Sunday, August 5, 2007

Plus One analysis

Golden Football Rankings has done an extensive analysis of how the last ten years might have shaken out in college football if we had either a Plus-One format or a Final Four without the bowls. He also offers his conclusion that either plan should not be limited to conference champions, and should take the top teams according to the rankings. He also concludes that any plan adopted should be flexible enough to allow movement of teams to avoid regular season rematches.

Setting aside the notion that neither of these plans have a snowball's chance in Columbus of being implemented, these sort of formats are fun to think about. Some additional things to consider:

1) In its ideal world, the rose bowls wants a Pac Ten / Big Ten match up every year. Even if its a Purdue / Washington State match up, that's preferable to bringing in other BCS conferences.

2) While a final four playoff would be better than the current system, matching up the #1 and #2 teams before a championship game would be unfair to those teams. Why should Texas play another game in '05 after beating USC in one of the greatest games of all time?

3)The final four or plus-one formats do not include enough teams, and do not address the biggest issues surrounding college football's current system. Nor do they effectively reinstate the tradition that surrounded the bowls in the pre-ESPN era.

(climbs on soapbox)
To me the biggest issue with our current system is that not every team in I-A (or FBS) football has the same shot at winning a national title. Major college football is the only sport where at least half the teams start the season with no mathematical chance of winning a national title. Eastern Michigan (for example) has no realistic chance to win the NCAA basketball tournament next year, but their coach can tell his players (as can every coach outside of college football) at the start of the year that if they win every game, they'll be champions. In college football, teams like Eastern have no such chance. The could go 4 years without losing a game, and still not win a mythical national championship.
For this reason, college football has a class system that is more rigid than any other sport. MAC teams will never be able to beat Big Ten teams for bowl games, recruits, or television revenue.
In an interesting paradox, this class system is both what fans enjoy about college football, but also prevents it from being even more enticing to more fans. Fans enjoy knowing that the same teams will be good year to year, but also abhor the scheduling of tomato can opponents that comes from this system.

IMO, the ideal playoff system would help to level the playing field by giving all teams in I-A a chance to participate. The two systems that would do this are as follows:
1) 8 team playoff, conference champions only (with some sort of clause allowing an independent to play if they are above a certain level)
2) 16 team playoff, all 11 conference champs, and 5 at-large teams.

In both scenarios, you play first round games on campus, and the rest at bowls. The rest of the games at bowl sites. The fact that you are guaranteed a spot as a conference champ would allow BCS teams to be more adventurous with their non-conference scheduling. It would also allow the Boise States or Utahs of the world a real shot at the national title. The limited amount of at-large bids would not cheapen the regular season, but would allow for seasons where two top teams are from the same conference.

(climbs off soapbox)
Of course none of this will ever happen, too much money involved in the current system to ever change.