Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

05 Dec 2011

ESPN: Defending (Gasp!) The BCS

I'm bracing myself for many inevitable arguments with this one, but here goes. For all the legitimate criticisms, there is something the BCS system does do rather well: award the team that had the best overall season in college football with the national championship trophy. This honor comes at the expense of opening up the field to all deserving candidates that might have a legitimate shot to win a playoff, of course. The question is not whether a playoff would provide an exciting and potentially more fulfilling conclusion to the college football season. It's whether we want to acknowledge that playoffs a) don't always crown the best team, and b) don't always crown a champion that has to play the best teams en route to the title.

Posted by: Brian Fremeau on 05 Dec 2011

77 comments, Last at 09 Dec 2011, 1:29am by An Onimous


by Mach5Motorsport (not verified) :: Mon, 12/05/2011 - 10:02pm

Not a surprise....Didn't ESPN also defend Craig James when it came to his spoiled brat son getting Mike Leach fired from Texas Tech?

by erniecohen :: Mon, 12/05/2011 - 10:02pm

Okay, this argument is just idiotic. If the goal of the BCS was to maximize the chance of the national championship being the team that is best by some meaure, you could achieve this by simply naming the team highest rated by that measure national champions (after the bowl games, which would nevertheless be unnecessary).

by Brian Fremeau :: Mon, 12/05/2011 - 10:21pm

Your description closely describes what the BCS actually does. They don't re-run the formula after the bowls, but if they did, the highest rated team would very likely be the team that wins the BCS championship game, no?

by Paul M (not verified) :: Mon, 12/05/2011 - 10:41pm

And the winner of the Super Bowl would be the NFL champion, too. How stupid do you really think we are, Brian?? This is idiotic.

by mm (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 3:03pm

Aw, how smart of you to question someone else's intelligence.

The winner of the last game is not always the best team. While everyone enjoyed the Giants defeat of the Patriots in the 18-1 year, the Giants were not the best team over the course of the season. There are many other years you could point to better teams. The baseball playoffs (which even uses 7 game series) is particularly notorious for being random.

The purpose of tournaments is not to pick the best team. The purpose of tournaments is to be exciting.

If the NFL wanted to use 5 weeks to pick the best team of the year, a far better solution would be to have a full 5 weeks of games (maybe scheduling the better teams against each other over the weeks). Of course, you would find that most of the time, even a 'champion' would have a loss over that time period. The more games are played, the more can determine who is truly the better team.

Again, the NFL doesn't do that, because it doesn't want to pick the best team; it wants to sell excitement.

If someone wanted more games to be played in college football, don't add them in a playoff system; add them to the regular season. I personally think that the top athletes in college already subject their bodies to enough physical punishment in a season.

by Kal :: Mon, 12/05/2011 - 11:26pm

I actually wonder that quite a bit.

In 2004 the winner of the BCS game didn't get the AP vote at all because that team wasn't invited and the AP already thought them the #1 team. If (for some reason) LSU hadn't made it to the title game but two other teams did, would it make sense that LSU stayed #1 after their bowl game?

by erniecohen :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 1:56am

My point is that if you are trying to maximize an objective function, it doesn't matter what games you play, as long as you use the objective function, not a "championship game", to chose a champion. This is what we had under the pre-BCS bowl system. Having a championship game can only hurt you.

by Adam H (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 12:20pm

No. The team that wins the BCS championship game is often not the universally highest rated team (though it's hard to say what the BCS would say). If Bama beats LSU, then LSU would still be the highest ranked team, unless voters were dumb as hell. Also, Oklahoma 2000, LSU 2003, Florida 2008, LSU 2007, Florida 2006, Auburn 2004... Not to mention the years where there are multiple undefeated teams while one team had a clearly more difficult schedule (2009, 2010, others?). So really, almost every year there has not been a universal #1.

A plus-one would all but fix that!

Of course, the coaches are contractually obligated to vote the BCS game winner #1... what a sham!

by An Onimous (not verified) :: Fri, 12/09/2011 - 1:29am

Some of those examples you listed are ridiculous. The 2000 Oklahoma Sooners were the only undefeated team in the entire nation, and received every single first place vote in every single poll. The 2006 Florida Gators received 64 of 65 first place votes in the AP Poll. The 2007 LSU Tigers might have had 2 losses, but so did everyone else- that team still received over 90% of the first place votes in the final AP poll. The 2004 USC Trojans received 63 of 64 first place votes. The only examples you gave where the national champion was not nearly universally regarded as the #1 team in the nation were the 2003 LSU Tigers (split championship with USC) and the 2008 Florida Gators (lost 16 votes to undefeated Utah, although honestly those votes were all political votes meant to make a statement- nobody really thought Utah could hang with Florida that year). That's two times in the last 10 years that the team that won the championship was not universally (or near-universally) hailed as the best team in the nation. And in both instances, the team was considered one of the top 2 teams at the very worst. Compare this to the NFL, which has produced a pair of 10-6 champions in the last 4 years alone. Or to MLB, which saw an 83-78 team win the World Series. College football has over 100 teams and yet it routinely crowns the best or, at the very worst, second best team its champion- meaning every single champion is at the very least in the 98th percentile. The NFL and MLB sometimes crown champions who fail to crack the top quintile entirely.

