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End The BCS Guess

Wisdom in the college football ranks. Who’d have thunk it?

After extending Ohio State’s winless streak to nine against SEC opponents in bowl games, LSU is the 2008 Bowl Championship Series winner. But I’d wager there are plenty of fans, players and administrators in Los Angeles, Athens, Ga., Morgantown, W.V., Lawrence, Kan. and Columbia. Mo. thinking they could top the Bayou Tigers.

Of course, under the current set-up they were never given a chance. In place since 1998, the BCS system aspires, but often fails, to match the best two teams, based on a complicated series of voting polls. With upsets abounding and a two-loss team winning the BCS title for the first time, the system seemed particularly inadequate in the just completed-campaign.

What the BCS invariably leaves behind, though, is jabbering pundits, some of whom declare for this squad or that. Others back tradition, stroking the hand that feeds by noting some such nonsense: "I truly believe LSU is the best team in the country." Yeah, but no one really knows.

Then, the whole thing perpetuates itself into the next season — ESPN today was already touting its 2008 regular-season opener matching Clemson-Alabama in the Georgia Dome.

Of course, proponents of Division 1A football, now ponderously labeled Football Bowl Subdivision, claim their regular season is the most important in all of sports. Each game counts and all that. But it often seems more important when a team loses, than when it wins. Take Ohio State. Jim Tressel’s troops forfeited the No. 1 spot in a home loss to the Fighting Illini at the Horseshoe on Nov. 10. After taking out nemesis Michigan the week after, the Buckeyes were seventh in the land. Without playing over the next three weeks, they vaulted back to the top spot as others fell by the way side. For its part, LSU seventh in the next-to-last BCS poll, following a triple OT loss to Arkansas, somehow leapfrogged past fellow two-defeat teams, USC, Georgia, Missouri and West Virginia, not to mention one-loss Kansas, and into the title contest. In more grist for the BCS mill, the Ohio State was the only team in the final top seven to lose its bowl game.

I trust you get my drift: Despite its movement in recent years to more sophisticated passing attacks, I’ve never taken college football very seriously because from this couch, it only crowns mythical champions, the BCS imprimatur be damned.

But finally, some college executives are learning.

First, there was talk about sentiment among some conferences to adopt a plus-one championship game, following the expiration of Fox’s four-year, $320 million early in 2010. In essence, pollsters would establish the top four teams and play what would amount to a pair of national semifinals, the Final Four of football if you will. The winners would clash in the plus-one title game.

Then, NCAA president Myles Brand said today that he would present a plan for an eight-team playoff from University of Georgia president Michael Adams to Division I’s board of directors when they convene in Nashville next week.

Thank you, Mr. Brand. Just make sure you include my Elite Eight proposal (consulting fees to be calculated later) outlined below for the board’s consideration as an alternative to what Adams has in mind.

Adams, whose school just happened to be on the outside looking in during this season’s messy BCS guess, in an interview with the Atlanta Constitution Journal said his advocacy of a seven-game single-elimination tournament wasn’t predicated on Georgia’s absence from the championship hunt. Rather, it resulted from the present system yielding two unattractive pairings — his Bulldogs beat the pineapples out of undefeated Hawaii, 41-10 in the Sugar Bowl, while USC squeezed the juice (Williams) out of an equally overmatched Illinois team 49-17 in the Rose Bowl.

Whatever his reasoning/motivation I applaud Adams’ push and respectfully submit that my plan holds as much, if not more, merit than his. Adams wants the NCAA to administer the proceedings, selecting the eight participating teams. He also wants the four quarterfinals to be hosted by the current BCS bowls — Rose, Sugar, Fiesta and Orange — all on New Year’s Day. The semifinals would play out the next week, with the title tilt on tap the week thereafter, all at unspecified locations. Adams told the newspaper: "I think this is the way that offends the most the least."

Perhaps, but it also blows up the current fabric of the polls. Nobody likes to lose their gig or importance, after all. I say let the current system anoint the top eight. Yes, there will be grumbling from schools, coaches, players and deans about how they were excluded from this group. Well sorry to disappoint, fellas, but here’s my crack-back block to such naysaying: If you check the current scorecard, only two are truly included under the current format.

Adams’ proposal also doesn’t do the most for fans or potentially maximize TV ratings. New Year’s Eve hangovers notwithstanding, asking folks to absorb four football windows in one day is a stretch. For the ardent, 14 hours of compelling, meaningful pigskin on Jan. 1 might be nirvana. For more casual fans, you’re asking them to choose their viewing spots, instead of enticing them to watch it all.

My plan, not your grand daddy’s playoff system, veers widely here from Adams’ gambit. Provided the always reluctant Pac-10 and Big Ten (with Penn State, there’s 11 guys) can get over their long-standing ties to Pasadena and shave ABC’s Rose Bowl contract back four years from its 2014 conclusion, I suggest adding a pair of bowls from the New Year’s Day quartet of the Capitol One, Outback, Gator and Cotton to the BCS crew. Let the various bowl committees make their bids and step into the mix, just as the Fiesta did in displacing the Cotton as one of the sport’s top four bowls. For argument’s sake, let’s say the game in Big D (or preferably the Dallas Cowboys new stadium in Arlington, Texas) enters the financial festivities, as does the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl (it currently has the most amusing moniker) in Jacksonville.

Under a six-year contract, each bowl would host a quartet of quarterfinals, a pair of semis and one national title tilt. Akin to the current BCS format, every sixth year one of the sites not only would host a Final Four match, but the big game to boot.

In deference to tradition and/or contractual accommodations, let’s start the rotation with the Rose and Sugar in the semifinal slots and give the grand daddy the first crack at the championship contest. Down below, the Gator and Cotton join the Orange and Fiesta with quarterfinals in the first year. With each subsequent season, the bowls move up/down a notch until the Gator gets a semi and then The game in January 2016.

What about the scheduling? I say emulate the current BCS slate, kicking off the first quarterfinal in what is the Rose’s traditional late-afternoon (ET) slot on Jan. 1, trailed by a primetime window. The other two quarters play out at night over the next two days.

Then, the winners skip a week and reconvene on/around the NFL’s divisional playoff weekend. The New Year’s Day winners play early Saturday afternoon, before the pro action begins; the second semi starts Sunday night following the last NFL playoff game that day. Or if the Saturday slot doesn’t tickle your Nielsens or you want give the student athletes more rest, audible the first game to Sunday night and the second to Monday prime.

A week later, the day after the AFC and NFC championship games that Sunday, the collegians conclude their championship quest in primetime. 

Imagine the elevation in Elite Eight ratings that could accrue as interest builds like the NFL post-season rounds. Advertising packages, whether with Fox or ESPN/ABC also getting into the rights huddle, would also be more attractive to sponsors with an eye toward a bigger viewer payoff.

Granted this isn’t the 65-team March Madness hoops field, or even the 16-team Division 1-AA football playoffs, or the 24- and 32-squad fields favored by Division II and Division III.

But whichever seven-game plan is preferable — or a combination of the two  – it will benefit fans. And move several strides closer to really crowning the best college team in the nation. In any event, chant it with me: End the BCS guess.