Well, New Year's Day is almost here, and it's time for me to pick up a hobby horse for the fourth year in a row: a push for a college football playoff to decide a champion over the current BCS system. And the story has changed so little, there's almost a Mad Lib quality to it.
This year, once again, the absurdity of the current system appears almost too blatant. While it's hard to knock the BCS championship picks of Auburn (at least for its on field performance) and Oregon, for the second straight year, TCU was snubbed from the championship despite an undefeated season. And had there not been two missed field goals (not to pile on Kyle Brotzman) Boise State would be facing that same injustice for the THIRD year in a row.
Under this context, it's hard not to look at the decision by the NCAA to make Auburn's ridiculously talented but ethically dubious Cam Newton eligible to play as a cynical political move. Never mind the evidence of "pay for play" is pretty blatant as it stands now, and if at a future date he is ruled ineligible, they would have to forfeit any BCS they may win. This is preferrable to the NCAA than to let a non-BCS conference team play for the title. And though it didn't happen, I can safely say that if either Oregon or Auburn had lost in its last week, either Stanford or Wisconsin (or even both, if neccesary) would've passed TCU up in the rankings so it would've remained out of the championship game. Simply put, the fix was in.
So let me repeat again what most sport fans think: there is something terribly wrong with a system where someone can go undefeated the whole year and not end up as champion.
And let me add something that needs to be stressed even more: it's not only something terribly wrong, it is literally a gross violation of anti-trust law. No question about it, the BCS is a conspiracy (the only reason not to call it that is it isn't secret) to systematically deny college institutions not part of a BCS conference the immense economic rewards that derive from the prestige of winning a football national championship. If any federal prosecutor tried to make this argument, it would likely be a slam dunk case.
So let's review: the BCS system is unfair, a violation of anti-trust law and widely unpopular. Is there a solution to this?
Yes there is: a playoff, which is how every other major sport (professional and college) decides its annual champ. My playoff plan meets the four main goals I laid out three years ago:
1. Respect the traditions of the big four bowl games as much as possible, even more so than the current system does;
2. Make sure that the big four bowls actually are a central part of crowning the championship;
3. Allow bowl games with notable histories of their own to be included in the mix; and, perhaps most important:
4. Create a playoff system that produces an actual season championship.
With that in mind, here's how my playoff plan would work out in 2010, aided by game simulations found at WhatIfSports.com, in the second annual BCS Playoff.
The playoff would involve sixteen teams, so the champions from all eleven conferences can be included. The other five spaces would include Notre Dame if it's in the top 25, then the top AP ranked teams that weren't conference winners, limited to one per conference unless the team was in the top 10. This year, it would be Stanford, Ohio State, Michigan State, Arkansas and Boise State.
For the first round (held this year December 18th, with two of the games on December 15th and 17th) the sixteen teams would be put in upper and lower brackets. In the upper bracket would be the winners of the six BCS conferences, the highest ranked non-BCS conference champ and the highest ranked non-Conference winner. The two brackets would then be placed in order of their AP ranking. Here's how it looks in 2010:
Auburn (1, SEC)
Oregon (2, Pac-10)
Wisconsin (4, Big Ten)
Oklahoma (9, Big 12)
Virginia Tech (12, ACC)
Connecticut (25, Big East)
Ohio State (6)
Michigan State (7)
Boise State (10)
The teams would then pair off in eight opening round playoff games, with the one seed playing the 16, two playing 15, etc. Below is how it'd look this year, with WhatIfSports.com's results for the game:
Cotton Bowl (Dallas) Big 12 Host - Oklahoma (9, Big 12) - Arkansas (8)
Oklahoma 49 - Arkansas 31
Florida Citrus Bowl (Orlando) Big East Host - Connecticut (25, Big East) - Ohio State (6)
Ohio State 34 - Connecticut 17
Gator Bowl (Jacksonville) - Stanford (5) - Boise State (10)
Boise State 34 - Stanford 33
Hall of Fame Bowl (Tampa) Big Ten Host - Wisconsin (4, Big Ten) - Nevada (13)
Wisconsin 38 - Nevada 30
Holiday Bowl (San Diego) Pac-10 Host - Oregon (2, Pac-10) - Miami (OH)
Oregon 34 - Miami (OH) 16
Liberty Bowl (Memphis) SEC Host - Auburn (1, SEC) - FIU
Auburn 48 - FIU 17
Peach Bowl (Atlanta) ACC Host - Virginia Tech (12, ACC) - Michigan State (7)
Michigan State 41 - Virginia Tech 34
Sun Bowl (El Paso) - TCU (3) - UCF
TCU 59 - UCF 27
The biggest upset here, if it is one, is Boise State beating Stanford. Meanwhile, for the second straight year, the Big East and ACC champs both lose in the first round.
The remaining eight teams would then be matched in the four major bowls played on January 1st and 3rd, with teams picked to best fit the traditions of the bowl games. Here's how it would turn out in this simulation, with the results below:
Rose Bowl - Oregon (2, Pac-10) - Wisconsin (4, Big Ten)
Oregon 50 - Wisconsin 31
Fiesta Bowl - Oklahoma (9, Big 12) - TCU (3)
TCU 27 - Oklahoma 20
Orange Bowl - Ohio State (6) - Boise State (10)
Boise State 24 - Ohio State 6
Sugar Bowl - Auburn (1, SEC) - Michigan State (7)
Michigan State 30 - Auburn 17
Easily the biggest upset is Michigan State taking out number one Auburn, with Boise State joining last year's simulation winner TCU and Oregon in the semi-finals.
On January 13-14, the semi-finals would be played, with Oregon facing Boise State on Thursday, and TCU vs. Michigan State on Friday.
Here's how it would turn out.
Oregon (2, Pac-10) - Boise State (10)
Boise State 37 - Oregon 26
TCU (3) - Michigan State (7)
Michigan State 34 - TCU 30
Talk about surprises, the number two and three teams are both knocked out by underdogs. In fact, the two finalists didn't even win their conferences during the regular season (Boise State finishing second to Nevada in the WAC and Michigan State finishing third in the Big Ten) and thus neither was even in the running for the real BCS bowls.
Here's the result for the BCS championship, played the night before the NFL conference championships:
Michigan State (7) - Boise State (10)
Boise State 41 - Michigan State 27
Once again, I didn't fix anything for this result: the computers at WhatIfSports.com did all the work for me. For the second straight year, a non-BCS conference school was the champion of my simulation, something they haven't even had the possibility to play for in the current system.
In short, as this simulation shows, this system really works well. It strengthens the value of the traditional big four bowls. And it ultimately creates a playoff system that would likely boost college football television revenues substantially, which is why I believe a playoff system will happen sooner rather than later.