There has been a lot of talk about how to fix the current BCS system for college football. Some have suggested a plus one format, while others, including Barack Obama, have supported an 8-team playoff system, or more. Unless teams are ranked 1-4 and Bowl ties go away, a plus one format just makes things worse. Lesser conferences do not deserve an automatic bid to a playoff, so an 8 team arrangement makes the most sense and works the best within the system currently in place with a small enough amount of change that it could actually happen.
First, all the current bowls should be maintained, and schools with winning records could still go to what are already considered, lesser bowl games. Having a playoff would not change anything for these bowls, as only the teams involved are interested anyway. This would keep schools not in the eight team playoff happy with gaining additional practice, game time and potential revenue like they currently enjoy.
Second, there would be eight-teams that make a playoff. There would be one team from each of the six power conferences that now make up the BCS – the ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Big East, Pac 10 and SEC. The representative would be the champion of the conference, determined by however the conference chooses to do so, but I would actually favor a title game. The current BCS rules would apply in regards to the top rated non-BCS conference champion winner getting a spot if they finish in the top 12. If no team meets this criterion, then the seventh spot becomes a wild card like the eighth position, and you cannot choose to have the ninth through twelfth teams. The seventh or eighth wild-card team, would be the top BCS ranked team that did not win their conference (Georgia in 2007 or Texas in 2008). This would also include Notre Dame, although they should be required to finish in the top 8 of the BCS to allow for the non-BCS conference champion position. The maximum of two teams per conference rule would still be applied, so even if there is no non-BCS champion qualifier, you could not have two wild card teams from the same conference.
While seeding the eight-team playoff may seem like the most reasonable thing to do, because of the Rose Bowl’s insistence on a Big 10/Pac 10 match up, this should be allowed. Each team will still have to win three games to become a champion. At the end of the day, it would not be the end of the world if the two best teams were theoretically from these two conferences and had to play each other first, or conversely, if they were to the worst, as they would be beaten in the second round.
The original four bowl games should return to being played on New Years day, with no other games allowed to be on this day. Further, the NCAA should not allow any other bowl games to be played after New Year’s Eve. The following tie-ins would be allowed: Rose Bowl (Pasadena, CA) Big 10 and Pac 10; Orange Bowl (Miami, FL) - ACC; Sugar Bowl (New Orleans, LA) - SEC and the return of the Cotton Bowl (Dallas, TX) with a Big 12 tie in. The Big East champion, the at-large and wild card teams could try to be seeded against the tie-in teams, but the key is to just have the eight teams.
This would have resulted in the following match ups in 2007-08:
Rose Bowl: USC (7) vs. Ohio State (1)
Orange Bowl: Virginia Tech (3) vs. West Virginia (9)
Sugar Bowl: LSU (2) vs. Hawaii (10)-Top Ranked Non-BCS Conference winner
Cotton Bowl: Oklahoma (4) vs. Georgia (5) -Ranked above Missouri
This means the teams that were ranked in the top eight and did not made the playoff in 2007 would have been Missouri (6) and Kansas (8), as West Virginia and Hawaii make it in ahead of them based on their conference affiliation. This still allows the polls to work somewhat, as Georgia gets in because of their higher BCS ranking, which Missouri could have overcome by perhaps playing a better schedule, or by winning their conference championship game.
This would have resulted in the following match ups for 2008-2009:
Rose Bowl: USC (5) vs. Penn State (8)
Orange Bowl: Virginia Tech (19) vs. Cincinnati (12) – This was the actual match up
Sugar Bowl: Florida (2) vs. Utah (6)
Cotton Bowl: Oklahoma (1) vs. Texas (3)
The top teams that were ranked in the top eight and would not have made the playoffs in 2008 would have been Alabama (4) and Texas Tech (7). While these two teams may have a case to be included in the playoff, no one thought they were the number 1 or 2 teams in the country, and as things turned out, both lost their respective bowl games badly.
Returning to the playoffs, the second week would pit the four winners in two different bowls. These remaining four teams would then be seeded 1 through 4 based on the current BCS rankings. The two bowls in this week also have to be decided. As most bowl games are typically in warm weather climates, potential site suggestions could include Atlanta, GA, Jacksonville, Orlando or Tampa, FL, San Diego, CA or Phoenix, AZ. The first should probably be the Fiesta Bowl in Phoenix. This could be rotated with San Diego, but I think the Fiesta Bowl is established as a big name bowl and the location would be good every year. The second would need to be another, new location in the eastern region of the county. Atlanta and Jacksonville may be a little too far north, although a game could be played in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. This leaves Atlanta, Tampa and Orlando as the most viable sites for the eastern game. The two semi-final games would then be the Fiesta Bowl, (Glendale, AZ) and a rebirth of the Citrus Bowl, either in Atlanta, GA, or Orlando or Tampa, FL. The national championship game would then be rotated between the six stadiums used in the first two weeks of the playoffs, similar to the current system.
The other big issue that has to be address with the playoff, is when the semi-final and championship round games would be played. The fact that the Bowl’s want their games on New Years Day, means that this falls on a different day of the week each year. Care needs to be taken to avoid NFL dates when scheduling the final three games. As the NFL plays their playoff games on Saturdays and Sundays, Monday night seems to be the logical choice. Games should probably be on the first Monday night after New Years, but a minimum of at least six days after the New Year's games. The semi-final games could be staggered like the NFL does on Monday night the first week of their season, with the east coast game first and the Fiesta Bowl game second. The championship game would then be one week later on Monday night.
I think this system is the best way to determine a college football champion, and also would allow better pre-planning for schools and fans, as the location of the playoff games would be pre-determined. This system is not perfect, as a few of the top teams are left out in this scenario because of guaranteed conference placements, but if a team wins their conference, they will be guaranteed a place. As time goes on, the system could be tweaked to just allow the top eight teams in, regardless of conference, but based on the current financial situation, this cannot happen now.