Playoffs are a lot of fun, but if you want to be as sure as possible that the best team at the end of the season is crowned the champion, they're a really crappy way to go. If that's your goal, there's no system out there today with a better track record than the BCS.

by Paul M (not verified) :: Mon, 12/05/2011 - 10:39pm

Quite simply the stupidest and most corrupt effort in Football Outsiders' history. The arguments are so idiotic they don't deserve a debate. (The basic gist of the story:"How dare anyone actually play more than a computer-generated/money-influenced supposed title game to determine college athletics' biggest cash cow??) The bigger question is just how much Aaron Schatz and the entire FO site is paid by ESPN for all their contributions and what that "inside" status is doing in terms of compromising standards and judgment. I fully expect a laudatory article about Texas' lackluster season ("The Horns Weren't That Bad" is a likely title) as an attempt to do Deloss Dodd's bidding, along with the Mouse, of course. This is shameful stuff and someone at this site ought to be asking some hard questions about it. I had hoped that the exposure of different thinking in sport's most powerful outlet might be a very positive thing-- I am beginning to see that I was wrong.

by SERIOUS BIZ (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 9:32am

"The arguments are so idiotic they don't deserve a debate"

Yet you went on to post a bunch of unhinged, overly dramatic nonsense anyway.

by Brian Fremeau :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 10:22am

I'm sorry that you felt that the basic gist of the story was as you described. My intention for writing the article was to acknowledge the difference between what the BCS offers and what a playoff offers. I didn't intend to make a value judgment on either one.

by Will Allen :: Mon, 12/05/2011 - 10:46pm

Yes, it awards the team with the best overall season, as long as it is fully understood that "best overall season", with a large number of teams with limited connectedness of schedules, isn't much more than a wild assed guess.

by NYMike :: Mon, 12/05/2011 - 11:00pm

Exactly. And this year, we have even fewer connections than ever, because we "chose" two teams from the same division. Are you kidding me? The coaches get a vote and all the SEC coaches, plus the coach from the team joining the SEC next year, voted Alabama number two, so we're stuck with a rematch that I didn't watch the first time, and won't be caught dead watching this time. Ratings should be good in Mississippi, though.

by DEW (not verified) :: Mon, 12/05/2011 - 11:09pm

This is really the key point. Over 100 teams, only 11 or 12 games each, and limited connectivity in which the teams that are believed to be the best before the season deliberately try to *avoid* playing non-conference games against the best teams of other conferences. You can throw around all the statistics you want, but the bottom line is, I have no idea if Alabama, Oklahoma State, Stanford, or Boise State is a better 1-loss team, because there's no connectivity between schedules and the only reason Alabama is in the championship game is because poll voters' "eyeball evidence" make them believe the SEC is the best conference.

The only way the BCS model genuinely works in the way Fremeau claims is in something like baseball, where matching the best team in the AL against the best team of the NL would be a viable model (and was for decades). College football is pretty much the exact opposite of a system in which the model works.

by battlered90 (not verified) :: Mon, 12/05/2011 - 11:25pm

All of these points about connectivity (and the implied but unmentioned small sample size) are absolutely correct. This is why they should adopt the model used in all other sports and let the outcome be determined on the field with a limited playoff. There will still be bias towards big conferences and away from non-conference teams but at least undefeated teams will (should) be given a shot at the title. Until that time, the thinking community among sports fans will continue to dismiss college football.

by c0rrections (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 4:14pm

A playoff wouldn't fix the root of the limited connectivity problem. It just expands out the number of teams and the controversy (the gap between 4 and 5 and the gap between 8 and 9, or God forbid 15 and 16 is almost always smaller than the gap between 2 and 3). By adding the magic words "playoff" to the equation you don't fix how teams are selected. The simple fact of the matter is there is no objective scheduling component in college football and there are to few games to establish any real connectivity (not to mention the issue of one game sample sizes inherent to football). Playoffs work in the pro sports because there is at least an objective scheduling component. In Basketball they almost always demonstrate who the best team is. In Hockey they often do. In Football and Baseball it is much more random but at least the path is clear.

by Kal :: Mon, 12/05/2011 - 11:32pm

What's funny is that LSU is the dream team as far as connectivity goes. It played two other conference champions - not just conference teams, actual champions. It played 4 different 10-win teams. It played those games largely on the road or at least not at home.

