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King James Bible: Playoffs Needed for D I-A Champion

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

Just when you thought they were coming to their senses, they proved you wrong once again.

In a consensus decision, the representatives attending the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) meetings two weeks ago in New Orleans have decided not to consider a playoff to decide the Division I-A college football champion.

Cue track one.

“Money, money, money, money, mon-ey!”

The facts in favor of the institution of an eight-, 12- or 16-team playoff are overwhelming, yet the greedy conference representatives choose to ignore them.

First, every other division in college football—I-AA, II and III—uses a playoff system to decide its champion. Of course, those divisions don’t have to worry about unearthing a lucrative four-bowl system that serves the sole purpose of benefiting the six wealthiest conferences at the expense of the game’s integrity.

A majority of the time under the current system, multiple teams have a strong case for why they should be in the title game. (I choose to ignore the fact that these teams upset with their perceived wronging are also the ones who consistently vote against instituting a playoff.)

I recall the 2001 fiasco, where a Conference USA game between TCU and Southern Miss. gave Nebraska enough of an edge in its strength of schedule to pass Colorado by .05 points for the right to be Miami’s whipping boy in the Rose Bowl, despite the fact that the Buffaloes thumped the Huskers 62-36 to end Nebraska’s regular season.

Then you’ve got the 2000 campaign when one-loss FSU went to the Orange Bowl over fellow once-beatens Miami and Washington. The catch was that the Hurricanes had beaten the Seminoles earlier that year, and the Huskies had defeated Miami. This debacle led to the addition of quality win points—which did nothing to solve the fact that all three teams deserved to participate in the championship game against undefeated Oklahoma.

There’s also the distinct possibility that a team could finish undefeated and not be given an opportunity to become national champions. Non-BCS conference teams—those of Conference USA, the Western Athletic Conference, the Mountain West Conference, the Mid-American Conference, the Sun Belt Conference and the I-A independents—are getting closer and closer each year to closing out an undefeated campaign. This year, TCU threatened to storm the BCS party—posting a 10-0 record and reaching as high as sixth in the BCS—until its undefeated season was derailed by Southern Miss. BYU shocked everyone in 2001 by posting a 12-0 record—a win away from and undefeated season and a possible BCS berth—before getting shellacked by Hawaii 72-45.

Despite the fact that TCU and BYU fell short, ignoring their accomplishments by saying, “well, they didn’t finish the job, so we don’t have to worry about it,” is silly and lacks foresight. A non-BCS conference team will complete and undefeated campaign in the near future.

What happens if that team wins its bowl game and finishes 13-0? Unless they’re playing in the BCS championship game, they will not finish the season as national champions. And if that’s the case, then about 50 I-A teams start each season with no chance at a national title, even if they win every game 100-0. The BCS no longer figures margin of victory into its calculations, in order to keep coaches like former University of Florida czar Steve Spurrier from continuing calling fly patterns in the midst of a 77-0 blowout.

As a rule, I don’t come to parties empty-handed, and I don’t complain about decisions or actions unless I have a solution.

But first, here are a few of my guiding principles.

1. If you win one of the 11 conferences, you should have an opportunity to compete for the national championship.

2. Since people get queasy at the notion of a 7-5 non-BCS conference winner taking up a spot in the playoff field, we’ll establish a rule that a team must either be in the BCS top 25 or have less than four losses to qualify.

3. The four best teams in the nation should get some sort of reward for their regular season exploits.

4. Sometimes, the best teams in the nation fail to win their conferences, so there should be a few spots left for “at-large” teams. Since everyone is enamored with the BCS computers, we’ll let the at-large spots be filled in order of finish in the BCS poll. Are teams still going to complain that they didn’t get a shot at the title? Yes. But the complaining will come from teams that have distinct profiles from the top five teams in the country, thus lessening the legitimacy of their arguments.

5. The playoffs should involve as few games as possible in order to arrive at a true champion.

In concordance with those views, I present my 12-team playoff. Most years, two at-large teams and six conference winners will be seeded fifth through 12th, and take part in the first round of the playoffs. These games will be played during the second Saturday of December at rotating bowl sites, which will host their traditional bowl match-ups later in the month.

The winners will advance to the quarterfinals and be re-seeded for the final time. The four quarterfinal games will take place on the third Saturday in December at New Years Day bowls and a rotating BCS bowl. These bowls will be allowed to host their traditional games in January as well.

The semifinals of the playoffs will be played on the fourth Saturday in December at two of the BCS bowls—Fiesta, Orange, Rose and Sugar—and the championship game will be held in the final BCS bowl on the first Saturday in January.

The only way to distinguish between teams that are equal on paper is to let them battle it out on the field. The BCS is a mistake and a playoff is the answer. But don’t look for the BCS representatives to pay this argument much heed—they’re too busy mortgaging the game to the highest bidder.

—Staff writer Michael R. James can be reached at mrjames@fas.harvard.edu.

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