The Alderson Playoff System
by Jim Alderson, 1/7/04

And so the 2003 college football season has ended with what is called a split national championship. This has produced the predictable howling from the media, replete with responses ranging from piqued indignation on the part of several columnists demanding that either LSU or Southern Cal be labeled a loser to ESPN's Michelle Tafoya pouting last Sunday on the Sports Reporters that this postseason was "no fun."

Well, that settles that. The mavens who run college football had better get cracking on some sort of playoff scenario, since the number one goal of each and every college football season should be to ensure that Ms. Tafoya has the maximum amount of fun.

My response to the manufactured hoopla surrounding the so-called 'split championship' is a hearty 'so what?' Personally, I do not find the prospects of LSU and USC both laying claim to the national title a national catastrophe on a par with wars or earthquakes. I am not lying awake at night raging at the iniquities of a system that will give two teams a trip to the White House or pondering who would win a game between the Tigers and Trojans - for what it is worth, I think LSU would win. Defense wins championships and the Tigers have a pretty good one. If two teams want to claim the Mythical National Championship, that is fine with me. I do not require the absolute of proclaiming one or the other the best.

Once again the main culprit in this state of affairs is deemed to be the BCS. The computer-generated BCS method of producing national championship contenders is again being vilified for doing what it was designed to do, surveying the field and determining the two most worthy participants for the BCS championship game. That the choice of the computers did not align perfectly with the emotional choice of a media feeding on a frenzy of Southern Cal hype is not a major concern of mine.

Certainly I would insert a requirement that one actually win something, namely one's conference, before heading to the championship game, and I suspect it will be very soon. Of course, when this happens, expect many of the same media clowns now furious at a system that allowed Oklahoma within a thousand miles of the Superdome to heap equal scorn on one that would require a conference championship, which would have the pleasant by-product, to me anyway, of eliminating from contention the ultimate media darling, Notre Dame. While the Irish, for the last decade or so, have done a very good job of removing themselves from national contention, the same sports writers and babblers who are demanding that only conference champions be allowed to play for the MNC would, in the event Notre Dame were to luck into an undefeated or one-loss season, demand with equal fervor that winning a conference championship not be a requirement. There's just no pleasing some people.

My chief complaint with the BCS was that Tech wasn't in it, and that was hardly the fault of the BCS computers. The BCS system, such as it was, produced two teams that played for the BCS championship and provided me with fodder for an earlier column poking fun at a process that could not recognize that Oklahoma's pasting at the hands of Kansas State in the Big XII championship demonstrated that the Sooners were not exactly MNC caliber. Oklahoma did play for a conference championship, as did LSU; USC did not, a rather hefty advantage, since it is impossible to lose if you are not playing. Chances are the Trojans would have won had they been involved in one, but we have no more way of knowing that than do the AP poll voters who are claiming that USC is a better team than LSU, which at least tested itself in a conference championship.

There are currently two conference championship games [Big 12 and SEC] and there will be a third [ACC], as soon as Fredo can figure out a way to disentangle itself from an expensive extrication process. The Big Eleven will either continue to wait out Notre Dame for several more years or create a fourth fairly soon. Only the PAC 10 shows no inclination whatsoever of expanding and risking its best team during the season in a conference championship. That is their prerogative, but they should not clamor that their champion be afforded the same treatment as those leagues that have risked their top-ranked team to the jeopardy of playing in a conference championship game. That is the price you pay.

This so-called 'BCS fiasco' has again produced the predictable cries for a playoff. The responses from current BCS Chairman Mike Tranghese and the bosses of several leagues is that it ain't gonna happen anytime soon, and it won't. The main reason why is that the BCS conferences have a sweet deal going in a BCS system that rewards with cold hard cash those conferences that generate it. All of the howling by the Scott Cowens of the collegiate world or publicity-hungry congresspersons who really should have better things to do than sticking their noses into college football is not going to change that state of affairs. The BCS leagues have that money in hand and are not going to give it up. What is being bandied about is the possibility of a fifth BCS bowl and a final game played after the New Year's extravaganza between the two teams then ranked 1-2, which would, of course, produce wails of anguish from team number three. I'm all for it, but would go a step further, and turn the BCS bowl system into a full-fledged playoff, with the addition of one more week of games.

