This is rather lengthy, so bear with me and take a break or two if needed. With the BCS bigwigs in conference and shooting ideas of a new BCS postseason around the table, a system involving a plus-one format is looking more and more likely to happen for the 2014 season, and most likely for many years beyond. I understand the BCS has a stronghold on the four major bowl venues, and that the NCAA takes care of the lower tier bowls. However, I think it would be prudent they team together to discuss the FBS postseason as a whole, and not just the BCS makeup of the postseason. With 120 FBS teams and growing by the year (it seems), this division of college football is becoming more and more watered down. The landscape is not healthy with all of the realignment taking place, and the (great) idea of regional conferences is quickly exiting stage left. The Big East is losing key members by 2014, and the replacements aren't exactly what one would consider "storied" programs with a vast fan following. They have been forced to poach programs from the "Little 5", which has also caused a domino effect among them. It will only be a matter of time before the "revenue providers" realize the Big East is no longer a valuable commodity to the televised sports entertainment business. Unfortunately, this eventually means the Big East will no longer be viewed as a "Big 6" among the likes of the Big 12, SEC, Big 10, etc. The MWC and CUSA are serious about a merger, creating perhaps a 24-team league, and the WAC is in danger of dissolving all together. With all of the happenings taking place around the FBS world, fan interest is rapidly decreasing (especially for the postseason). This is obviously not good for the sport, therefore the NCAA and BCS need to team together to streamline the postseason as best as possible. Fans are already crying about all of the bowl games being played, just part of the watered down problem FBS has right now. Several more FCS programs have their eyes set on jumping up to the FBS level in the next several years, so this problem isn't going away anytime soon. It doesn't matter how many programs are part of the FBS, the rich will get much richer, and the poor much poorer in the very near future.
What can be done to fix this? I don’t believe anything can be done to fix the problem of fiscal difference between the “haves” and “haves not” of college football. Many fans want to watch big time football, and big time football isn’t played everywhere at the FBS level. There is a long-term solution which has been discussed (lightly), which involves a split in the FBS. Basically, programs from the SEC, PAC 12, Big 10, Big 12 and ACC would split from the other conferences, creating two divisions (FBS-I and FBS-II) with FBS-I having their own set of NCAA guidelines. Notice the Big East wasn't mentioned. Well, they didn't mention the Big East either, so the writing is already on the wall that they are headed for FBS-II. The short term solution is actually already in the works, with the BCS meetings taking place and the serious talk about modifying how the BCS standings are determined, and a plus-one postseason format. I think they need to take it further, and examine the rest of the postseason structure. There really are too many bowl games, and they need to get back to the early mentality that a bowl game experience should be a reward for performance. 6-6 teams don't deserve a reward in my opinion; therefore the bowl eligibility requirement should be modified to include a minimum of 7 wins. Furthermore, 6 of those 7 wins must have been achieved against FBS opponents to be eligible for a bowl game. 61 teams would have met these criteria in 2011 to become bowl eligible.
I like Delany's idea about using campus locations to play the "semi-final" games. Campus venues have more to offer than bowl venues, based on my experiences. The home team fans would surely love it, and the visiting fans would get an opportunity to experience the traditions and atmosphere of a program and its game day campus that might not ordinarily get to. All they'd need is a broadcast deal, a few sponsors and a name for the games, and the revenue would come rolling in. I also believe conference champions deserve the chance to play for the BCS National Championship. This is something that will be highly debated, especially after how the 2011 season went down. The bottom line with this is overall fan interest. Sure, fans from Ohio State and Nebraska or Alabama and Arkansas would love to see their teams play each other in a BCS 4-team playoff scenario, but the rest of the nation wouldn't care too much. Other than being outright deserving, this is another reason why I think the top-rated conference champions in the BCS final standings should be the participants in such a system. For the 2011 season, we would have had #10 Wisconsin playing at #1 LSU and #5 Oregon playing at #3 Oklahoma State. Don't tell me fans wouldn't have been interested in watching those matchups. Wisconsin’s offense taking on that LSU defense would have been fun to watch, and the scoring of 160 combined points in the Oregon-Oklahoma State game would have kept people on the edge of their seats. Okay, 160 might be over doing it…a little bit.
Now before I continue, I personally think Notre Dame should be in a conference, but for the sake of this blog here's the process for dealing with Notre Dame's desired independence: If ND finishes in the top 5 of the BCS standings, they will receive a spot in the semi-final to compete for a BCS national championship. If they finish 6-15 and have at least 10 wins, they will receive a spot in one of the BCS bowl games. If they finish outside the top 15 and/or have less than 10 wins, they may fill a lower tier bowl game the Big East or independents are tied to. Okay, got that out of the way.
