TSL Round Table #4
by TechSideline.com, 7/3/02

For our "TSL Round Table" feature, we have selected a small panel of site fans and message board posters completely at random and without rhyme or reason (so don't be offended if you're not one of them), and each week, we'll pose them a question and run their answers here on TSL.

This week's TSL Round Table question: Do you think college football should continue to tweak the BCS system, or ditch it and go with a playoff?

Ben Shapiro (Beerman): Playoff. And if not a playoff, perhaps a playoff. Did I mention that I think there should be a playoff?

Take ALL of the conference winners (yup, even the Sun Belt and such), as well as a couple of "at-large" teams to fill out a 12-team bracket. Let the higher seeds host the first two rounds of games, and hold a gala Football Final Four at major bowl sites to end the season.

The whole concept of the BCS is absurd and shouldn't even warrant discussion.

Sandy Cormack (Baltimore Hokie): I don't like either option.

I am firmly of the opinion that a playoff would be the worst thing for the fans of the participating teams. Travel expense would keep them from attending games, even if there were a couple at their home field. Many of us plan our bowl trips long ahead of time, and budget time and resources accordingly. Can't do that with a playoff. You'd attend the first game if you could and maybe others if you could afford it. In our case, assuming first and second round home games, a playoff would impact NRV/Roanoke area least, with progressively worse impact the further you get from Blacksburg.

Tweaking the BCS isn't a good option either. Yearly tweaking indicates to me the Powers That Be aren't happy with the results. That means they want the BCS to dictate an outcome that they approve of, and that isn't what the BCS was supposed to produce.

Since most teams get at best 12 regular season games, any system must rely on the tenuous theory of 'transitivity' to relate teams that don't play one another. Strength of schedule and margin of victory are two components of that. However, recent changes eliminate margin of victory and thus elevate SOS as the only general comparison point. The computer polls rely on margin of victory, and their results are tainted if this data is forcibly excluded. And the 'quality wins' component amplifies SOS to almost absurd levels.

One thing for sure: the more they tweak, the more the BCS must realize they have no control over the outcome. The SOS vagaries are too complex to control. All they can do is provide an environment in which the best teams are LIKELY to rise to the surface.

My true desire would be to scrap the BCS altogether and allow either 1) the two opinion polls to pick the championship contenders, with computers used in the case of a tie or a situation too close to call, or 2) a purely computer-based ranking system that takes into account ALL transitivity factors. It is absurd to me that the BCS has to rely on third party providers for their computer rankings. Doesn't the BCS know what it wants? Why are Sagarin and Massey et. al. the only ones who understand how to rank teams? Can't the BCS hire a company to give them one computer poll that does everything they want?

Dan Ramsey: Personally, this is what I would do: I would keep the current BCS point system to determine the eight top-ranked teams at the end of every season. (The way I see it, if a team can't crack the BCS' top eight, they really don't have a legitimate case for playing for the national title.) Then, I would take those eight teams and have a three-week playoff in late December/early January with the venues for the seven required games (four the first weekend, two the second weekend, and then the championship game) being the Rose, Orange, Cotton, Fiesta, Sugar, Gator, and Citrus bowls.

The games would rotate among these seven sites yearly in the same way the four BCS games currently rotate the national championship game, with each bowl getting the chance to host the championship game every seven years. Of course, if one is willing to add a fourth tier of games, this same process could be applied to a sixteen-team playoff using the BCS' "sweet sixteen." However, it's my opinion that not only would it make the season too long, but I just don't feel that a team rated at #16 should have the chance to play for the national championship. On the other hand, I think that a four-team playoff would leave out some really good teams. So, I think that the eight-team playoff would be the best format.

On a related subject, I personally don't like the idea of totally removing margin of victory from the BCS calculations. If Team B beats Team A in a squeaker by 2 points and then Team C pounds Team A by 45 points, it simply doesn't make sense to me that they both get the same amount of credit from the BCS computers. I certainly understand and agree with the NCAA's desire to remove the incentive for teams to RUTS. But I think that could have been done by capping the maximum credit for margin of victory at something like 15 points. (i.e.: You get no more BCS benefit by beating a team by 45 than you do by beating them by 15, but you DO get more credit by beating a team by 15 than beating them by 3.) This would effectively remove the incentive for coaches to engage in egregious RUTS while still giving some weight to margin of victory.

