Allow me to sports geek out for a moment.
As a sports game designer, I am aghast every single year with the NCAA football bowl season. Like most fans, (86% on a recent ESPN.com poll – when was the last time 86% of the populace could agree on anything?) I desire a playoff system. Every single excuse has been thrown out there, yet most can be shot down with a simple handling of facts. The BCS is a combination of three systems that don’t work in the hopes that it will make one ϋber-system that does. It doesn’t.
ESPN was showing a simulated playoff system a few days ago when I was at the gym. Basically they came up with the bright idea of creating a ten team playoff system where the ten were the AP Top Ten. Yet this system is only marginally less broken than the BCS because it doesn’t include Hawaii – the only team in the country to be undefeated would still be snubbed of a chance of playing for the championship. This is directly following a year where the WAC again yielded the only unbeaten team in the nation, who beat Big 12 powerhouse Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. So instead of being settled on the field, the championship is settled by individual grudges and biases of AP-voters. A playoff system is designed to fix the problem where humans or computers decide who they feel should be champions instead of actual head-to-head play. ESPN even has a bracket simulator where you can put in your own teams. Better, but it leaves out conference champions because they aren’t in the Top 25.
As a designer, head-to-head play is extremely compelling because any argument that Team A is better than Team B is meaningless and full of wild gesticulations unless the teams actually play each other. You see controversy on Selection Sunday in the NCAA tournament for who gets those last four spots (of 65, around the bottom decile, note) but you never see any argument about who should be champion. You prove that on the court – which is what sports are about.
So my system would be thus: A fourteen team playoff with the following rules:
– All eleven conference champions get an invite.
– The remaining three invites go to the highest ranked team that did not lose their conference championship game. This makes conference championship games de facto part of the playoffs. In this year, for instance, Missouri would be ineligible because they lost their conference championship, but Kansas would be eligible. Tennessee would not, Georgia would. This ups the ante for conferences that have championships.
– Conversely, conferences that do not have championship games cannot get a first round bye. This rewards conferences that have championship games. Also, while this should occur naturally, non-conference champions cannot get a bye unless they are not part of a conference (Notre Dame, Army, Navy).
That’s it. The money, sponsorships, TV rights, etc. can be figured out by the people that do those things, but it would gain so many more viewers than the bowl season does now and would legitimately crown a national champion. Note that teams that are ineligible for the playoffs can still have bowl games, so this doesn’t eliminate them from bowls, just from the National title race.
Here’s what it would look like for 2007:
1 SEC Champions – Louisiana State
8 Invite – Florida
9 WAC Champions – Hawaii
5 ACC Champions – Virginia Tech
12 Conference USA Champions – Central Florida
4 Invite – Georgia
13 Sun Belt Champions – Florida Atlantic
3 Big Ten Champions – Ohio State
14 Mid-American Champions – Central Michigan
6 Pac 10 Champions – Southern California
11 Mountain West Champions – Brigham Young
7 Invite – Kansas
10 Big East Champions – West Virginia
2 Big Twelve Champions – Oklahoma
Tell me that wouldn’t provide some compelling sport. Everyone that deserves a shot plays (hello Georgia), the field has its George Masons in the non-BCS conference invite schools, and the first team to bitch about being snubbed this year would be Arizona State and who honestly believes they deserve a shot at the National Championship? And, hey, look – the Rose Bowl can get its coveted Big Ten-Pac 10 match-up in the second round.
The fans want it, I guarantee the “mid-major” schools want it. Find a way to make it happen and you will be rolling in advertising bucks.