Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Yet Another Take on a College Football Playoff

In the aftermath of this weekend's round of games in college football and the subsequent BCS rankings, there's been a firestorm of debate surrounding who should face Ohio State in the national championship game in Glendale, AZ. As it is right now, Michigan remains #2 in the BCS with their one loss, but has a slim lead over #3 USC, who will likely pass the Wolverines if they end up winning their final two games over Notre Dame and UCLA. All the while, fans around the country are putting in their two cents over who should play the Buckeyes in the title game. That all seems a little pointless to me - regardless of who you may want to see in the game, or which matchup might bring in the best ratings, you are going to see the #2 team in the rankings in Glendale. That's why the whole computerized BCS ranking system was put together: to mitigate, at least to a degree, the bias of human subjectivity in determining a national champion. And for the most part, the system in place gets it right.

But there is room for improvement. This year, there is a legitimate argument that Michigan might be a more worthy opponent to Ohio State than USC, which is exceedingly valid given the showing they put up last Saturday in Columbus. The Trojans would say that with only one close loss in their season, why should they be any less entitled to the spot than Michigan is? And the same goes for the SEC champion, whether it be Florida or Arkansas, which will likely end up with only one loss on the season. In my opinion, no other teams this season, merit a discussion. That assumes however that USC beats Notre Dame. If the Irish beat the Trojans, they would replace USC in that foursome deserving a discussion.

My solution: this muddled mess could be cleared up by having a two-round playoff. Having only a pair of semifinals in addition to the championship would remove any gray area around who is worthy enough to have a shot at the title game. In the era of the BCS, there hasn't been a year in which you could legitimately argue for more than four teams (though usually it's no more than three) deserving a shot in the championship game. When unbeaten USC and Oklahoma battled for the title a few years ago, undefeated and #3 Auburn was left in the lurch. With a semifinal game, any debate about Auburn would have been resolved.

Logistically, it's not unreasonable either. It would only be one additional game, so it's not an overwhelming burden on the players as student athletes, especially since the timing of the game would coincide with the start of a new semester, where some leeway is allowable. And think of the ratings bonanza for the TV networks if they had another big-time game to be able to broadcast.

And while a playoff would expose the top team to the possibility of an upset, it's no different than the danger that a top team in any other sport on any level would have to face. And besides, top college football teams are essentially playing in a charged playoff atmosphere every week, where one loss puts you in real jeopardy, and two losses are fatal. With the number of one-loss teams in the mix this year, I think a simple system like this would provide some real clarity.

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