Fixing the BCS: How to determine a true national champion in college football

The first step is equal access, whether deserved or not
12/17/2013 12:41 PM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Could the Ragin' Cajuns of Louisiana-Lafayette really win a National Title?(AP)
Last week, I posited that this year’s slate of major bowl games is a fitting end to the BCS era, as it’s further proof that with the BCS system it matters not if, where, or to whom you lose, only when.

Whether or not Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston and the Florida State Seminoles shut everyone up (including me) by finishing 14-0 and winning the National Title is moot, as next year, it becomes a four-team playoff…one is completely selected at random by a committee, includes no restrictions on teams per conference, and, because it moves the American Athletic Conference into the mid-major “Group of Five,” still doesn’t make it any easier for a non-power conference team to play in the big games.

So then, how do we fix this? As promised last week, I have a simple solution, one that adds a couple games to the schedule but comes up with an unadulterated national champ.

Starting next year, six bowls – the Fiesta, Orange, Rose, and Sugar, as well as the Cotton and the Peach – will rotate playoff hosting duties, with two hosting the national semifinals and the other four acting as host bowls for the other eight “BCS” teams, with existing conference affiliations still being honored where applicable (i.e. Big Ten vs. Pac-12 in the Rose when it’s not a semifinal game). The committee will seed the Top 4 teams for the two semifinal bowls, and the other four will host the remaining champions (including a Group of Five rep) and a slew of at-large choices, just like in the BCS era.

So, then, what if, say, we keep the BCS rankings, and those bowls just become part of the tournament each year? With 10 conferences in the FBS, there could easily be a 12-team championship tournament featuring all 10 conference winners, possibly a top independent that falls under a modified “Notre Dame rule” – which as of now sees the Irish get an automatic bid if they finish in the Top 8 of the rankings and at-large eligible with nine wins and a Top 14 finish – and either one or two at-large teams.

Using 2013 results as a guideline, the failure of Notre Dame (or any independent, for that matter) to even win nine games means a tournament of that ilk done this year would see the 10 conference champions and the two highest-ranked non-champions, No. 3 Alabama and No. 7 Ohio State, vying for the National Title.

With the 12 teams set, that’s where the rankings come into play; the four highest-ranked conference winners receive byes, and the other eight play a quartet of first-round games at the locale of four of the six “championship rotation” bowls, with the matchups chosen at random and home team based on who is higher in the BCS rankings – meaning that in a year like this, you could theoretically get Alabama vs. Ohio State to counteract a potential Rice vs. Bowling Green game. Those games would be played the week between the Army-Navy game and the beginning of bowl season, one a night to keep the television revenue alive.

Once the four winners are determined, those teams and the bye recipients are slotted into the quarterfinals, to be played in the same locales (and thus, the corresponding “bowl”) as the first-round games; here, matchups are determined in the current BCS format, with existing tie-ins honored first and then the remaining selections made in a rotating order to be determined. Once those are set, the four teams who lost in the first round also get a “bowl game,” as they are re-slotted into the two bowls that aren’t part of the quarterfinals, and all six games are played on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

From there, we have four teams left, who are seeded in BCS rankings order so we get 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3. With most schools off, the games could be played on the first Saturday early afternoon and Sunday night that falls at least five days after New Year’s (to avoid NFL conflict) at the sites of the two bowl games that weren’t quarterfinals, and the National Title Game then is played the Saturday night of NFL conference championship weekend at a neutral site that is selected via bidding (like the Final Four or Super Bowl) – a schedule that makes two nice pigskin tripleheaders and still allows for down time before the National Championship Game.

So how does it work in execution?

Well, if this system were in place for 2013, you’d have Florida State, Auburn, Michigan State and Stanford with byes, with Baylor, Central Florida, Mountain West champ Fresno State, MAC Champ Bowling Green, Sun Belt champ Louisiana-Lafayette, Conference USA champ Rice, and the two at-large teams (Alabama and Ohio State) set for the first round.

Assuming all random matchups end up going in BCS rankings order, the “favorite” (aka home team) moves on in each round, and the Sugar, Rose, Orange, and Fiesta are your quarterfinals, you end up with a first round of ULL at Alabama, Rice at Baylor, Bowling Green at Ohio State, and Fresno State at UCF, with the games played in New Orleans, Pasadena, Miami, and Glendale.

The semifinals would then see Stanford vs. Michigan State in the Rose Bowl, with Baylor (Fiesta), Auburn (Sugar), and Florida State (Orange) locked into their bowls, a randomly-drawn selection order determining where Alabama, Ohio State, and UCF go, and a snake order (i.e. Cotton-Peach-Peach-Cotton) determining how those bowls match up first-round losers Bowling Green, Rice, ULL, and Fresno State.

Going on our plan and assuming favorites win, we’d end up with Michigan State over Stanford, Florida State over UCF, Auburn over Ohio State, and Alabama over Baylor, setting up semifinals in Dallas (Cotton Bowl) and Atlanta (Peach Bowl) featuring FSU vs. MSU and Auburn vs. Alabama…and you can figure out the rest.

You may have read the last 1060 words and said “wow, that’s convoluted,” and you know what? You may be right…but it’s much more “fair” and no more convoluted than the current or soon-to-be systems, and while you may not believe it, someday, somewhere, some “mid-major” will get hot, run the table, and bring a National Title to Fresno State or Bowling Green or somewhere of the like – finally making everyone believe that just like in college hoops, those teams have just as much chance at a title on opening day as the long-time powerhouses do.

January madness, anyone?

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