November 2, 2005

College Football Needs a Playoff

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I’m a changed man. I’ve seen the light. The Bowl Championship Series has got to go.

I used to like the BCS, because I thought it made college football’s regular season more important. After all, if a single regular season loss can prevent a team from winning the national championship, then I figured such a possibility is a key part of what makes the sport so exciting. I even wrote a column last year defending the BCS because of that very idea.

Yet, regular season excitement is not enough to justify the BCS. The time has come for a change. We need a college football playoff.

As you know, the BCS rankings determine who will play in the NCAA Division I-A national championship game, which will be at the Rose Bowl this year. The BCS also determines which teams get to play in the other three major bowl games.

The rankings are now devised by a complicated assortment of computer rankings, along with a coach’s poll of 62 different head coaches, and a Harris Poll that includes 114 people considered knowledgeable about college football.

Not exactly the easiest way to rank teams.

Last week, undefeated Texas was ranked No. 1 in the rankings, while undefeated Southern California was ranked No. 2. Remember, this was the very first ranking of the year, and the two national championship teams are not finally determined until December.

Yet, you could still hear TV commentators talking about whether Texas should be ranked above USC – like it was real important at this point in time.

Now, in this week’s rankings, USC is at No. 1, while Texas is No. 2. Two more undefeated teams – Virginia Tech and Alabama – follow in the rankings.

Now really, can anyone really say which team is the best? And what if they all finish undefeated? Sure, maybe a couple of these teams will lose at some point. And then, maybe, everything will work out, and we will have two unbeaten teams meeting in the Rose Bowl.

But, that still wouldn’t mean the BCS is a good way to determine the national champion. We need a system that works every year – no matter what each team’s final records might be. And everyone knows the solution to the problem – a playoff.

A playoff would put an end to all the arguments about who really should get to play in the national championship game.

To be honest, the current BCS system is almost un-American. We’re supposed to be living under a democracy, and yet we are letting computer programs (in combination with less-than-neutral coaches and questionable Harris Poll participants) determine the best teams in the country.

So let’s make college football more democratic. Let’s give more teams a fair chance to win it all. The top-8 teams in the country meet in a year-end tournament. It’s not a new idea. And it’s also a pretty common thing in college sports, as virtually every other NCAA sport has a playoff.

And that includes the lower levels of college football, like Division I-AA and Division II.

There are a couple of ways to determine the playoff teams: keep something like the BCS rankings and let the top-8 teams in the rankings join in the tournament. Or, do what basketball does, and have a selection committee determine the top-8 teams.

Now, a lot of schools are opposed to a playoff system. They say it will interfere with schoolwork and final exams. The real reason they’re against it is that the big conferences and universities make a lot of money off the status quo.

But, you know what? I’m sure the NCAA could figure out a way to make money off a playoff system, too.

And we can keep the bowl games. The NCAA can continue to rotate in one of the four major bowl games as the national championship game, while having the other three major bowl games work as semifinal or quarterfinal match-ups. Three of the “mid-level” bowl games (like the Gator Bowl or the Cotton Bowl) could also be played as quarterfinal contests.

There are just too many benefits in having a playoff. The old rivalries will still be important in the regular season. There will still be the same excitement on Saturday afternoons. In fact, late-season games will be even more exciting, as teams try to get into the playoffs.

Hey, I’ve changed my mind. It’s time for the NCAA to do the same.

Ted Nyman is a Sun Staff Writer. Fast Times will appear every other Wednesday this semester.

Archived article by Ted Nyman