Monday, April 20, 2009

The Only 'Playoff' That Works

(Guru's note: This proposal has been slightly amended after great feedback and additional considerations. I believe this is now the most plausible proposal to modify the framework of the BCS.)

The BCS annual meeting is set to take place next Monday in Pasadena, where the commissioners are expected to hobnob and mostly wring their hands before declaring the BCS a "success."

There will be a couple of issues. The pesky Mountain West has a proposal and it wants to be heard. It will be, but just like the last words from a death-row inmate, it's not going to make any difference. And there's the congressional pressure, but with re-election coming up in 18 months, that may be played off by a pledge for "more studying."

But sooner or later, the BCS will have to deal with this. As it nears the conclusion of its third four-year contract, the public is fed up with a system that provides very little satisfaction in crowning a true champion. The concept of a "national champion" in Division I-A is as mythical as ever, as none of the past three BCS champions may lay an undisputed claim to the title.

It doesn't have to be this way.

The Guru has devised a "playoff" scheme that creates minimal conflict with the current regime and may be implemented immediately. The concept is tested against the 11 past BCS seasons, which proved that it would have stifled any controversy in the course of determining a true champion. The beauty of this proposal is in its simplicity.

So here it is:

1. Add two games to the current format - national semifinal games played on campus sites the week after the last regular-season games are played and BCS standings are released.

2. The semifinalists will be the four teams meeting the following criteria -

  • a) The four highest-ranked conference champions, provided that they're in the top six of the final BCS standings.*

  • b) Any team that finished in the top two but failed to win its conference.

  • c) In case of a conflict between a) and b), b) takes precedence over the lowest-ranked conference champion.

* Conference champion may be from any conference, regardless of BCS affiliation. In the case of conferences without a championship game, a co-champion is accepted and no tiebreaker needs to be applied. Notre Dame belongs in this group as well.

3. The higher seeds host the lower seeds on campus sites, with the winners advancing to the national championship game, to be played one week after New Year's Day.

4. All bowl games and their affiliations stay in tact. The losing semifinalists are guaranteed a spot in one of the BCS bowls, in accordance with their conference affiliations. Second-place teams may be invited in place of the semifinal winners, as it is the case now with the top two teams.

That's it. And here's the historical data on how this system would've worked over the past 11 seasons:

2008: No. 6 Utah (MWC champion) at No. 1 Oklahoma (Big 12); No. 5 USC (Pac-10) at No. 2 Florida (SEC) ** No. 3 Texas and No. 4 Alabama did not qualify

2007: No. 4 Oklahoma (Big 12) at No. 1 Ohio State (Big Ten); No. 3 Virginia Tech (ACC) at No. 2 LSU (SEC)

2006: No. 6 Louisville (Big East) at No. 1 Ohio State (Big Ten); No. 5 USC (Pac-10) at No. 2 Florida (SEC) ** No. 3 Michigan and No. 4 LSU did not qualify

2005: No. 6 Notre Dame at No. 1 USC (Pac-10); No. 3 Penn State (Big Ten) at No. 2 Texas (Big 12) ** No. 4 Ohio State and No. 5 Oregon did not qualify

2004: No. 6 Utah (MWC) at No. 1 USC (Pac-10); No. 3 Auburn (SEC) at No. 2 Oklahoma (Big 12) ** No. 4 Texas and No. 5 California did not qualify

2003: No. 4 Michigan (Big Ten) at No. 1 Oklahoma (at-large); No. 3 USC (Pac-10) at No. 2 LSU (SEC)

2002: No. 4 USC (Pac-10) at No. 1 Miami (Big East); No. 3 Georgia (SEC) at No. 2 Ohio State (Big Ten)

2001: No. 4 Oregon (Pac-10) at No. 1 Miami (Big East); No. 3. Colorado (Big 12) at No. 2 Nebraska (at-large)

2000: No. 4 Washington (Pac-10) at No. 1 Oklahoma (Big 12); No. 3 Miami (Big East) at No. 2 Florida State (ACC)

1999: No. 4 Alabama (SEC) at No. 1 Florida State (ACC); No. 3 Nebraska (Big 12) at No. 2 Virginia Tech (Big East)

1998: No. 5 UCLA (Pac-10) at No. 1 Tennessee (SEC); No. 4 Ohio State (Big Ten) at No. 2 Florida State (ACC) ** No. 3 Kansas State did not qualify

A quick review of the data reveals the following:

* Controversies over the past three years, as well as in 2004 (when there were four unbeaten teams), 2003 (three one-loss teams), 2001 and 2000 (when a No. 2 team was beaten by a No. 3 team during the season), would have been quelled as all teams in question would be semifinalists and could settle things on the field.

