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BCS Reform

It's easier than you think.

11:00 PM, Dec 28, 2006 • By SONNY BUNCH
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COLLEGE FOOTBALL is inherently flawed and inferior to its professional relative. Any sport where the national champion is decided by the votes of coaches and journalists isn't a real sport. It's no better than figure skating, rhythmic gymnastics, or any other activity where "style points" are counted alongside wins and losses.

But college football system need not exist--there is a better way. A playoff. Here's a blueprint for reform:

The BCS rankings need not be scrapped entirely. They are as handy as any other method of ranking the inordinate number of Division One schools. It is, at least, preferable to the old system, which gave only coaches the option of picking the teams to play for the national championship. In reality, there are too many Division I-A football programs and short of contracting the mid-majors and putting them in Division I-AA (something worth considering), a poll of some sort will always be necessary. And the BCS is as good as any other system.

But the BCS must be reformed. First: No independent teams should be allowed to participate in the playoff. Consider the most famous independent, Notre Dame. Currently ranked number 11 by the BCS, by virtue of its 10-2 record, the Fighting Irish are, almost certainly, the most overrated team in the recent history of college football. They have no quality wins this season. The only opponent they defeated that managed to crack the polls was Georgia Tech, which finished 25th in the USA Today poll and was unranked by the AP. Notre Dame's 10 wins came against teams with a combined record of 56-66, a full 10 games under .500. Their victories included wins against all three service academies, Stanford (1-11), and a narrow, last minute, home win against Michigan State (4-8). Notre Dame's losses were dreadful: 20 point shellackings by Michigan (at home) and at Southern California.

But according to the BCS, they're the 11th best team in the nation. Since they're not required to play a rigorous conference schedule, as teams are in the Big Ten (the home of perennial powerhouses such as Ohio State and Michigan) and the SEC (where every road game is a loss waiting to happen), the Irish (and the rest of the independents) can boost their strength of schedule by playing two legitimate national championship contenders and then stacking the rest of their schedule with creampuffs. Forcing the independents to join a major conference would eliminate paper-tiger teams.

The BCS should also remove the restriction that allows a maximum of two teams from a given conference in the BCS system in order to preserve a spot for every major conference. Take the SEC this year: Florida, Louisiana State, Auburn, and Arkansas are obviously better than every single team from the ACC. Yet Wake Forest (ranked 14th in the BCS) gets to play in a BCS game because it topped a diluted ACC while Auburn (ranked 10th) and Arkansas (ranked 12th) are shut out of the system. It's time to stop insulting major conferences with the soft bigotry of low expectations.

Finally, the big one: The BCS should be turned into the arbiter of playoff participants instead of the arbiter of "title game" participants. None of the arguments against a playoff hold up under scrutiny.

Traditionalists argue that a playoff would devalue the regular season, but this is bunk: the NFL has had a playoff for its entire existence and the league has grown more and more popular every year--the most recent contract extension signed by CBS and Fox to televise Sunday afternoon games was for 6 years and $8 billion. ESPN is paying $1.1 billion per year to show Monday Night Football games, and NBC is paying $650 million per year to show Sunday Night Football games. That's roughly $3 billion a year. Playoffs never hurt the popularity of the NFL's regular season.

Some also (usually with a snicker) argue that the "student athletes" would be hurt by playing two or three extra games a year. But consider the case of Ohio State: The Buckeyes this year have a 51 day layoff between their last regular season game and the national championship. Perhaps not every team would want to play their entire season without a break, as OSU did, but even if you throw in a bye week, that's 6 weeks of free time. If other schools switched to a similar schedule it would be an easy matter to fit the extra playoff games into the six week layoff.