Changing College Football

by John Furgele

The College Football Bowl Season is five days away when the bowl lidlifter will feature Navy and Wake Forest in the Eagle Bank Bowl.  College Football needs to change and it will change.  No, there won’t be a Division 1-AA playoff system anytme soon, but there can be some positive changes.

Both the SEC Championship Game and the Big 12 Championship Game served as de facto semifinal playoff games.  The winner of Alabama-Florida got into the BCS Championship Game, and Florida it is.  In the Big 12, an Oklahoma win got them in; had they lost, perhaps Texas or maybe even USC would have gotten in. 

The losers here are the Big Ten, Pac 10 and in some ways, the Big East.  Penn State ends its season at 11-1, but because there is no conference championship game, there is no way for Penn State to ever move back into BCS title game position.  Ditto for USC.  After losing to Oregon State, they were never really considered for the BCS title game. 

But, why was Florida given another chance?  Because they were able to get a repreive against 12-0 Alabama in the SEC title game.  Florida finished the regular season at 11-1, losing at HOME to 8-4 Mississippi.  Penn State also finished the season 11-1, and lost on the ROAD to 8-4 Iowa.  USC finished 11-1 and lost on the ROAD to Oregon State, a team that ended the year, 8-4.  Why was Florida rewarded for losing at HOME, while the other teams were penalized for losing on the road to teams that all ended up with the same record? 

Cincinnati finished the season (10-2,  really 11-2 because they beat Hawaii), but if they had a conference title tilt as game number 13, they may have had an opportunity to play up in some way.    Yes, the conference championship games can hurt.  If the 9-3 team beats  the 12-0 team, then the conference doesn’t get its champion into the BCS Championship Game, so there is some risk/reward here. 

Texas coach Mack Brown wants a playoff system, but he doesn’t like conference championship games.  Of course, Mack probably didn’t want a playoff system a few years ago when all he had to do was beat Colorado to get a BCS title game slot against USC.  Sorry, coach, you can’t  have it both ways.

The Pac 10 is the angriest.  First, they believe in the East Coast bias, and second, their conference champ has to go undefeated to get into the BCS title game.  In 2003, LSU played Oklahoma—a team that was routed by Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship Game—in the BCS Championship Game, even though the Trojans were ranked number one.  USC beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl and “won” the AP Championship, while LSU took home the BCS Championship.

Look for the BCS/NCAA to ask that all six conferences play championship games.  This would require the Big Ten, Pac 10 and Big East to expand to 12 teams.  Here is what they should do.

Big East:  Add Buffalo, Central Florida, Memphis and Houston

Big Ten:  Add Notre Dame (although Buffalo would be my choice)

Pac 10:  Add Utah and Boise State. 

The other conferences would adjust, but all would survive.  The Big East would have a basketball situation on its hands, and would have to break up an already unwieldy 16 team league, but right now, there are eight football/basketball schools and eight basketball only schools, so splitting that should not be too difficult.  And, with 34 basketball conferences, phasing one out would get the NCAA Tournament back to 33 automatic bids and 31 at-large bids, back to 64 teams and the elimination of the silly play-in game that exists today. 

Conference championship games would be good for college football because they would make it easier for the BCS to come up with the best two teams to play for their hollow-but not-going-away crystal.  It also ends a call for the “plus-one” game that would come after the bowl games.  That’s like playing another game after the Super Bowl, like the Pro Bowl.  It takes away too much from the four big bowls and the BCS Championship Game.

The plus-one scenario will gain a lot of steam because the Cotton Bowl could become a major bowl game again after they move to the Dallas Cowboys new stadium.  There, you would have five major bowls (same as there are now), in the Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta and Cotton, then then two highest rated teams after those bowls could come back in one of the five bowl sites (they already do this with four bowls) and the BCS Championship Game would still be played.  Like they do now, the BCS Championship Game would rotate between these five sites.

But, by adding three more conference championship games, this can be avoided.  Let the conference championship games help to sort out the polls, the computers and all the other flaws in the current system.  If there were six conference championship games, teams like Boise State and if they had finished undefeated, Ball State would have had a much better chance to get into a BCS bowl.  Had the Big Ten had a conference title game, only Penn State or Ohio State would have made it, but not both.

And, if you think the NCAA basketball committee would balk, think again.  College football blows college basketball away when it comes to ratings and media attention.  And the college basketball regular season is like a run away freight train.  It’s so out-of control that nobody can keep track of it and hardly anybody even cares about it anymore. 

Colllege football is the second most popular sport in the land now, behind the NFL.  The BCS bowls will enjoy good ratings and the BCS Championship Game will likely get a 20.0 or higher rating.  Last year, even with America angry that Ohio State backed in, the game got a 17.3 rating.  The World Series can’t even get 10s, and only Celtics-Lakers can get 10 plus ratings in the NBA Finals.    Even with this flawed system, people watch.  Adding conference championship games would only cause people to watch more.

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