sellouts were few and far between.

Part of this is the death of the tradition of the bowls themselves. The Cotton Bowl played it's last game in the Cotton Bowl this year; they move to the new Cowboys stadium next year. The Orange and Sugar Bowls haven't been played in stadiums with those names in years. This will leave only the Rose Bowl as being played in the stadium of the same name.

Instead we're treated to a cornucopia of television induced corporate names - the papajohns.com bowl, the insight.com bowl, the Eagle Bank Bowl. Look I like Papa John's as much as anyone (had their pizza this weekend while I watched games), but that's not why I watch football.

The "traditional" New Years bowl games are now spread across a full week to maximize television viewership and eliminate competition between networks. Today is January 5 - the Fiesta Bowl is tonight. It features a Texas team that beat the Oklahoma team in the BCS Bowl against an Ohio State team that lost to both Rose Bowl participants. Yippie.

Did you know that Division I-A football is the only NCAA sport (at any division level) without a championship tournament? Any other sport, played by either gender, at any other level, and they decide the thing on the field. Just not Division I-A (now called the "FBS" - no kidding), which gets voted on by reporters. Of the 119 FBS schools, 68 got into the record 34 bowls this year. That's not a "commitment to excellence", it's a commitment to mediocrity.

If you watched the Sugar or Rose Bowls this year, you watched two teams with legitimate claims to the mythical "national championship" - the USC Trojans and the Utah Utes. Personally, though I am a Trojan fan, I think Utah has the stronger case, having beaten 6 bowl teams en route to an unbeaten season as Sugar Bowl champs. SEC fans - how many times have you lamented (rightly!) that your conference champion who went on to win the Sugar Bowl was jobbed out of a shot at the title? Utah is in exactly that position this year - unbeaten, with a stifling defense and a superlative offense, knocking off TCU, BYU, Oregon State (who beat USC), Air Force, Colorado State, and finally Alabama in that Sugar Bowl. Oh, and in case you think they were scheduling weaklings, they started the season by beating Michigan - in Ann Arbor. (granted, a bad year for Michigan, but Utah couldn't have known that when they scheduled them.)

I'm not saying we eliminate the bowls - those cities have been hosting games for the better part of a century in some cases. Rather, I'm saying use fifteen of them as the sites for a 16-team national championship tournament.

Now, when choosing sites, you have to go with the most bang for your buck. 5 Bowl sites have chosen "national champions" in the past - the Rose, Sugar, Orange, Cotton, and Fiesta. I would propose rotating the national championship final between those five sites, as is mostly done now, but as the end of the real tournament, much like the Final Four sites in basketball. The other four bowls would still host games every year - two of them would host semi-finals, and two quarter-finals.

That leaves ten more sites to choose, who would each host one quarterfinal every 5 years, and first round games in the other four years. How do we choose 10 sites from the remaining 29 bowls? Well, it's not that hard, once you think about it. Some of these sites host 2 games on one fiels a week apart - that knocks us down to about twenty sites. Then take out the obviously bad choices - the atrocity of a blue field in Boise, the possibility of a game in Toronto, and the awful seams in the field of the Alamo Dome, for example. With a small nod to the history of some of these games, as well as the warm weather factor (for fans and local tourism, this just makes more sense to draw people in) it's then easy to pick ten:

Atlanta (Peach)
Charlotte (Meineke)
El Paso, TX (Sun)
Houston, TX (Texas)
Jacksonville (Gator)
Memphis (Liberty)
Nashville (Music City)
Orlando (Capital One)
San Diego (Holiday Bowl)
Tampa (Outback)

Honorable mention: Shreveport, LA, home of the Independence Bowl

Personally, I schedule it out basing the four quarterfinal games on New Years Day. move ten to fourteen days back for the first round games (giving a Christmas break), then one week to ten days later for the semifinals (avoiding the NFL playoffs), and another week after that for the championship final. It adds only one week to the full schedule. I would also take out one regular season non-conference game to make up for it.

As for the rest of the bowls - still have your games. Still have the Poulan Weedeater Bowl, the insight.com bowl, or the GMAC bowl, featuring the usual two mediocre teams that usually wouldn't play in a bowl game (except for this year's Credit Union Poinsettia thriller between Boise State and TCU). We'll just treat them like College Football's version of the NIT - consolation prizes for the teams that just weren't good enough to make the Big Dance.


So who would make up the sixteen teams to play for the title? Any decision making organism would need to take into account a few things - the human polls and the computer rankings (as the BCS does now), the conference championships (with special deference to the conferences that have championship games), as well as the win-loss records, and possibly a "strength of schedule" component.

I would propose that each of the eleven conference champions would get in. This year that would mean:

Virginia Tech (ACC)
Oklahoma (Big 12)
Cincinnati (Big East)
Penn State (Big 10)
East Carolina (Conference USA)
Buffalo (MAC)
Utah (Mountain West)
USC (Pac-10)
Florida (SEC)
Troy (Sun Belt)
Boise State (WAC)

That would leave five teams for the BCS formula to determine - not to arbitrarily pick a champion, but to pick the next best 5 teams to get wild card slots.

Using the something like the current formula - percentage of the human polls plus the percentage of the computer rankings plus win-loss percentage, I pick five wildcards: Texas, Alabama, Texas Tech, Ohio State, and TCU.

Then you rank the sixteen teams, using the same formula to determine seeding... and Voila! you have a bracket.

So... Which would you rather see - that tournament or South Florida vs. Memphis in the Magicjack bowl in a half-empty dome?

Yeah, me too.


There is, of course, another option - adding a "conference champion" component to the system - 1.0 points for any winner of a conference championship game, 0.5 points for any other conference champ. Then rank the teams, and pick the top 16, regardless of who won their conference. That would encourage more conference championship games the first week of December - and more "play-in" games. It would also eliminate the most questionable of the conference champs while leaving the possibility that smaller conference champs could still get a shot.

This year, that would replace East Carolina, Buffalo, and Troy with Oklahoma State, Georgia Tech, and BYU. Just for fun, that bracket looks like this:

Your thoughts?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Brilliant. Looks like you could have minored in engineering. 'Course, that last scenario COULD have Florida vs. Oklahoma, anyway! But this might have been a cleaner way to get there.