If all the teams were like LSU - if that was mandatory - something like the BCS would be completely fine. But the reason that something like LSU works is because LSU basically had a playoff; they played the best team in their division, the best team in the SEC's other division, the Big East champ and the Pac-12 champ. LSU essentially already went through a gauntlet of a playoff; with Alabama they're having to play essentially a 32-team playoff structure.

Here's a thought: if you want to be BCS-championship eligible you must have played at least two other BCS AQ teams, each of which is bowl-eligible.

by c0rrections (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 4:23pm

While that would make scheduling hard, (because how can you tell in advance) you're on the right track. First, make playing a AA school an automatic disqualifier. Second, require playing at least 2 other non conference AQ teams that meet a certain threshold (say bowl eligible in two of the last 3 years)or a non conference non AQ that is bowl elgible in say 4 of its last 5. Then either allow 9 conference games and one wild card for whatever or 8 conference games and one wild card with one other team of any sort coming from an AQ conference or a non-AQ conference that say has at least one bowl appearance in the last 3 years and one wildcard. You can still schedule a lesser AQ for your homecoming if you want but at least this would generate a lot more ambitious scheduling.

by NYMike :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 4:33pm

While what you say makes sense, schedules are drawn up so far in advance there is no way of knowing whether a team made it to a bowl two of the three seasons preceding. Wisconsin is actually a good example of this. When they schedule Oregon State, they had been a bowl team. Certainly not this year.

by c0rrections (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 5:22pm

Yeah that's a big problem. And I can see why schedules would have to be drawn far in advance. However, perhaps you have an out for teams that had appeared dominant at one time but all the sudden fell off a cliff. For example you schedule Vanderbilt and they don't happen to meet the criteria well that's too bad you knew they probably wouldn't. But let's say you schedule USC and they fall off a cliff and miss then we'd probably give you a pass. There would definitely need to be more thought put in but that was my quick back of the napkin idea.

by Kal :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 5:38pm

There is no specific reason that scheduling needs to be so far in advance. The NFL does their scheduling the year before. If you had better cohesion in the conferences along with cooperation you could very easily schedule games the prior year without issue.

I realize that this is a problem now, but it's certainly not an insurmountable one. If you want more of a guarantee have it so that you must have played two AQ conference teams who were bowl-eligible the prior year, at least.

by Kal :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 5:44pm

Alternately, simply steal from the NFL.

Force all conferences to have the same number of teams or have a way to make up the difference from a pool of independents and non-AQ teams.

Determine your schedule based on a rotation. Let's assume there are 4 conferences that matter (I'm throwing out the ACC and Big-East for ease of discussion) and go like this.

Year 1, everyone in the Pac-12 plays everyone in the SEC in two games. If they were the #1 team or #2 team they play the previous year's top 2 teams. If you were #11 or #12 you play the previous year's 11 and 12 teams.
In addition, the Pac-12 also plays one team in the Big-12.

Year 2, the Pac-12 plays everyone in the Big-12 twice. They play the Big-10 once.

Year 3, they play everyone in the Big-10 twice. They play everyone in the SEC once.

That sort of thing. Determine who you play each year by the prior year's rankings. Scheduling is somewhat easy because you know that you'll be playing that conference and you can even figure out ahead of time who has home and away games and balance it out. You have a contract to do this as part of going to the playoff system, so if you back out you don't get in - so you won't have teams chickening out at the last minute and requiring you to play Georgia Southern.

by battlered90 (not verified) :: Mon, 12/05/2011 - 11:14pm

This is actually quite true. In my opinion, we should get rid of human polls and operate solely on the computer rankings to select BCS teams. The BCS has actually driven me away from being a college football fan. But the goal of sports is not to assess which team(s) is(are) the best and hand them a championship trophy. The goal of sports is to make money. But in a less cynical sense, college football would be more exciting and more satisfying if there were a four/eight team playoff to determine a national champion on the field, rather than leave the decision up to media personalities who are increasingly further removed from the public opinion and coaches who are biased.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 12:31am

Anybody who says they would not be hugely entertained this weekend if, for instance, the following games were played.....

Cincinnatti at LSU
Alabama at Wisconsin
Clemson at Oregon
TCU at Oklahoma State

......with the winners playing on New Year's Day, and the championship a week later, just doesn't like football that much.

by Will :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 12:37am

Cincy over West Virginia!?!?!?!?
TCU over Southern Miss!?!?!?
No Boise State!?!?!?!?