* Twice, a non-BCS conference champion - Utah in 2004 and 2008 - would've made the playoffs. Notre Dame qualified in 2005.

* Two at-large teams - Nebraska in 2001 and Oklahoma in 2003 - made the field.

* Conference breakdown - Pac-10 (9), Big 12 (9, including 2 at-large bids), SEC (8), Big Ten (6), Big East (5), ACC (4), MWC (2), Notre Dame (1).

* Recent trends - USC would've been in six of the last seven playoffs, missing only 2007; SEC champion would've been in the field also in six of the last seven, missing only in 2005; Oklahoma would've been in four of the last six; and Louisville was the only Big East team to make it after Miami and Virginia Tech left for the ACC.

For emphasis, here's why this plan should be strongly considered by the commissioners and needs to be put in place as soon as possible:

1. It's logistically sensible: In contrast to most "playoff" proposals, this does not take on unreasonable logistical and travel cost. Only two teams are doing the extra traveling, with games played at home venues that can easily sell out on short notice.

2. It doesn't upset the BCS apple cart: The BCS standings can use a tweaking, but the pressure on the existing system should be relieved considerably - with four teams in the mix instead of just two. It also should minimize voter meddling in creating the "championship matchup." Look at the historical data, just about every team worthy of a shot at the championship that season would've been in the "playoff."

3. It keeps the bowl structure in tact: The current bowl infrastructure stays completely in tact with just one exception: All non-BCS bowl matchups are announced at the same time as they do now, but BCS bowl lineups will be revealed after the semifinals, creating an extra week of excitement and suspense.

4. It preserves the meaning of regular season: It rewards conference champions, but also gives non-champions a chance, with a bar set high at the top two slots. As you can see with the historical precedents, it's possible for a non-champion to still qualify, but champions of all conferences have a fair chance of reaching the "playoff," whether they're in a BCS conference or not. It behooves teams to schedule tough and win their conference.

5. It creates attractive matchups: In two of the last three seasons, you would've seen USC playing Florida in the semifinals - in the current scenario, the Trojans have never faced an SEC team in a BCS bowl. The title game would have even more meaning and legitimacy because whoever emerges as the winner would be crowned as the true champion.


Jams said...

LOVE it. The beauty does indeed lie in the simplicity. I had toyed around with a similar idea that used undefeated-ness instead of conference champion-dom, but this makes more sense.

My only comment is that it seems unfair or unrealistic to say that the semifinal losers can't play in bowl games. I guess the rationale for that is to keep bowl selection day on the Sunday of the last regular-season weekend?
But in that case, why not have a particular BCS Bowl automatically take the loser of Semifinal A, and another BCS Bowl take the loser of Semifinal B?

Anyway, it seems unfair to keep two of the best teams in the country from traveling to a bowl game.

Other than that, I think it's awesome. It solves a great amount of the controversy, avoids the problems of scheduling and travel fiascoes (both for teams and fans), doesn't devalue the regular season, and doesn't extend the season beyond its current length. Conference championships matter, but so does an impressive resume. Traditions of Bowls and Polls are kept, as well.

Tim said...

GURU!! You've done it! Now our congressmen can go back to what they need to focus on. The steroids issue in baseball, or maybe just maybe the state of the nation.

Anyway, I don't care if there's a definitive champ every year. I enjoy the debate. However, if you're going to have one, this has been the best proposal to date. Soothes everybody. Solves the problem. BRAVO!!!

Kurtomatic said...

I saw the headline, thought, "Oh joy, another BCS proposal," and rolled my eyes. But then I read it, and was pleasantly suprised -- I haven't seen this propsoal before, and I like it. I do, however, have a couple of points to make.

1) My first point agrees with the above poster Jams. Leaving out the BCS semi-finalists from a bowl game seems like a penalty, especially when they are faced with a road game. Rather than, say, Florida going to the Sugar Bowl and having their fans descend upon New Orleans for a vacation, they might have to go to Ohio State and play a road game, where their fans wouldn't have the opportunity to get more than a couple of thousand tickets. While having an opportunity to play in a NCG semifinal is a great opportunity, losing the game would end the season in a worse result than getting the traditional Sugar/Rose/Orange/Fiesta bowl consolation prize.

I think a better solution would be to have the losers play each other in a BCS game, ideally the BCS game that takes place at the same site as the NCG on New Year's Day. That way, every team where they are going, and every team except those four knows when they are going and who they are playing. You also might end up with a second desirable BCS game matching up USC-Florida or Georgia-Texas rather than yet another home game for USC in a mismatched Rose Bowl.

2) Also, you mention that "Controversies over the past three years ... would have been quelled as all teams in question would be semifinalists and could settle things on the field."

