Either there's going to be a college football playoff beginning in 2014, or the populace that the BCS has now teased with this possibility is going to riot. So assuming we do get a four-team tournament (BCS people, if you keep calling it "a four-team event," we'll start calling it "December Madness"), how do we decide who gets to participate?
(This is just one of three primary questions for commissioners to ponder at this point. Earlier in the week, we took on where to play the games.)
The two biggest components here: determining the top four teams in the country by math or by manpower, and deciding whether to limit entry to only conference champions or not.
Figuring out which paths would result in the least amount of silly stuff happening seems like the best answer. And the current amalgamation of poorly policed pollsters and unregulated secret computers doesn't cut it. The idea of a carefully selected human committee deciding on the final four is gaining steam -- it works out for college basketball, but March Madness' biggest controversy centers on choosing 40th-or-so-best team in the country, not the fourth-best. Its composition will also have to be taken more seriously than the Coaches Poll and Harris Poll, both of which essentially encourage ballot-rigging by allowing invested parties to vote on themselves. The Harris less so, but it still includes plenty of voters with personal ties to involved universities.
If there is a computer component, it's got to be transparent, and it can no longer depend on one guy with a laptop emailing over a ranking and swearing its free of tampering. It must incorporate margin of victory and, as Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott insists on the part of his nine-game conference slates, strength of schedule.
But this is the easy part of this discussion. Everyone knows what's wrong with the BCS formula. It can be made pretty good by rebuilding it from the ground up. The part that's gonna get everybody yellin' is the conference champions thing.
The case for requiring only conference champs: Alabama got to play LSU last year despite not even making the SEC Championship Game, let alone winning it. That's what started all this to begin with. If you'd like to thank someone for pushing the public into PLAYOFFS OR DIE mode, you could choose either Iowa State for shooting Archduke Franz Ferdinand on a Friday night, Oklahoma State for being the sacrificial lamb, or a never-blinking image of Nick Saban, troll-facing forever.
(The real motivator for the suits was that drying-up pool of bowl money compared to the impending playoff gold rush, but the heartland outcry helped pick up the pace.)
Requiring each conference to crown a representative ensures everybody gets a try every now and then, makes the regular season mean a lot and makes conference title games mean everything, but, really, it keeps the SEC down. Just a little. That was the spark, and a doomsday projection of LSU, Alabama, Arkansas and Georgia in the semifinals is going to be the most effective argument for this course.
I'd personally prefer to see only conference champs, but I just don't know if it's worth all the arm-wavin' and hollerin' it would cause during those especially wacky seasons. Like last year's.
The case against: Mike Slive, of course, says that his conference is in favor of the best four teams getting a shot, rather than just league champs. The issue with requiring only champions is ... well, look at last year. The playoff field would've had to reach all the way to No. 10 in the BCS rankings to find a fourth eligible team:
No. 1 LSU, SEC champion
No. 2 Alabama
No. 3 Oklahoma State, Big 12 champion
No. 4 Stanford
No. 5 Oregon, Pac-12 champion
No. 6 Arkansas No. 7 Boise State (Mountain West champ: TCU) No. 8 Kansas State No. 9 South Carolina
No. 10 Wisconsin, Big Ten champion
Was Wisconsin more deserving of a championship spot than those six teams simply because it had no better teams in its conference? And had Wisconsin not been there, we'd have to go get No. 15, Clemson.
Other years would obviously tend to be neater. In 2010, we'd only need to dip to No. 5; in 2009, a straight top four. 2005 would've been kind of a mess, especially depending on how we'd handle Notre Dame. It looks like on average, you'd only need to skip two teams or so.
But unlike the stadium capacity and infrastructure issue of what to do if Kansas State or Oregon hosts a semifinal, an infrequent scenario like 2011 would be unacceptable, even once. Just as with the present BCS, something would happen every few years that would get the public worked up enough for somebody to go in and tweak the formula.
And now, for discussion:
- Why do you feel the way you feel about the conference champions requirement?
- Should there be some sort of a requirement that conference champs must still finish in the top, say, six teams?
- And what to do about Notre Dame, which can't win a conference but still plays one of the nation's toughest schedules?
- How about every conference except the SEC can have multiple entries. Would that make you people happy?
- In which year will the Sun Belt first get two of its teams into the same tournament?
- If a 6-6 UCLA team ever wins the Pac-12, should it get automatic entry, just for lulz?