(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.