(note that this post is full of sarcasm, although WVU should be over Cincy)


by Mikey Benny :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 12:25am

Better to to get #8 vs. #9 wrong than #2 vs. #3.

by dmstorm22 :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 1:43am

It definitely would be a lot more entertaining. But would it be a fairer way of crowning the National Champion?

by Will Allen :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 2:29am

I don't care about fairness, because it is a quality that is wholly dependent on the vantage point of the observer. I simply think it would be more entertaining to have 7 conference champs and one at-large play a tournament. It would thus be very hard to have an extremely succesful season absent a conference championship, which I think adds urgency to conference games, which I prefer. It does allow for one very good team that did not win a conference to get in. What I think would be most fun is to see teams which rarely play one another compete on each other's home fields in December. I'd love to see the warm weather teams travel to play in a blizzard occasionally, and see, say, a Boise State, go play a December game in Florida.

by dmstorm22 :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 2:33am

Do you like having 2 wild cards in the NFL? Because 1 at-large seems really small, especially since some of these conferences are quite a bit worse than some of the others. I would like an 8-team playoff because I think it would be awesome. I also understand that a system under the BCS will probably reward the best team in teh regular season more often.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 2:59am

Yeah, I just prefer, in college football, putting a larger emphasis on the conference/division championship. I also think doing so would help equalize recruiting parity among conferences, given time, which I also would prefer.

(edit) I should add that if we end up with four 16 team superconferences, then I'd say we might as well let 6 or 7 teams from those four into an eight team tourney.

by c0rrections (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 4:28pm

How does it add any more urgency to conference games? Already you lose in conference you're pretty much done. You could fix the system to make only conference champions eligible for the BCS and make it entirely urgent.

I am curious whether we'd have any furor over a rematch if Oregon had beaten USC and (likely) stayed ahead of Alabama in both polls going to the BCS title game.

by NYMike :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 4:35pm

"Lose and you're done" ... unless you're Alabama.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 5:37pm

As has been noted, Alabama has survived losing their conference quite well this year.

by c0rrections (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 12:59pm

Which is incredibly atypcial and could be fixed entirely by making winning your conference mandatory.

by Will Allen :: Thu, 12/08/2011 - 9:27am

THat would be a good thing to do, in my view. The schools which benefit from the status quo don't want that, however.

I also have to note again that you have a curious definition of "incredibly atypical".

by TV_Pete (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 10:19am

I don't hate the polls. They can/might take into consideration some things that are not easily considered by computer rankings - i.e. key player(s) out, outside factors (plane crash) affecting the outcome. I would prefer all rankings be publicly accountable (not coach's rankings).

I would also prefer the BCS Computer Rankings allow margin of victory and home field advantage to be considered. Sagarin's rankings should include the rankings or Predictor rather than ELO-Chess that is forced upon it. For that matter, FEI would be a nice addition.

by NYMike :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 4:37pm

One thing that is definitely screwing things up this year is the rule that says you can't use margin of victory to rank your teams. Never mind that MOV is a better predictor of success than any formula without it. Of course, I'm a Wisconsin fan, and Sagarin has them 5th with MOV, and 20th without, so consider that as you listen to me.

by sswoods (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 1:09am

Week 1 / Week 2

W Virginia at S Miss / at LSU
La Tech at Wisconsin / at Oregon
N Illinois at TCU / at Alabama
Ark St at Clemson / at Oklahoma St

Week 3

Lines 1v2
Lines 3v4

Week 4

On the field; win your conference, one at large (to account for possible Independent), play it out. Every team has a shot. Everyone knows the rules. Or, scrap the at large, include only conference champions, tell Notre Dame to get bent and join a conference, play with 11 teams. Ark St, La Tech, N Illinois not worthy championship contenders? Kick them out of Div 1A. If a team isn't worthy to contend for a championship, games against that team shouldn't count either.

by erniecohen :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 1:48am

I don't get the whole college football playoff thing. Why give the best teams more time to practice, creating a positive feedback loop? Isn't college about education? Aren't the least skilled teams the ones that need extra practice?

So my proposal for the playoff is that only teams with fewer than 6 wins go to the playoff, and they keep playing until each team (except one) has won 6 games.

by wr (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 10:15am

I hate to break this to you, but education is the absolute lowest priority
for the major sports programs at D1 universities. All the ADs/coaches/boosters
care about is maintaining eligibility. Any athlete from a big time
football or basketball program who gets a decent degree (i.e. something besides
basket weaving) is doing it despite his athletic scholarship, not because of it.

As proof I cite the fact that there are now college football/basketball games every weeknight during the season. That's a lot of missed classes, especially for
the away teams.