While it would almost certainly reduce controversy, it would not eliminate it. You only have to go back to your projections from last December to see that leaving Texas out would cause quite a stir -- they were the team with the biggest beef last season, and this system wouldn't have change that. Their outrage would arguably be even greater under this system, as they would have be passed over by the #5 and #6 teams.

Good work.

The Guru said...

I want to thank you all (including the e-mailers) for your comments. It's obvious that the biggest weakness of the proposal was the treatment of the semifinal losers. They have been amended.

I also added one other positive for the proposal, in response to how teams such as Texas from last year or Michigan in 2006 would've fared in the system. Without the voters meddling and scheming, it's very likely that both teams would've finished No. 2 in the standings and made the semifinals.

Again, thank you.

Anonymous said...

Guru, I love this.

I have tried to "solve" this problem for what seems ever, and, I think you have finally done it.

What a December this would be with a real "Final Four"!!!!!!!!

What I like is the as the simplicity.

Sure, 4 teams seems like a few, but it really keeps the pressure of the regular season on.

2008 is a great analogy to this system you have come up with because AFTER the bowls the only teams with any real claim were Utah, USC, Florida, and Texas.

A final four is really the only way to go.

You have also solved several of the problems that nag this issue incessantly.

For example:

-Playoffs in January
-Playoffs with too many teams
-Playoffs with truly deserving teams, but at least more than the 2 we get now!!
-Playoffs that water down the regular season
-Notre Same wanting to remain indy, but still get a shot
-The 5 non-BCS conferences being able to get one of theirs in
-Maintaining bowls

I must say, I am impressed.

You must have used the "KISS" method.

Again, so simple, but so easy.

No, if we could just get the naysayers on board.

utesfan100 said...

I like your idea but have a few critiques.

1) When the selections where made in 2004 there where 5 undefeated teams not 4.

2) Having the semifinals the week after the regular season tramples on exam week. I know they do it for other divisions in football. It would be much better to use these games to kick off the bowl season on December 19th.

3) While you include many teams that where contentious with the existing system you ignore the fact that some of the forth selections you make would have been just as contentious. The consensus actually decreases the more teams are included.

These issues can be addressed but the result would be a complicated 12 page document that would be hard to sell.

The biggest issue with attempting to design a post season structure is the complete lack of agreement on what ideals such a structure should prioritize. Until this is done their is no hope for substantive change.

Richard M said...

You'll have a huge problem with ticket sales. How will you allocate the tickets between schools that makes it fair ... and how will you operate the whole ticket system of choosing who gets what and how the tickets end up in the hands of the buyers in only a few days (not to mention the logistics of getting the "visiting" fans there? It's never as easy as it seems!!

Anonymous said...

Sorry to rain on the parade, but the elephant in the room has to be addressed. And that is the NCAA. The NCAA would have to approve the extra game. The NCAA wants the BCS loot. Right now they are shut out of it. It is about money and control and the BCS is not about to give up both just to appease "some" fans who do not like the current setup.

This is not a logistical problem, it is a political problem involving money and power. So, good luck with that.

One minor thing, I can't see fans too fired up about traveling to the Orange Bowl or wherever it is held to see the "loser" bowl as it would soon be called.

Jason said...

This is a great sports blog. I have a sports blog myself and I would like to exchange links with you. Let me know about this. Thanks.

Marina Stalker said...

great idea; hope it happens someday.

Anonymous said...

I like your idea, but you stop short of my plan. . . I am so sold that my plan is the best way to go, I wrote a book called December Dream . . . Qualifying for the Final BCS Rankings
With respect to a playoff system. . . 1. the players are supposed to be there for an education. . . and that is "why" i have said that there is no need for even a 12th regular season game, but since there are 12 regular season games. . . 2. let the last regular season game, #12, to be a pre-bowl selection game. 3. the regular season of 11 games ends by Thanksgiving Saturday of November. 4. on the first Saturday of December, as per the bcs standings, the #1 team hosts the #2 team; the #3 team hosts the #4 team; etc all the way down to #63 hosting #64. Also note, this may impact the scheduled byes in some teams schedules and if there are playoffs, they may need to be completed by the last weekend of November. There can be worked out scenarios as to who gets what monies and who gets what t.v. rights and the funds are shared so all the teams can travel and split all the dollars that would occure from such a lucreative financial weekend of games. . . at the end of the weekend, we will see some games that could never have been scheduled, because our crystal balls are not so great in predicting who is going to win or lose. . . and this will certainly validate the authenticity of the pollesters and the bcs in their rating system and shake up the process of who should go to which bowl. It's not really a playoff, but would it not be something to watch teams that are so closely ranked actually play one another, instead on a #6 playing a #60 something team as they may be, in their regular schedule? and surely, the better teams will get to go to the bcs series bowls and all the others will also go to bowls with matched competitors.