Memo to BCS commissioners: Your credibility is on the line again

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Under a conference-champion only format, Texas wouldn't have made a playoff in 2008. (US Presswire)  
Under a conference-champion only format, Texas wouldn't have made a playoff in 2008. (US Presswire)  

Memo To: The 11 BCS commissioners, Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick

From: College football fans

Subject: The Playoff (you told us we could all use the word now).

Gentlemen:

We want to commend you on your work to date in putting together a four-team playoff for college football's national championship. For years we were told that such a thing was not possible but now it clearly is. That's because you realize that every product, from college football to laundry detergent, must eventually go to the marketplace with something new. Now a lot of us would rather have an eight-team or a 16-team playoff and think you're thinking too small. But we also know you have to crawl before you can walk. This product, we assure you, will be well received because it is infinitely better than what we have now. And, yes, you will all make a boatload of money.

We are encouraged that you have finally reached a consensus that it is time for change. Even our old buddy, Jim Delany of the Big Ten, admits that a four-team playoff is an idea whose time as has come. Actually, the idea is way overdue but we won't quibble about that now. You have made it pretty clear that you are too far down the road -- some fuddy-duddy presidents notwithstanding -- on this idea and that there will be no turning back. By the next time you meet as a group on June 20 we expect to have a pretty good idea on how the four-team playoff is going to work.

This is all good.

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But, fellas, there is still one nagging thing. We know you. We know that it is your job to look out for each of your respective conferences. We know there is really nobody who is looking for the game of college football as a whole and, by extension, the fans. Each of you has an agenda. You get paid to advance the agenda of your conference. We get that.

In short, we know you well enough to realize, despite all of your good work so far, that there is still time to run this playoff train into a ditch.

Please take some unsolicited advice: Keep it simple. You say you want a four-team playoff. Fine. So do we. Then figure out how you want to pick the teams and choose THE BEST FOUR TEAMS for the playoff. Please, don't overthink this thing.

Some of you have floated the idea of having conference champions only play in the Football Final Four (that's our working title until we hear differently from you). Guys, we know why some of you want to do this. You say you want to protect the sanctity of the conference championship. That is a worthwhile objective. We, too, believe the conference championship means something. But we also know that after last season, some of you are going to move Heaven and Earth to make sure the SEC NEVER gets two teams in the four-team playoff. Those guys have won six straight national championships. The last thing you want to do is DOUBLE their chances of winning more crystal footballs.

But here's the deal, fellas. If you starting getting too cute with this thing, then the BCS falls back into its previous state -- a system that was too complicated to explain and therefore too complicated for fans to trust. If you try to put too many qualifiers on this system -- if it takes a computer guru from MIT to explain -- you, our dear commissioners, will be cast as a bunch of guys trying to cook the numbers to your benefit. In other words, your credibility is going to take a severe hit. Our Brett McMurphy points out today that the conference champs-only plan would have given us an interesting mix of teams in the Football Final Four over the years. Here are some of my personal favorites:

 You point out that under the "conference champs-only plan" No. 2 Alabama, which didn't win the SEC but won the national championship, would have still gotten in last season. But what if Wisconsin hadn't gotten beat on that Hail Mary by Kirk Cousins and finished No. 6 instead of No. 10? Then the four teams would have been No. 1 LSU, No. 3 Oklahoma State, No. 5 Oregon, and No. 6 Wisconsin with No. 2 Alabama (11-1 with a 9-6 OT loss to No. 1 LSU) and No. 4 Stanford (11-1 with a loss to Oregon) on the outside. Seriously? You're going to try and sell that to a public that is already skeptical about you guys?

 2008: No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 2 Florida, No. 5 USC, and No. 6 Utah are in. No. 3 Texas (11-1) and No. 4 Alabama (11-1, only loss to Florida in the SEC championship game) are out. Yes, I know Utah later beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. We have a great deal of respect for Utah and Kyle Whittingham. But we don't think that result would have been the same if the Sugar Bowl had been a national semifinal instead of a consolation prize for Alabama.

 2005: No. 1 USC, No. 2 Texas, No. 3 Penn State, and No. 6 Notre Dame are in. No. 4 Ohio State and No. 5 Oregon are out. You can make the argument for Notre Dame -- or any other Independent -- if it finishes in the top four. But are you going to treat them like a conference champion even though they are NOT in a conference?

 But my personal favorite is 2006: No. 1 Ohio State, No. 2 Florida, No. 5 USC, and No. 6 Louisville are in. No. 3 Michigan (11-1 with a 42-39 loss to Ohio State) and No. 4 LSU (losses to No. 3 Auburn and No. 2 Florida) are out. So Michigan, which was No. 2 but idle on Championship Saturday and got leapfrogged by Florida by .0101 in the final BCS Standings, doesn't get in. But Bobby Petrino's Big East champions, whose best non-conference win was over a 7-6 Miami team, gets to be in the Final Four?

You don't have to take my word for it. Just listen to one of your own, ACC Commissioner John Swofford.

"I'm a big believer in conference championships and that resonates with me," said Swofford. "But if you're selling a four-team playoff, and it's not 1-2-3-4, then the credibility of the system is undermined."

Exactly. There is a reason fans and the media have been hammering on you for the 14-year existence of the BCS. In many ways they didn't think the system was CREDIBLE.

A four-team playoff with rules that are simple and easy to understand is credible. It won't be what a lot of people want, but it is a step in the right direction. People who love college football -- and it is second only to the NFL in its popularity -- don't want to feel the fix is in.

This is an opportunity for the commissioners to regain some ground lost on the credibility scale with the fans. Please don't blow it.

"And I'm not sure were going to have another opportunity like this for a long, long time," said Swofford.

So gentlemen, please put aside your agendas and do the right thing. Keep it simple. That way everybody wins.


Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to CBSSports.com. He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.
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