As to the Bogus Championship Series, I can't convince myself that it is anything
other than a beauty contest designed to ensure that the largest conferences
get the lion's share of bowl revenue.

by TomTom (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 2:08am

There are 3 evils in college football: The SEC, ESPN, and the BCS/NCAA. This article you've written appears to be a BCS problem, but I think it's more that ESPN made you do it. I really hope so, there is no good reason to defend BCS. In the last 5 years there isn't a single year where the BCS has worked correctly. 2005 it worked great, but truthfully USC and Texas would have destroyed in 4-team playoff anyways.

by dmstorm22 :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 2:29am

How didn't the BCS work correctly in 2006, 2009 and 2010?

Did you want to see OSU/Michigan pt. 2 in 2006? Did you think Boise was more deserving than an undefeated Texas team in 2009? Was TCU more deserving than Oregon in 2010? I guess that last one is the most debatable, but if you have an undefeated team from a good conference, they will always get the nod these days.

Plus, how is the SEC an evil. They've earned their credentials, winning 5 straight national titles. It's not hype either, since they have hte most drafted players of any conference year after year. They've done a lot more to earn their title as best conference than the Big East has done in NCAAB.

by Guido Merkens :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 11:50am

Addressing your counterexamples, the problem is that no one knows. Before the BCS Championship Game, who could have known whether Florida or Michigan was better in 2006? Sure, you can try to use the logic of avoiding a rematch, but the BCS Championship is supposed to be the two best teams, not the best matchup or the best teams that haven't played each other. Similarly, while Texas played a much harder schedule than Boise in 2009, who could know which team was actually better? Same with 2010 TCU and Oregon.

Selecting teams for these games is nothing more than a guess, and a playoff system would reduce the impact of this guess.

by Aloysius Mephis... :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 3:32am

I might be the only person that finds something attractive in Brian's argument. In 2001 a slightly above average New England team won the Super Bowl with some lucky breaks and some timely defense and kicking. In 2007 an average Giants team beat out one of the great teams in history for the title. In 2008 a below average Arizona team with a red-hot quarterback nearly won it all. In the NFL a team has to be not just great, but historically dominant, to have much more than a 50% chance of winning the title going into the playoffs. If the purpose of the NFL's playoff tournament is to determine the best team, it's got major drawbacks (though personally I don't think its purpose is to determine the best team, but merely to determine a winner).

It also seems like the BCS's controversies are a feature, rather than a bug. I read an argument a while back that the BCS is relatively effective if you consider that its objectives are, first, to crown an unambiguous national champion, and second, to safeguard the prestige (and profitability) of the regular season and the various traditional bowl games. Those goals are inherently contradictory. But so long as one team gets to hoist the crystal trophy the first goal is accomplished, and so long as a number of other teams get to complain that they are the 'rightful' champion, or at least complain that the BCS unfairly robbed them of the opportunity to be the champion, the second goal is accomplished.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 3:38am

The people who run the bowl games are in good measure hacks and crooks, playing the non-profit status scam to get their snouts in the trough. Anything which they like I hold in contempt.

by Guido Merkens :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 11:51am

Hear hear. The decision to preserve the bowl system is also mind-boggling from the perspective of the NCAA, since they're foregoing hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue that gets funneled into the pockets of these skeezy third parties.

by A Dull Science (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 4:47am

I get the feeling this article is tongue-in-cheek. The current BCS formula selects the "best" teams, but remember when the formula disagreed with the voters? They changed the formula, of course. So above all else, the BCS rests on the "eyeball test" and that's the issue. Eyeballs are subjective, the games are objective.

Yeah, last year's Packers didn't face the best team in the AFC, the Patriots, but that's why the game is played. It's probable LSU and Alabama would meet in a playoff system, but not certain. Baylor could knock off one of them and run the table like the 2005 Steelers, but we'll never know with the current system.

by TV_Pete (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 10:14am

Could a "Classic Bowl Plus One" be viewed more favorably?

"Plus One" is pretty self-explanatory. The BCS championship teams would be determined after the Bowls are completed. The computer rankings and polls could determine this in short order on the 2nd or 3rd of January.

"Classic Bowl" indicates that the normal bowl ties would be held. SEC Champion would go to the Sugar Bowl. PAC-10 and Big Ten would play in the Rose Bowl. There would be a few "big bowl" openings for teams without automatic tie-ins for teams like Alabama this year.


Classic Bowls are maintained. PAC-10 and Big Ten want to play each other in the Rose Bowl. They would.

Contracts. There are a number of TV contracts that might prevent playoffs. However, this system should be able to fit in existing contracts.

Only two teams play a single extra game. The wear on the bodies would not be too significant, as a whole.

Little or no (more) missed school. The championship could be played a week or two later. This is about the same time frame as the current championship, so little or no additional time away from school for these students.

