Sunday was a great day for the NFL. Four deserving teams played two thrilling conference championship games, while millions of viewers were glued to compelling storylines that built as each week of the playoffs progressed. In the aftermath, I couldn't help but think about how the college ranks refuse to offer a similar way to crown a champion.
The BCS Championship Game falls conveniently in the midst of the NFL playoffs. At the exact moment when outrage over the fraudulent system to determine D-I college football's national champion should be at its apex, the issue is quickly swept to the back pages by the most-watched football games of the year.
After Alabama's victory over LSU, BCS officials announced that they'll consider changes, possibly even establishing a playoff system. Unfortunately, this story has not moved in the two weeks since.
The trouble for the BCS is that simply instituting a playoff system won't fix all of its problems. There will be new questions about how many teams should get in, which teams should get in, how seeding will be determined, and whether or not any conferences will have automatic qualifiers. Ironically, these are the same questions the BCS wrestles with now.
Would the Giants or 49ers have made a four-team playoff under the college football model? Surely the Giants had too many losses and the 49ers would have been penalized for playing in a perennially weak division. We'd all have been robbed of a great game.
These issues may never fully go away, but college football can take a huge step toward diminishing them by taking a page out of college basketball's playbook. The NCAA should set up a series of four-team tournaments during the first two weeks of the season.
Right now, many of the nation's major programs use those two weeks to schedule tune-ups against I-AA pushovers before they begin conference play. Amazingly, the money-hungry big programs actually pay the small schools hundreds of thousands of dollars to come play the role of sacrificial lamb.
Sure it's a radical idea, but teams could easily replace these farces with meaningful inter-conference games at neutral venues across the country.
Tournaments like the Maui Invitation and the Preseason NIT are staples of the college basketball season. They give fans great matchups to kick off the year and provide critical opportunities for programs like Gonzaga and Butler to earn resume-building victories that can come a long way on Selection Sunday. Now imagine if college football's best 64 programs entered similar events.
Michigan and Alabama are already starting next season against each other in Cowboys Stadium. Interest (and revenue) would multiply exponentially for that game if it was followed by USC against Texas, with the winners and losers squaring off the following weekend.
Alabama's path to this year's national championship game was bolstered by a September game at Penn State. Boise State took a similar shot in 2010 by scheduling and winning a September game against Virginia Tech at FedEx Field. Months later, they settled for the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas due to a weak schedule and one overtime loss. Too bad they didn't have the winner of Michigan State vs. Oklahoma waiting for them the week after beating the Hokies.
Everybody wins in this scenario. Fans are treated to great games. Schools like Boise State would have the opportunity to build stronger resumes without needing to flee to the Big East. The BCS selection committee, or whoever chooses the playoff field, would have an easier time determining which conferences are stronger and which teams are better. Adding these inter-conference matchups is the only way to make inter-conference rankings and seedings more fair.
The schools involved could make piles of money on everything from television commercials and hotdog sales to corporate naming rights. Plus they could stop shelling out cash to those I-AA pushovers.
Some schools are already willing to play difficult early season games. Others would rather skate by against creampuffs than risk a loss. But if the majority of top programs played in these two-week tournaments, one early season loss wouldn't be as crippling as it is in today's system.
For all of its flaws, college football remains exceedingly popular. Major teams carry some of the most devoted fan bases in the country, even though the deck is stacked heavily against many of them. Still, radical changes must come if the sport's governing bodies ever want a day like the NFL had on Sunday.
Adding a playoff at the end of the season would be a huge step for college football. But it will take more than that to stop the guesswork over which teams deserve to be in or out. If the BCS wants to make their championship both exciting and fair, they should fix the schedule not only in January, but also in September.
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