Editorial by John Ziegler

JZ's Plan To Save College Football

11/17/2003

College football doesn't realize it quite yet, but it is in big trouble. What used to be the most exciting time period in sports (Late November through New Year's Day) has been rendered virtually irrelevant in the name of creating an extremely flawed 'National Championship Game.'

While we do now have what passes for a championship game (providing there are exactly two undefeated teams at the end of any regular season), we have lost the charm and intrigue of the college bowl traditions. We now have (under the BEST of circumstances) one bowl that means a lot and 27 bowls that mean virtually nothing.

What is so frustrating is that the current system could be easily amended to vastly improve the championship game, save the current bowl system, and make everyone (except maybe Notre Dame, who hardly needs it) a boatload of money.

The current system has four 'BCS' bowls rotate which of those four games (Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta) gets to be the national championship game in any particular year. At the end of the regular season a complex (but fairly accurate) computer formula is used to determine which two teams are most worthy of playing in the championship game. While the other three games are basically meaningless and devoid of identity or tradition, there is an enormous pot of money that is divided (in a manner that some in the U.S. Senate believe may be illegal) among those participating schools and the members of their big conferences.

Here is how I think the BCS can be easily amended to solve almost all of the problems with the current system while creating almost none in return.

First, add the Cotton Bowl (which is already sort of a BCS Bowl) to the other four major bowls. That gives you five major bowls that could all be played (with staggered starting times) on News Year's Day.

This creates 10 spots for what could be a 'de facto' national 'semifinal.' The Rose Bowl would go back to its tradition of having the Big Ten and the Pac 10 champs play each other every year. That leaves 4 games with one of the champions from the other four major conferences (Big 12, SEC, ACC, Big East) to be assigned (as used to be the case) to the same bowl every year. The Big 12 champ could host the Cotton Bowl each year, the SEC could host the Sugar Bowl, The ACC the Orange Bowl, and the Big East titleholder could play in the Fiesta bowl (for added kicks the ACC/Big East rivalry could be augmented by having those two champs playing the Orange Bowl and leaving the Fiesta, as it once was, open to two at-large teams).

This would allow each of these four conference champs to play one of four 'at large' teams as selected by the BCS computer system. The way these four teams would be matched up in particular bowls could be done in a number of ways (by draft, or by pre-determined order that changes year to year), the details of which do not seem particularly important.

Then, after the New Year's Day feast of meaningful college football games (in which it would be common for at least 5 teams, playing in at least three bowls, to still have hopes of a national title), we allow the computer to do exactly what we already ask it to do at the end of the regular season, choose the top two teams to play in a title game. This could be played two weeks later and be called, ?The College Football National Championship Game.?

The benefits of this system are enormous. First, the conference championships would become even more valuable than they currently are and would easily allow a team with one loss and perhaps even with two losses to have an outside shot of playing in the title game. This system also brings back meaning to all of the major bowl games because not only would 3 or 4 games likely have a potential title participant playing in them, but even in years when that was not the case they would still have some sort of unique identity/tradition.

This would be particularly helpful to the Rose Bowl which has destroyed its Pac 10/Big 10 tradition while also watering down the meaning of each of those conference championships.

For those who don't like the stranglehold that the six biggest conferences have over the system there is an easy way to rectify that while also adding extra intrigue to the process. Not only does this system provide for four at-large teams in the major bowls, but also the six conferences whose champions automatically qualify for the New Year's Day games could theoretically change year to year based on the overall performance of each of the conferences in the previous season.

The one potential 'problem' with this system is that it eliminates the special consideration that Notre Dame gets under the current process. Currently, Notre Dame is essentially a conference in and of its self (as long as it has a good year). The idea the one school could receive such special treatment when it comes to deciding both the national championship as well millions of dollars of bowl revenue (that it doesn't have to split with any other conference members) is both absurd and inherently in conflict with the entire premise of fair play in athletic endeavors. If Notre Dame can't qualify as one of the 4 at-large teams then it doesn't deserve to play in a 'BCS' bowl. There are plenty of other bowls for them to play in and since they don't have to split bowl money with anyone else and already have a huge NBC TV contract, it is difficult to imagine anyone shedding too many tears for Notre Dame. If Notre Dame doesn't like this system then they are more than welcome to join the Big Ten and allow that conference to split into two 6-team divisions and have its own conference title game.

The current 2003 season seems to be the providing the perfect evidence for why this plan is far more preferable than the current one. It appears that USC, Ohio State, and LSU could all end the regular season with a virtually equal claim to being able to play Oklahoma for the national championship. Under the current system, the team that gets that opportunity will be decided by a nebulous computer formula. Under THIS proposal USC and Ohio State would play in the Rose Bowl (as God intended) and LSU (assuming they won two very tough games to win their conference) would have to beat a very good team in the Sugar Bowl to maintain their argument.

While it would still be theoretically possible for LSU or the USC/Ohio State winner to get left out in the cold, at the very least the computer would have far more valuable and credible information (post-bowls) in which to make its "decision," than it currently does and only one team could claim to be screwed rather than two (keep in mind an Oklahoma loss in their bowl game would eliminate that scenerio).

This amended system would also allow for an undefeated team like TCU who is from a conference other than one of the big six, to be able to get one of those four at-large berths and, at the very least, allow their conference to dip into the BCS money pot.

While no system is perfect, this proposal creates an enormous amount of good, almost nothing bad, all while making a ton of money for the schools and the TV networks. The college presidents claim that they are looking for a plan that is fair to everyone, why can't this be the one??!!!

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