Like a playoff: college football and championships

Bill Speare

Staff Writer

In college football there has been an ongoing debate for many years about how to best determine the national champion. Should the traditional bowl system be preserved or should there be a playoff to determine the champion? Critics of the current bowl system say it is unfair because the national champion does not win the title on the field. Defenders of the bowl system say the great tradition of the bowls should be preserved. Those who call for a playoff say that the current system which crowns the national champion after a vote in the final polls after the B.C.S. title game is nothing more than a beauty contest. Those who champion a playoff claim that it would be one of the most exciting events in all of sports with a level of interest second to only the Super Bowl. Believe it or not, there is a solution which would still preserve the tradition of the bowl games, and at the same time be almost equivalent to a playoff system and in the process generate a lot of interest and excitement.
This would be a plan which would return all the major bowl games to being played on New Year’s Day, except for one which would be played about a week later. The two teams that would play in the game a week later; however, would not be chosen until the conclusion of all the bowl games on New Year’s Day. At night right after the last games on New Year’s Day had ended the two teams to play in the final bowl game would then be announced. It is safe to say that the winner of the final bowl game would have the inside track on being crowned the national champion, but there would still be one final vote after this game.

Such a plan would bring back the great tradition of playing the major bowl games on New Year’s Day. In recent years since the Bowl Championship series was adopted in 1998, the major bows have gotten away from this and many of the games are now played on January 2nd 3rd or even the 4th. This has created a lack of interest in many of the bowl games which don’t have a favorable match-up. By returning to playing all the major bowls on New Year’s Day, fans would be sure to find at least one game of interest. Another advantage of New Years is that more people are off from work than on the other days, so chances are better that they would tune in to see the games.

Having the two final teams announced right after all the games on New Year’s Day would bring a great anticipation among the fans of college football. This would likely keep them interested in the New Year’s Day bowl games even when the match-ups were less interesting. This is an important factor to consider since due to parity there are now many non-traditional powers in college football which generally don’t bring as much fan interest as the more traditional powers. Fans would still tune into the games so they could find out who was picked to play in the final game. The announcement of the selections of teams picked to play in the final bowl game would likely be followed by an hour long show on E.S.P. N. or one of the major networks, where the selections would be broken down and analyzed with commentators giving their opinions about who should have been picked and who was left out as well as the reactions from all the contenders. All this would be of tremendous interest to the fans.

More than anything the fans not knowing the final two teams until after the conclusion of the New Year’s Day bowl games would bring interest and excitement to college football. This is because in most years at least three of the Major bowls games would contain at least one team with a legitimate shot at being picked to play in the final bowl game a week later. To say the least, this would elevate the fans interest in the New Years Day games. Fans would then have a reason to be interested in at least three of the major bowl games maybe more.
Under the current system the two teams chosen to play in the B.C.S. title game are known weeks ahead of time. This has often resulted in a lack of enthusiasm on the part of the fans and the teams have tended to play flat due to the long layoff. The current system just does not bring the same level of anticipation that would come with the rush of seeing critical bowl games followed by an even bigger final game just one week later.

Those against this plan will not like that the national champions are still determined by way of a vote, rather than on the field. Such critics likely would favor an eight or sixteen team playoff to determine the national champions. They will also be against the final two teams being voted on and the last poll after the final game.

The problem with an eight or sixteen team playoff is that it will do harm to the tradition of the bowl games. There are those who contend that the bowl games could be used as part of a playoff and actually benefit. They claim for example, that an eight team playoff tournament would use the major bowls as the games to complete the tournament. This might in a given year mean using the Cotton, Gator, Outback, and Fiesta bowls for the first round; the Rose and Sugar bowls for the semifinals; and the Orange bowl for the championship. Under this scenario the bowls would likely alternate the championship game. This sounds good but the bowls other than the final game would end up being not much more than elimination games of a tournament. If this occurs, great bowl games in the first and second rounds will be remembered mainly as just quarterfinal or semifinal games not much more. The identity of the individual bowls will be lost and this will hurt their tradition. By contrast, the plan I propose will still preserve the tradition of the bowls, but help solve the problems that go with the current B.C.S. system. The tradition of the bowls will be intact because they will be a directly link to the final game. This is the case because the traditional bowl games unlike a playoff tournament with a couple of rounds are the equivalent of only one round. With only one round the individual bowls would be much less likely to be simply forgotten about. The real interest among the fans will be on watching these holiday season bowls and speculating about which schools might get into the final game. In this way the fans will still be thinking of the individual bowl games, rather than looking at such games as merely semifinals or quarterfinals. This will preserve the identity of the bowls. Having the final bowl game about one week later will improve the current system which too often does not give all deserving teams a fair shot at the national championship.

Some critics might ask, if we are really going to give all deserving teams a fair shot at the championship; shouldn’t we add more than just one extra bowl game? What tends to get overlooked is that in most years the controversy about who’s number one under the current system usually comes down to no more than two teams. It is very rare after all the bowl games to find say four or more schools that are still unbeaten. Anyone who checks the final rankings over the last twenty-five years will find this to be true. In most years just one more game will pretty much end any controversy about which team deserves to be number one.

Some critics of this plan might not like the idea of one more final vote after the last bowl game. They would likely say that the final bowl game should simply be a national championship game with no more votes in the polls. My idea of still having a final vote is to accommodate a controversial decision in regards to the two teams invited to play in the final game. If a bad decision was made regarding the teams chosen, a more deserving team which was overlooked would still have a chance to claim a piece of the nation championship. Officials are not perfect and this is bound to happen at some time. This is why one more final vote should be taken. This could result in a split national championship or on rare occasions a team which was not even invited to play in the final game might claim the number one spot in both major polls. The latter would likely only occur if officials made really bad selections for the final game. This final vote would cause fans to want to tune in and see it. This is still one more example how this would keep the fans interest.

In recent years a plan similar to this called the “plus one” format has received serious consideration from the NCAA. The big difference between the “plus one” format and my proposal is that under my plan know one will know the participants in the final game until all the other bowls are played. Under the “plus one” plan the winners of two particular bowl games are predetermined to automatically play in the final game. Not knowing the final two teams creates many more possibilities and adds to the interest of the fans. The bowl games and the selections of the final two teams will be looked upon with great anticipation by the fans. The very last vote after the final bowl a week later can only add to the fans interest. It could keep them interested right until the very end. Isn’t that what sports or any other entertainment is really all about; keeping people interested?

Enhanced by Zemanta