Guarantee of one "quality opponent". How good would an unbeaten Boise State or Houston be? This might lend some insights. A non-AQ team would have a better chance to prove themselves worthy of being in the Championship. (i.e. If an unbeaten Boise State beats unbeaten SEC champion in Sugar Bowl)

It would be less likely that there would be 3 unbeaten teams to pick from.

More Bowl Games matter. The computers would determine matches and compare these, so even the #7 SEC against the #5 Big Ten might help determine which teams will be in the Championship.


Quick turn-around. Teams and fans would have to get tickets and make travel arrangements more quickly. Instead of a month of planning there would only be a week or two. This would not be insurmountable, but could be a challenge.

This would not prevent a rematch, although the pollsters would still have their votes counted. A playoff system may not prevent a rematch if there are any "at large" (non-conference champions) teams.

No guarantee that undefeated "at large" team would make it to the Championship. After the Bowls there could still be 3 undefeated teams. It would be more likely that there is only a single team that is undefeated (or no teams that are undefeated).

by TV_Pete (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 10:15am

A playoff is something that many people would like to see. This could be a step in a similar direction.

Of course, a playoff does not provide the "best team". It provides the winner of a tournament.

by justanothersteve :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 12:15pm

I think the +1 is better than a playoff system. Yes, some teams will complain they were passed over. But I can't remember the last team there were more than 4 undefeated teams. My preference would be the undefeated teams, then the top-ranked conference champs. If you're a one-loss team, I'm not going to get to worked up that your team wasn't invited as it's already been shown that someone can beat your team. And yes, in my system Alabama doesn't go this year since LSU will be there as conference champs. I would also penalize teams for scheduling more than one AA cupcake. (I don't mind one since many of those AA programs get the money to help pay for their programs by scheduling the big boys.)

As exciting as March Madness is, I feel the entire regular season is watered down except for the weakest conferences (who are usually one and done teams). While some Cinderella championships make wonderful stories (e.g., Valvano's NC State team), it sometimes only crowns whichever team got hot at the end of the year, didn't get beat by some other team in a fluke loss, and not necessarily the best team.

I'm sure a lot of people will disagree. I think having more teams waters down the importance of the regular season and at some point makes it irrelevant. For March Madness, why not just extend it one more week (which would allow up to 256 teams) and invite every NCAA team?

by The Voice (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 12:47pm

You know, if there was a "plus one" system, and Bama beats LSU by 3, it's quite likely they'd be ranked 1-2 after the bowl game, and have to play yet again...

by Nick Evans (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 11:40am

Though, if there was a +1 system, you could easily set it up to avoid rematches in bowl games. The Sugar Bowl would host the SEC Champ against a non-SEC at large team. Alabama would be in the other slot available for an at large team, presumably the Fiesta against OK State?

by Will Allen :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 1:17pm

A playoff that required a conference championship for participation, or one where 7 of 8 participants were champs, would make the regular season more important than it is now, where a team like Alabama can lose to an LSU, and get a rematch without going through a playoff which requires wins on the road, a long ways from home, against top competition.

Also, if the seeding for the playoff was in good part dependent on quality wins versus high quality non-conference competition, it would increase the number of high quality regular season games. Finally, guaranteeing participation in a playoff to seven conference champs would greatly increase recruiting parity across all regions of the country, given time, since 18 year olds would know that playing on a conference champ would likely get them in the door. College football would become even more popular, if, like the NFL, football fans believed that schools from all regions of the country had a real chance to compete for the title.

by c0rrections (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 4:38pm

False. This is the first time a rematch has happened and only the second time it's even been a possibility. So your scenario only addresses that narrow band. Now let's contrast it with the example of the weekend before Thanksgiving. Every single one of those exciting upsets would have been entirely meaningless. Most of the giant upsets in most years would be rendered entirely meaningless. And in your system it still wouldn't fix the Alabama problem because Alabama would know they were still going to be that extra team with the loss. It might fix it for a team from another conference but your solution strikes me as one looking for a problem.

As for recruiting parity I don't have any idea why it would change anything.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 5:47pm

Somehow, you have decided that somethng happening twice in a short time frame qualifies as a "narrow band". This is curious.

My system would mean that Alabama would have to win two playoff games, one in front of a hostile crowd, to get a crack at the championship. For someone who values rewarding conference play, that is preferable to simply saying, "Hey, Alabama? You finished 2nd in your division, but we'll still install you as a participant in the national championship game!"

