Many of us who love football have long kvetched that I-A college football (I flatly refuse to use that FBS and FCS garbage the BCS has foisted on us) has no true national champion. I absolutely favor a playoff; sports ought to be determined on the field of play. However, I see the smaller schools' point that a playoff shuts them out of serious money provided by the bowl games. But does a 6-6 squad actually deserve a bowl game? Few people would care to watch, certainly. And since there are now 34 bowl games needing 68 teams, and only 72 teams qualify, the bowls are scratching for eligible candidates now.
So, I came up with a plan to incorporate a playoff into the existing bowl system. Obviously, elements of it weren't original to me, but to the best of my knowledge, the whole package is.
1. There should be 16 teams in a playoff. 8 rules out some conference champs, and while I know the Sun Belt champion isn't likely to make the run, the kids who won their conference deserve their shot at it. So, there are 11 conferences in I-A football. The 11 champs get automatic bids. The remaining 5 slots are at large, to be awarded in a similar manner to the at-large NCAA basketball bids now. These are announced the Sunday immediately following the last regular season game.
2. The bowls themselves bid on hosting the games. Highest bid hosts the championship; next two highest host the semi-finals; next 4 highest host the quarterfinals; lowest 8 host the opening round. At each level, the highest bid among that group chooses its pairing first. Seriously, which would be a bigger draw for the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, two 6-6 teams or #3 v. #14 seed of a playoff with something real on the line?
3. The remaining 19 bowls that are not part of the playoff process are free to invite non-playoff teams to come play in their bowls. It's analogous to the NIT tournament in basketball. However, instead of trying to fill 68 slots and having to take 6-6 Arkansas State to do it, you now have 54 slots to fill. (16 playoff teams plus 38 non-playoff bowl teams.) By having 14 fewer slots, you've increased the quality of the teams playing. That always results in better ratings, higher ad revenue... that is, more money. And that is, of course, what it's all about for the school administrations involved.
4. Speaking of money, since the playoff funds would be going into a general pot rather than to individual schools, I'd divide the playoff funds across all I-A schools. Something along the lines of 1/3 to the school playing the game, 1/3 to be divided equally among the schools in that conference, and 1/3 to be divided equally among all I-A schools. The non-playoff bowls could either continue their current practice of half to the school and half to the school's conference, or join in with the thirds plan.
While nothing is perfect, this idea seems to me to address most of the concerns both sides have. There is money for all; there is a true national champ decided on the field; the bowls are still there as a nice year-end for nearly all the schools that would have gone anyway; only 8 schools in the entire country play even one more game than they play under the current system. I am certain that a playoff would generate more interest and more money for the schools. The success of the conference championship games seems to show that, and it just makes sense that there will be more general interest in a meaningful game.
So, anyone who has a direct line to President-elect Obama, could you put this in front of him for me? Word is he has an interest in this sort of thing.