Jim Alderson: The BCS was created to keep the big bowl bucks for the conferences that are earning them first, and crown a national champion second. It is achieving its primary objective in spades, attested by all of the whining from the conferences left out in the cold.

It has had some problems getting the correct championship match-up the last couple of years, with Miami [2000] and Oregon [01] getting jobbed, but in the end the best teams [Oklahoma and the Canes] have emerged. The NCAA, eyeing the BCS loot like a lioness eyes an impala, would dearly love to administer a playoff and grab the cash to hand out as it does with basketball tournament money, but the BCS won't give it up without a huge fight.

Retiring SEC commissioner and BCS godfather Roy Kramer wasn't shy about threatening that the BCS schools would leave the NCAA if a revenue-sharing playoff was forced upon them, which, given Final Four participation for the last few years, would take most basketball powers out of the NCAA, too. This strikes serious fear into the NCAA's bureaucracy, making a playoff involving anything but the six BCS conferences highly unlikely.

The BCS it is, which IMHO isn't a bad thing, as no other sport has a regular season as meaningful as college football's, plus I rather enjoy attending bowl games. There has been a defacto splitting of Division I-A football into a DIA+ [the six BCS conferences] and DIA- [everybody else]; I can see what Connecticut AD Lew Perkins kept talking about as he tried to shepherd the Huskies into I-A, the BCS gang going into a new NCAA super division.

An eight-team playoff chosen as the BCS participants are currently picked could then easily emerge without the worry of any of the money ending up in the pockets of the MAC or, for that matter, the basketball-only segment of the Big East.

Kent LaRoque: At first, I liked the BCS. It's been good for college football and I like the way the championship game rotates among the four major bowls. What I don't like about is the subjectivity of the polls, and the impact that politics has on that subjectivity. With the exception of our Hokies (and mostly because of Michael Vick), the more traditional powers, the "draws" if you will, still get the preference in the poll balloting. Last year's Nebraska team had no business going to the Rose Bowl...good news is they got waxed.

Personally, I've always favored a playoff system featuring the top 16 teams. The best team would have to win four games to take home the big prize, but if they're National Champions, they should have to win more than just one game to prove it. There would be upsets and the absolute best team might get eliminated, but then maybe they really weren't the best team.

Sorting out the bowls and which ones would host the games and how the revenues would be shared (among the bowls and the schools participating) and how the rotation would work could get tricky (and therefore be quite political), but I like the idea of the top 16 teams in the country vying for a chance to win it all. I think teams with 2-4 losses would play harder late in the year hoping to crack the top 16 in the final pole.

I've not thought much about structure, like would #1 play #16, as in the NCAA regionals in basketball. There is always high national interest in the last few BCS games, so maybe the 16 teams could be split into two groups of eight, thereby increasing the chance that some of the earlier games could have teams from the same region. Sure would like to find a way to play those "game-dodging" Vols.

So for me, I vote for a 16 team playoff...

Matthew McKinley (Freddyburg Hokie): Well, it depends on your perspective. If college football tweaks the BCS system in a way that helps out the Hokies, then I'm all for it. However, that's an extremely biased view, and may not be what's good for college football as a whole. I don't think that the Lords of the Game are going to be able to create a BCS system that accurately and fairly manages to mathematically rate the teams in a sport where each team only plays about 11-13 games. Basketball? Yes. Baseball? Definitely. Football? I don't think so. A playoff is really the only fair way to determine which team is the champion at the end of the season.

Now, of course, there are problems with a playoff system. Instead of the #3 team squawking that it was left out, it will be the #5 team, or the #9 team, or the #17 team (my personal choice), although you can argue that a #9 or a #17 team probably won't be the national champion anyways. And there's the issue of fan attendance; how many fans can afford to go to up to four neutral-site games with only a week's notice? Not many. I think that the best solution to the BCS/playoff issue would be a sixteen-team playoff, with the first two rounds played at the home field of the higher seeded teams. That way more fans will be able to go to the earlier games, and nobody really deserving would be left out.