The conference championship games were played Saturday, December 6. We then had close to a month of waiting for the BCS bowls, a time period that included two Saturdays, December 13 and 20, with precious little football other than the Stagg Bowl and even more yawn-inducing NFL games where announcers pontificated over playoff scenarios so arcane as to make BCS computations seem as mother's milk in comparison. I would take one of those Saturdays, 12/20, and conduct the first round of a BCS playoff in the home stadiums of the top four seeds. For the sake of argument, and since this column is appearing on TSL and I notice that the words 'Virginia Tech' aren't appearing too often, I will assume that Tech held on against Pitt and subsequently did not tank the rest of the season and was the BE representative to the BCS. I would seed the teams as follows:

1] Oklahoma
2] LSU
3] Southern Cal [gripe all you want, Trojans, but I am not calling you the Men of Troy]
4] Virginia Tech
5] Michigan
6] Ohio State
7] Kansas State
8] Florida State

Note that Kansas State and FSU were switched from what were the original BCS standings. This was done to place teams from the same conference in different playoff brackets, as is done in the NCAA Basketball Tournament, at least until the regional finals. Saturday, December 20 would have produced four games:

#8 Florida State vs. #1 Oklahoma
#5 Michigan vs. #4 Virginia Tech
#7 Kansas State vs. #2 LSU
#6 Ohio State vs. #3 USC

I suspect the crowd at Lane Stadium for a playoff game against Michigan would have been large, as it would have been at the other three home schools. Since it is my column, I will also proclaim Tech the winner over UM, as well as the other home teams. It would then be on to the BCS for all eight teams.

If, as the hot rumors suggest, a fifth BCS bowl would be added, we have five bowls for five games, three involving the playoff. I will arbitrarily add the Cotton. The bowls could rotate who hosts which game, as the MNC game is rotated under the present system. I will place the numbers One and Four seeds, Oklahoma and Tech, in the Orange, and the numbers Two and Three, LSU and Southern Cal in the Fiesta. The Cotton and Rose would get the First Round losers this year, and the more important games next year. Certainly a BCS bowl with the losing teams would provide no less drama and excitement than did this year's Orange and Fiesta, or the three bowls not conducting the MNC game most years. If Tech were in the playoff and a loser in the opening round, I would still travel to the BCS consolation bowl, and I suspect many thousands of other Hokies and fans of very other team would, too. It would be more football.

I will again take a giant leap of faith and imagination and say Tech beats Oklahoma and, as I previously suggested, LSU beats Southern Cal. This would set up a BCS Championship Game January 17 at the Sugar Bowl. I imagine there would be plenty of us who would sell stocks, bonds, real estate, children, what have you, in order to make that trip, too. For what it is worth, that is my playoff format, one that involves one more game for eight teams and two more for two. I can't help but think that what is described as ardent opposition by university presidents would be toned down a bit when the amount of cash ABC or some other network would be willing to shell out for its broadcast rights were presented. It also maintains the existing bowl system, and the huge amounts of economic activity that the host cities receive from the bowls. It is doable from where I sit.

There would be many cries of protest if such a system were implemented. The loudest would be from those conferences not afforded automatic bids. Since Tech managed to achieve ACC membership and only in the future has to worry about what seems to be the large hurdle of actually winning its conference, I would say deal with it. The chances of a 16-team playoff that would bring in the champion of the RUTS Belt Conference [some call it the Sun Belt] for no other reason than to be hammered early on by a real power are nil, in large part because ABC and ESPN have indicated they will not part with many of their sponsors' dollars to finance it. There is a mechanism in the existing BCS that allows for inclusion, as slim as it might be, and there just might be further inclusion, no matter how the next BCS is structured.

There are hints that there will be a BCS play-in game between the L'il E and the Mountain, uh, something, West, I think, Conference for an automatic BCS bid, a ratings winner that has Friday night on the Deuce written all over it. It would explain why TCU seems so eager to move to the MWC and why the Li'l E stopped at eight, although adding Cincinnati and a Directional Florida would seem to indicate the talent pool of available expansion candidates was pretty shallow. While the L'il E wouldn't like it, that is likely the best they are going to do as far as remaining in the BCS, and it would add another conference to the party. The NCAA would grumble and grouse, mainly because the money was remaining with the BCS conferences instead of lining their pockets, but would meekly acquiesce and sanction the playoff, chiefly because they are terrified that the BCS conferences will leave and take the NCAA's cash cow known as the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament with them.

This is my idea for a playoff, if there is to be one, which I seriously doubt. It is no worse, and I feel better, than that proposed by anybody else. Since I tend to think in terms of how things pertain to me, it would give me and like-minded Hokies the opportunity to see the team play up to two more times in a season and at worst give me further opportunities to sprawl on my couch or recliner and watch even more college football [Yes, I am divorced. Why do you ask?]. Feel free to pick this proposal apart on the message board.

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