The system I propose would simply introduce other major upsets, and if you can't envision how a team, which could tell recruits that winning their conference would get them in a playoff, would improve their recruting, if that team was not now part of an aq conference, we'll just have to disagree.

by c0rrections (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 1:10pm

Except that winning the conference wouldn't get a team in a game in your system because there are 11 conferences. You could still tell them that in the SEC, Big 10, Big 12, or Pac 12 but you're unlikely to be able to tell them that in any other conference with certainty since 4 always get left out. I'm pretty sure you wouldn't be able to make the sell at all credibly in most non-AQs. I'd add that it doesn't really seem to matter. Recruiting is still highly regional. There is a reason the SEC tends to be the best conference and that is because it has regional ties to Florida and Texas. And does the harder path to winning the SEC discourage big recruits from going there? Apparently not. Sure there's always an effect at the margins but I find it not particularly credible that there would be much of one here.

I would consider it a narrow band because it only once has actually been a problem in the 12 years of the BCS (since no rematch happened with Michigan). And there is a much simpler solution to your problem. Make winning the conference a pre-requisite to going to the title game. In that system conference success is rewarded because the only path is winning your conference.

As for Alabama I think you're putting the cart before the horse. At the time they met LSU they could be pretty sure they would be out of the title picture with a loss. As such they would play hard to win the game knowing that they were all but eliminated from the title game with a loss. Afterwards this proved not to be the case but given what a close call it was I don't see how that changes Alabama's motivational calculus (as if they aren't somehow motivated by winning the SEC) nor how adding a playoff where they could be sure of an at large by finishing 2nd in conference in almost any given year would add much of an inducement to play harder.

by Will Allen :: Thu, 12/08/2011 - 9:38am

One out of twelve times is fairly frequent in my view. I'd actually prefer a tournament with 8 conference champs but I realize that the big six right now would fight tooth and nail any move which would allow a smaller conference to say to a recruit that winning that school's conference would gain entry to a playoff, so in a bone thrown to the big six, I'd be willing to give them a at-large bid.

by White Rose Duelist :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 4:32pm

There were five undefeated teams at the end of the regular season in 2004 - USC, Oklahoma, Auburn, Utah and Boise State.


There's no reason there couldn't be 11 undefeated teams, if the conference champs all run the table and happen not to play each other (or more, if Notre Dame et al. also don't happen to schedule any of the champs).

by Kal :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 11:33am

Another thought I had: have the bowl games as they were pre-BCS - with specific ties to conferences.

Then have your playoffs, and have them BEFORE the bowl games. Make it so the bowl games are fun, for bragging rights and tradition but not to determine the best in the land. Make them big OOC games, basically - again, just like they used to be.

by Guido Merkens :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 11:53am

I like the idea, but adding bowl games onto the end of a playoff system wouldn't fly with those who claim that a playoff system would add too many games (although it's funny that that doesn't seem to be a concern with other divisions).

by Dr. Supporters' Shield (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 12:02pm

Here's the flaw in the argument.

In every competition, there is a tension between rewarding regular-season performance and rewarding postseason performance. The argument, as stated, is that having only two teams in the playoff is good because it greatly rewards regular-season performance, and greatly rewarding regular-season performance is as desired.

That works well for 2011. However, the argument breaks down for 2010, 2009, 2008, 2006, 2004...

In 2010, TCU defeated every team on its schedule. No reward.
In 2009, Boise State defeated every team on its schedule. No reward.
In 2008, Utah defeated every team on its schedule. No reward.
In 2006, Boise State defeated every team on its schedule. No reward.
In 2004, Auburn and Utah defeated every team on their schedules. No reward.

The only real problem I have with a two-team playoff is that it is ridiculous for there to be multiple undefeated teams at the end of a season, so the playoff needs to be expanded to be large enough to practically guarantee inclusion of all undefeated teams in all years.

by Kal :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 2:51pm

In 2010 TCU played a significantly easier schedule than Auburn or Oregon. Why should they be rewarded for playing easier schedules?
In 2009 Boise State did a very similar thing. Why should they be rewarded?
in 2008 Utah had an even easier schedule than Boise or TCU. Why should they be rewarded?
Etc, etc.

The only gripe there is 2004.

Why should a team that schedules nothing but cupcakes save maybe one good game be rewarded for beating those teams? To go back to a common statement here, Boise State's chance of running the table in 2010 (which they didn't do) was THREE TIMES GREATER than Oregon or Auburn.

Undefeated seasons are not all alike. Nor is it absolutely true that 1-loss teams are categorically worse than undefeated teams. That might be more true in places where there is a lot of connection in the regular season, but when there isn't - when whole conferences can avoid playing each other entirely - that argument falls hugely flat.

by Dr. Supporters' Shield (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 10:28am

I am certainly not arguing that one-loss teams are categorically worse than undefeated teams. A playoff large enough to include all undefeated teams is certainly going to include one-loss and usually two-loss teams as well. If a one-loss team is better than an undefeated team, which will certainly happen with some frequency, it would get the opportunity to demonstrate it on the field.

