Monday, November 26, 2007

College Football is the Greatest Game on Earth, and How I'd Make It Better

This past Thanksgiving weekend, I watched the best college football game I've seen all year (and perhaps in the last 5 years): unranked Arkansas' 3-overtime upset victory over #1 ranked LSU by a score of 50-48.

The result of the game's outcome is that, barring some major shake-up in the last week of the season, LSU is now probably eliminated from BCS Title contention, and Ohio State - whose loss to Illinois 2 weeks ago had seemingly eliminated the Buckeyes from contention and whose regular season ended last week with a victory over arch-rival Michigan - is now back within striking distance of going to the title game. The greatest thing about Division 1-A college football (other than the tradition and pageantry) is that EVERY week counts, and that has been especially true in this unpredictable 2007 season.

But the game could be better. And, in my opinion, the ONLY way the game could be better is by embracing its traditions. So, in that spirit, if I were "King of College Football" and had plenary power to improve the game by the force of my own fiat, this is what I would do:

  • Declare for all eternity and in perpetuity that there will NEVER EVER - under ANY circumstances - be a playoff in Division 1-A college football. A playoff would cheapen the regular season and the excitement of every game counting in the National Title chase. A playoff would NOT eliminate the controversy because "deserving" teams would still be excluded from a playoff. And besides, major college football has NEVER had a playoff - it is not part of the game's tradition (the preservation of which, to me, is the highest priority) - and yet the game is still the greatest sporting spectacle on earth. Don't bother trying to convince me otherwise regarding a playoff: I've already given it a great deal of thought, and I'm not changing my mind. A playoff would be bad news for Division 1-A college football.

  • Get rid of the BCS System. The biggest issue I have with the BCS System and its "Title Game" is that it cheapens the other Bowl games, while giving only a veneer of "finality" to the choosing of a National Champion. Before the BCS System was put into place, ALL of the major Bowl games counted for something and were worth watching because a loss by a top-ranked team in one game, meant the field was wide-open for a team playing in another game. Currently, the other Bowl games serve as nothing more than an undercard for the "main event" of the BCS Title Game. And the whole purpose of creating the BCS was to eliminate or at least cut down on the controversy surrounding choosing a National Champion. That really hasn't happened and, in fact, because of its veneer of crowning a champion with finality, the BCS Championship has arguably increased the level of controversy.

  • Bring back the traditional Bowl alignments (regardless of the respective rankings of the teams playing one another). As my above bulletpoint indicates, I'm a fan of the old Bowl system. I want to see that brought back. I want to see a revitalization of the old interconference matchups that the Bowls provided, as well as games that mean something in the race for the National Championship. If it were up to me, there would be 5 major bowls (there used to be 4) that would break down as follows: (1) Rose Bowl (matching up Big 10 champ vs. Pac-10 champ); (2) Orange Bowl (matching up ACC champ vs. Big East champ); (3) Sugar Bowl (matching up SEC Champ vs. at-large bid); (4) Cotton Bowl (matching up Big 12 champ vs. at-large bid); (5) Fiesta Bowl (matching up 2 at-large bids).

  • No Bowl game will be played after New Years Day. Just like in the old days, by the end of the day on New Years Day, the picture should be settled. No more Bowl games stretching 2 or 3 days past New Years, and certainly not played a week later as the BCS Title Game is currently. One of the best things about New Years Day in years past was watching all of the major Bowl games all day long.

  • Eliminate conference championship games and force teams to play EVERY team in their own conference. Enough said. You should have to play ALL of the teams in your own conference. Period. If your conference has 11 or 12 teams - oh well. That just means you won't be able to pad your wins with a non-conference schedule that includes Louisiana-Monroe or Youngstown State.

  • Eliminate TV network contracts with individual conferences and/or universities (see, e.g., CBS and the SEC, NBC and Notre Dame).The sort of network homerism we see in favor of the SEC and Our Lady's University is downright unbecoming. CBS, the network that televises the SEC has even gone so far as to regularly bash the quality of play in other conferences in order to build up the SEC in the minds of viewers as some sort of "super-conference". And no more Big 10 Network, which isn't even viewable by the majority of people in the Midwest - fortunately, I have DIRECTV and could view all the games, but several Ohio State games were not seen by the vast majority of Buckeye fans in this area because they were televised on a cable channel that most cable providers do not carry.

  • After the 3rd overtime, just call it a tie. Sometimes, both teams play so well and are so evenly matched that it really is a shame for one of the teams to go home a loser.

  • Well that's my 2 cents. That's how I'd improve Division 1-A college football, mostly by going back to those things that made the game great to begin with.

    UPDATE (27 November 2007)
    Let me make it clear (if the rest of this post has not already done so) that I find crowning a definitive "National Champion" much lower on the scale of priorities than I do maintaining the traditions of college football. I believe it is the tradition and focus on winning the game at hand that contributes to the overall quality and integrity of the game. The focus on "crowning a National Champion" diminishes the focus on beating your rivals and the importance of winning your conference - which are the things that has made the game great.

    An example: the University of Georgia is the highest ranked team in the SEC and has a legitimate shot at going to the BCS Title Game (should both Missouri and West Virginia lose again). However, Georgia has no shot at winning the SEC title because the Bulldogs are not in the SEC Championship Game. Maybe I should add another bullet point:

  • As long as the current BCS System remains in place, no team that loses its conference championship should be eligible to play in the BCS Title Game. If my Bowl system that I have outlined above were reintroduced, however, such a team would still be eligible to receive an at-large bid to a major Bowl game, and even voted the "National Champion" if the pollsters so chose to do so.
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    At 11/26/2007 4:48 PM, Anonymous m.z. forrest said...

