Dreaming of a college football playoff
Earlier this month, a delightful package came in the mail, titled “Bowl Championship Series: Media Guide.” On pages 14 through 16, appropriately titled “They Said It,” we’re treated to what’s described as “just a sampling of the many affirmative comments about the current postseason football system. … ”
Just a sampling, you know, because there’s a lot more out there.
Skimming over these three pages of BCS propaganda, it’s a trip into a land of make believe.
Greg McElroy, the New York Jets backup and former Alabama quarterback, has a three–paragraph quote on the benefits of the current bowl system: “Being able to go through and experience two bowl games that are really classy weeks for us and our fans was really great. We had a blast. If they got rid of the BCS and the BCS bowls, then a lot of teams would not be able to have opportunities like we have had the last couple of years.”
Tell that to the kids at Boise State, who despite losing just twice in the past two seasons, didn’t get the chance to play in one BCS bowl game.
The list of quotes continues. UNLV coach Bobby Hauck, who also coached Montana in the FCS playoff system says, “I’ve had too many good bowl experiences and enjoyed the playoffs about that much (formed his fingers to depict a zero).”
Zing! The playoffs stink! If Hauck didn’t have a good experience, then …
Rick Stockstill, the Middle Tennessee State head coach, had this gem: “I’m a traditionalist. I believe in bowls. To me, every Saturday in college football, starting with Week 1, is a playoff game. They all mean something.”
Well, Rick, that wasn’t the case this year.
Alabama and LSU played. The Tigers won 9-6, but the Crimson Tide will get another shot on Jan. 9. Their Nov. 5 meeting — though hyped as “The Game of the Century” at the time — ended up being nothing more than an exhibition.
"We’re delighted to showcase the 35 bowl games as an American tradition worth keeping," Tina Kunzer-Murphy, executive director of The Football Bowl Association, states in a press release I received from the organization.
"Student-athletes agree — ESPN’s survey of college football players showed that 77 percent of the student-athletes prefer a career with three bowls, and only 23 percent prefer a career with one playoff trip.”
There’s lots of stuff like this out there, and amazingly, it’s said and dispensed with no sarcastic grins or ironic winks.
The fact is that another college football postseason is here, and it’s another one without a playoff system.
The old men who run college football, the conference presidents, the bowl “committee members,” the wealthy boosters and administrators, they’ll make out just fine over the next few weeks. We, the diehard fans, the causal viewers and the intern in the accounting group on the seventh floor who would have entered her name in the yearly office pool, are the losers.
What if, instead of a three-week wait for Alabama-LSU II, this week offered up a slate of first-round NCAA Tournament games? Dangerous territory, I know, but let’s keep going.
How would such a 16-team playoff be set up?
I’ve been tinkering with a hypothetical system that could work and satisfy all possible parties. Here’s what I’ve come up with. I call it the “Schrager Sixteen.”
• Like the NCAA basketball tournament, conference champs are rewarded with automatic berths. That gives us 11 FBS conference winners, leaving five at-large bids.
• The at-large bids go to the top five non-conference winners with the highest BCS rankings at the end of the season. This would not limit the amount of teams per conference in the tournament.
In 2011’s case, for example, Arkansas, coming off a tremendous two-loss season (to Alabama and LSU), wasn’t eligible for a BCS bowl game, but the Razorbacks are in the Schrager Sixteen.
Some more rules to satisfy the masses?
• If Notre Dame, Navy or Army finish in the top 14 of the regular season’s final BCS standings, they get an at-large bid.
• The final BCS standings would still determine conference champions in case of ties and regular season co-champions.
• How would the actual scheduling and seeding work?
The eight higher-seeded teams would host first-round games, while all subsequent rounds would be played at neutral sites — a rotation of the four current BCS bowl sites, and a yearly rotation of three other non-current BCS bowl sites.
Why the home-field advantage for the first round? It rewards the big conference teams that had the best regular seasons, stressing college football’s “every regular season game matters” mantra. Plus, it limits the travel for the fans and students, but still gives the prospect of the “bowl game experience.”
No conference rivals would be allowed to square off in the first round. Plus, there would be no opening-round matchups of teams that met in the regular season.
Seven bowl sites would be involved in the playoffs each year, while the 28 other bowls would host minor bowl games, just as they do now.
In Week 1 of the tournament — annually, the third week of December — two first-round games would be played on Thursday and Friday nights. Four would be aired back-to-back-to-back on Saturday.
The four “Elite 8” games would be played on the following Saturday (Dec. 31 this season).
The Final Four games are played on the following Saturday (Jan. 7), with the NCAA Championship Game played on the second Thursday (Jan. 12th) of each year.
The minor bowls would be played on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays. ESPN, which actually owns six bowls, would still get its usual onslaught of minor bowl games throughout the week.
Here’s what the Schrager Sixteen would look like this season:
1. LSU (SEC champ) vs. 16. Louisiana Tech (WAC)
8. Kansas State (at-large 5) vs. 9. Wisconsin (Big Ten)
4. Stanford (at-large 2) vs. 13. West Virginia (Big East)
5. Oregon (Pac-12) vs. 12. Southern Miss (C- USA)
2. Alabama (at-large 1) vs. 15. Arkansas State (Sun Belt)
7. Boise State (at-large 4) vs. 10. Clemson (ACC)
6. Arkansas (at-large 3) vs. 11. TCU (MWC)
3. Oklahoma State (Big 12) vs. 14. Northern Illinois (MAC)
Imagine, instead of looking forward to a week of second-tier bowl game and TV snoozers, there was a Thursday night Kansas State-Wisconsin matchup in Manhattan, followed by a Clemson-Boise State late night battle on the Smurf Turf?
How about a potential second-round Stanford-Oregon rematch, in which Andrew Luck would get another shot at the Ducks defense that’s baffled and stifled him the past two seasons? Would you be more inclined to stay in on New Year’s Eve to watch Virginia-Auburn or an Arkansas-Oklahoma State “Elite 8” shootout?
Getting excited, right?
The truth is that the current system — no matter what posturing politicians and media members might tell you — isn’t changing anytime soon. Too many have become wealthy on the process and too many bowls make too much money to change it and push for a playoff.
There won’t be an #OccupyCollegeFootball movement anytime soon, and that’s that.
But hey, it’s OK to dream.
In the meantime, let’s enjoy that Illinois-UCLA Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl next Saturday.