I am, however, arguing that it is ridiculous to structure a competition such that there can be multiple undefeated teams at the end of a season.

by Rikki (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 12:32pm

In theory the BCS does select the best two teams..... But in practice their evaluation process is awful. Most mathematically good systems rank Oklahoma State ahead of Alabama

That of course doesn't mean that this is a reason I would prefer a playoff. Actually I would prefer a BCS with a good system over a playoff

by dmstorm22 :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 2:31pm

5 out of the 7 BCS computers have Oklahoma St. ahead of Alabama. It is teh human component (the two polls included in the BCS rankings) that have Alabama ahead of Oklahoma St.

by Kal :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 2:54pm

Well, that's only because margin of victory isn't taken into account. Alabama surges greatly over OKST when you factor in MoV.

They're both very close.

by Adam H (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 12:38pm

I don't think so... margin of victory rankings seem to think that Big 12 schools are really really good (Missouri and Texas A&M frequently rank in the top 15, for example), and they think that Arkansas, Penn State, and Auburn are worse than most think.

Look up "simple rating system" for probably the simplest MOV based ranking system out there.

The only way I can see that Alabama would rank higher than Oklahoma State would be if you have preseason bias ala Billingsley (who apparently has OSU #2, so never mind), or if you have a weird weighting that makes losing to bad teams much more impactful than beating good teams - which people seem to think is the correct way to think, judging by how often I've heard "Alabama lost to LSU, Oklahoma State lost to Iowa State, case closed".

by c0rrections (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 4:42pm

"Most mathematically good systems rank Oklahoma State ahead of Alabama"

This might better be translated that only the systems that agree with my result are mathematically sound. I cannot think of a mathematically sound system that would rank Ok. St. ahead given that they and Alabama played roughly equivalent schedules with Alabama pounding every team it beat and losing close to a historically great team. OKST pounded 9 teams that it beat, won close over two others, and lost close to a bad team. It's clear who had a better season.

by The Voice (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 12:46pm

For everyone who says that a playoff tournament style is a better way of determining the best team/player for the entire season:

Was Darren Clarke the best golfer in 2000?

by Tom W (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 2:23pm

As I stated on a different thread a couple of days ago, the whole point of organized athletics is COMPETITION. I'm sick of hearing the idiotic argument in defense of the indefensible BCS system, that a playoff doesn't guarantee that the "best" team will win. The best team according to who? There is no way to definitively determine who the best team is. That's why the games are played. In every other sport at every level, with the possible exception of tee-ball, the champion is decided by a playoff of some sort. Not by a poll. Not by a computer model. The championship is settled on the field, court, rink, etc. The fact that the team the "experts" think is the best doesn't always win, is a big part of what makes sports compelling. I can honestly say that never in my life have I heard anyone suggest that any other sport should adopt FBS college football's method of determining a national champion. Gosh, I wonder why that is. Is anything I'm saying really not, more or less, self-evident?

by Kal :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 3:21pm

All racing and golfing basically laughs at your ignorance. You might win certain meets or certain cups but overall champions for a season are determined by overall performance, not specific victory races or playoff races.

And honestly, college football is very similar in that regard, where your competitors are those that you're not directly competing against quite often. This is the problem with college football; too few games, too many teams, no connectivity. Playoffs make sense when everyone's on the same page. Do playoffs make sense when you're talking about playing the NFL vs. the CFL?

by dmstorm22 :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 3:38pm

NASCAR's chase does not reward performance for the full year, but just the last 10 races.

I forget where I read this, but I think the 2006, 2007, and 2010 champion would not have been Jimmie Johnson under the old pre-Chase rules. It would have been Kenseth, Gordon and Harvick.

by blank (not verified) :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 3:49pm

Regardless of you feelings about the BCS, the main premise of the article contains some flawed logic. Namely, voters (in the USAToday Coaches Poll) are required to rank the winner #1. Therefore, just because the BCS national title game always includes the post-game #1 in the polls doesn't mean it includes the best team.

by Tom Gower :: Tue, 12/06/2011 - 4:35pm

When I went all screedy on Wetzel's Death to the BCS, what Brian is arguing is one of the things I mentioned as a strength of the BCS. There are plenty of flaws to the BCS, including how the top two teams are determined, but I don't see this as one of them.

by cisforcookie (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 8:22am

I think malcolm gladwell (sp?) had some discussion about how the vast vast majority of people root for underdogs whereas only a tiny few root for the better team to win on principle. I think this psychological difference explains much of the disagreement that goes on in this area.

by Tom W (not verified) :: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 6:43pm

Comparing college football to professional golf or NASCAR is patently absurd.