    Yes, this is the post I'll offer my comment for the day.

    I agree with you. The other advantage of the old bowl system is that it for the most part gave the conferences primacy in prestige. The Rose Bowl was a crown on a great season, but you still kept score if you were a 4th or 5th place team in the Big 10. Growing up in Wisconsin's Steve Yoder years, I still remember the importance of beating the Hawkeyes. Don't get me wrong, the rivalry is still there, but it isn't what it was.

    At 11/26/2007 8:05 PM, Blogger Michael said...

    On playoffs: Yeah, playoffs never used to be necessary because we didn't have to decide which 2 teams were the best. Now that we do, a playoff is the only fair way to do it because conferences aren't equal. I'm sorry, LSU's 10-2 and Florida's 9-3 mean a heck of a lot more than Ohio State's 11-1 simply because the SEC has had much better teams than the Big 10 had this year. Until Ark. & Ole Miss, every SEC team LSU played at the time they played was ranked in the top 25. I think Ohio played one or two ranked teams.

    That's not to say Ohio automatically is overrated. It's equally unfair to completely punish them for their schedule. The only way to resolve this is through the playoff. The problem with tradition you cite is really connected with the national championship; this didn't use to be that big of a deal.

    Now it's as if winning the conference is nothing. That gets back to your problem with the concept of the BCS, which I agree with. But if the national championship means so much, then we need a playoff to be fair. Sure, some teams will be excluded. But the 9th best team getting excluded is a lot better than the 3rd best. No one questions the Super Bowl champion because some time missed out on the wild card, but Auburn's perfect season put USC's title in a lot of hot water.

    Every team: spoken like someone outside of the SEC. If we mandate that, then the winner of the SEC ought to be the automatic national champion. I do like the idea though. If we made conferences a little smaller and did some shifting it could work, but I prefer to keep traditional conference rivalries intact.

    The SEC is much better than the other conferences. Look at the NFL drafts and look at what the SEC did to Ohio State last year. Sure, that's not always going to be the case. I think the PAC-10 has closed the gap. But the Big 12, Big 10, or Big East competing with the SEC right now? Not happening.

    At 11/27/2007 4:06 AM, Anonymous Victor said...

    Well, I certainly agree that the lack of an 8- or 16-team playoff is exactly what gives college football the best regular season of any American sport. The impact of one loss makes every game interesting.

    Baseball has 162 games, so it's hard to get the sense that any one game really matters. Pro basketball and ice hockey have 82 games and half the teams make the playoffs anyway (so ditto). College basketball comes close, but it's mostly just Bracketology in February and the conference tournaments are a distraction for everybody but the teams "on the bubble" and the Cinderellas. Pro football gets exciting and college-football's equal around week 10 or so, but even the best teams lose 3 or 4 teams a season and the whole season is largely a warmup for the playoffs.

    That said, I think going back to the old conference bowl alignments would take the drama out of the bowls. There still would only be two or three that had a real shot at impacting the national title, and the scenario you draw, of things changing by the hour, wouldn't occur most times. Assume the traditional starting times for example, the No. 1 Big 12 champ winning in the noon-starting Cotton Bowl would take all the drama out of the four later games. And if the No. 1 SEC champ was in the evening Sugar Bowl, the early games would be just as much an "undercard" as they were being played.

    Plus it's not exactly as though your "undercard for the main event" analogy for the other big bowls under the current system is all that bad, or unprecedented in sports (as the origin of the term shows). After all, only the two best get to fight in the main event. Nor is it as though the undercard fights don't often prove the most memorable: the Oklahoma-Boise State Fiesta Bowl was the highlight of last year's bowl season and will be remembered much longer than last year's once-beaten SEC blowout of the undefeated, untested Big-10 champ. Who wouldn't love to see Hawaii play LSU in the Sugar Bowl to see if it can happen again?

    At 11/27/2007 9:47 AM, Blogger Jay Anderson said...

    "... spoken like someone outside of the SEC ..."

    Please. Believe it or not, Michael, it's NOT all about the SEC, whatever the hacks at CBS have to say notwithstanding.

    I attended a Big 12 school and an ACC school. The teams in those conferences ALSO don't play everybody else in the conference. I live in Big 10 country and root for a Big 10 team that does not play everyone else in its conference.

    I think that should change - a team should have to play every other team in its conference. Period.

    I know it's hard for Southeasterners to learn that the college football world does not revolve around them, but my opinion on the matter of teams playing everyone else in their conference has absolutely nothing to do with the SEC.

    At 11/30/2007 5:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    jay, it is clear that although you have lived in big 10, big 12, and acc country, you have not been associated with an SEC school.i went a big ten school for a year(PSU), and then switched to UGA, and man it is a totally different thing down here, no i dont drink sweet tea, but i can gurantee that the SEC is better than any other. i hope that that ACC school you went to wasnt GT because then i could understand why you are so bitter about the SEC, 7 in row

    At 12/01/2007 8:02 AM, Blogger Jay Anderson said...

    It's pretty clear from my sidebar which ACC school I attended. I detest Georgia Tech.


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