Now if only they could add a few weeks between exams and the start of the NFL Playoffs........

Chris Hoover: All of the above.

I think that there is some merit to the BCS system. However, I think that picking only two teams is a big part of the problem that everyone has with the BCS. The last few years, it's been "Hey, what about Miami (2000)?" or "What about Oregon (2001)?". I think you keep the BCS in some reasonable, *stable* format and use it to pick the top eight teams. Those eight teams have a mini-playoff with four quarterfinal games, two semifinal games and a championship game. That's seven games total, which could be comprised of the four existing BCS games as well as three of the Cotton/Gator/Holiday/Outback/Citrus bowls (or maybe rotate those bowls in and out to keep the matchups fresh?).

You could tier the bowls so that the current second tier bowls always have the quarterfinals and the current BCS bowls rotate one of the quarterfinal games, the semifinals, and the championship games. Another option is to pick seven bowls and insist that they each pony up equal money. Then you just rotate the games among them equally.

Certainly, this would not end the controversy over who gets picked for the playoff. NCAA tournament selection process anyone? But you could eliminate the current, realistic complaints that the #3 rated BCS team should be in the MNC game over one of the top two teams. This way the difference between #8 and #9 is up to the BCS system and not left up to a political selection process that takes place behind closed doors. It would also cut back on the crying from the MAC/WAC/whatever conferences about how they can't get into the BCS. This opens up a few more slots where a Marshall or BYU has a much better chance of getting into a playoff situation.

Best of all, you can keep the rest of the bowl season pretty much "as is" for the teams not involved in the playoff.

Steve Aikens (SteveinBaltimore):  

A playoff system would make sure the championship is always decided on the field. It would make loads of money. And it would provide a great television spectacle for millions of fans, comparable to the NCAA basketball tournament or the NFL playoffs.

But it would ruin the end of the season for US. By "US" I mean the true college fans, the ones who follow their team on the road, turn 3-hour games into weekend adventures complete with 6-hour tailgates with an entire pig on the cooker and a satellite TV hookup, or show up 3 days in advance in campers.

Because there is no doubt that the playoff system would eventually end the bowl system as we know it. Sure, we might start out with an 8 team playoff that uses some of the existing bowls, with the other bowls staying around. But eventually, once it was a big success, this television extravaganza would expand, to 16, eventually to 32. And the bowls would wither up and die, or hang on as vestigial memories like basketball's NIT.

No longer would the fans be able to have one year-end trip to a [usually] warm weather destination, to party with thousands of other like-minded fans and enjoy the culmination of a season they have followed since spring practice.

Instead, there would be quarterfinals, then maybe semifinals, then maybe the championship game. You think it's hard now to find plane tickets when we find out only 3 or 4 weeks in advance which bowl game we are going to? Wait until you have to try to get a ticket to the semifinal game with 5 days notice, right after we win a quarterfinal matchup. Those of us who used to save our money, and time off work, to make a bowl trip, will now have to decide whether to go to a first round game, or hope Tech wins and goes to a second round playoff game. Or, most likely, sit at home with the rest of America on our couches and watch the made-for-TV playoff.

Remember the 1998 season, which wasn't the greatest Tech team ever, ending on a feel-good high when we whooped up on the Tide in Nashville? Ten years from now, a season like that might have a great win over 'Bama in the first round of the playoffs, and then a loss in the second round to a better team. And a lot of Tech fans won't make either of those trips. No bowl atmosphere, no happy ending for dozens of college football teams and their fans. The season would become what the NCAA basketball regular season is -- a matter of jockeying for seeding for the playoffs. And except for one team, everyone's season would end in a loss. With no shared bowl game experience for the fans to enjoy and reminisce about for years to come.

The system we have now is flawed and imperfect, but it is a heck of a lot of fun. I have a feeling most of the people clamoring for a playoff aren't the ones who have followed their teams to bowls year after year.


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