If the "semi-finals" were to be played on campus, it would open up opportunities for other top 15 teams to play in the four major BCS bowl games. I know the Big 10 and PAC 12 want their Rose Bowl, and the Rose Bowl wants them. So let them have each other. If there are teams from those conferences rated in the final top 15 of the BCS standings not playing in the semi-final, let the Rose Bowl take first dibs on them. If not, let the Rose Bowl join in on the rotation of picks with the other major venues as currently established by the BCS. Teams must be ranked 1-15 in the final BCS standings to qualify for a BCS Bowl game. Other than the Rose, there would be no conference ties to the Fiesta, Sugar and Orange, and no limits to how many teams from a single conference could play in a BCS Bowl. Just don't match up two teams from the same conference. Here's what the matchups could have looked like if this aspect of the system was in place for 2011, based on order of pick established by the BCS:
Rose: #4 Stanford vs. #13 Michigan, Fiesta: #2 Alabama vs. #8 Kansas State, Sugar: #6 Arkansas vs. #11 Virginia Tech, Orange: #7 Boise State vs. #9 South Carolina
Rather intriguing so far wouldn't you say?
Here is an even hotter debate, I would think. The lower tier bowl games. Way too many of them in my opinion, and this is the tough part. Which bowls do they discontinue? Well, for the purpose of this blog, I used the top dollar-making bowls to demonstrate how a future streamlined bowl system might look. Keeping in mind it takes seven (7) wins to become bowl eligible and 6 of those 7 have to be over FBS teams, cut the number of lower tier bowls down to 16. Therefore, we'll have 20 total bowl games when you add in the major BCS bowl games. The lower tier bowl games will have conference ties, and I tried to keep some of the traditional tie-ins to the bowls I listed below. Keeping in mind bowl games are a reward for performance, bowls should select teams as they've finished within their conference. The SEC, Big 10, Big 12, ACC and PAC 12 would each get 4 bowl tie-ins; the Big East and CUSA (assuming CUSA and MWC merge) would get 3 each. Independents, MAC and Sunbelt would get 2 each. Let’s assume the WAC gets dissolved, which is very likely to actually happen. So between the "Big 5" conferences, 20 bowl slots and the rest get 12 slots. 32 slots for 16 bowl games. Sound fair enough? Some conferences won't be able to fill all of their bowl tie-ins, creating "at-large" opportunities for other conferences to participate in other bowl games. Example: The SEC would have put five of their teams in a BCS bowl and the semi-finals and didn't have enough remaining eligible teams to fill their lower tier bowl tie-ins. So based on all of that, here's how the lower tier bowl matchups could have looked (rankings are final BCS standings):
Capital One: #16 Georgia vs. #17 Michigan State (Tie-in: SEC and Big 10)
Cotton: #25 Auburn vs. #12 Baylor (SEC and Big 12)
Outback: NC State vs. #22 Penn State (SEC and Big 10)
Insight: #20 Nebraska vs. #14 Oklahoma (Big 10 and Big 12)
Alamo: Missouri vs. Utah (Big 12 and PAC 12)
Chick-Fil-A: #23 West Virginia vs. #15 Clemson (SEC and ACC)
Gator: Iowa vs. Notre Dame (Big 10 and Big East)
Champs Sports: Florida State vs. Cincinnati (ACC and Big East)
Holiday: #24 Texas vs. Washington (Big 12 and PAC 12)
Sun: Georgia Tech vs. Cal (ACC and PAC 12)
Music City: Virginia vs. Rutgers (ACC and Big East)
Pinstripe: Arkansas State vs. Northern Illinois (Sunbelt and MAC)
Liberty: #18 TCU vs. La-Lafayette (CUSA and PAC 12)
Belk: #19 Houston vs. BYU (CUSA and Independent or Sunbelt)
Meineke Car Care: Western Kentucky vs. Ohio (Sunbelt vs. Independent or MAC)
Independence: Toledo vs. #21 Southern Miss (MAC and CUSA)
Now, they could decide to get rid of conference tie-ins all together, and I wouldn’t have an immediate problem with that. It would allow for some great top 25 matchups, but I fear the “mid-major” FBS conferences would end up suffering quite a bit more than they already are. They would take turns and select from teams who were eligible and present the best possible situation, fan follow and matchup for their bowl. It would surely spark more fan interest. It could look something like this:
Capital One: #12 Baylor vs. #16 Georgia
Cotton: #18 TCU vs. #19 Houston
Outback: #17 Michigan State vs. #14 Oklahoma
Insight: #20 Nebraska vs. #15 Clemson
Alamo: #24 Texas vs. #22 Penn State
Chick-Fil-A: #23 West Virginia vs. #25 Auburn
Gator: Iowa vs. Notre Dame
Champs Sports: Florida State vs. Missouri
Holiday: NC State vs. Washington
Sun: Georgia Tech vs. Cal
Music City: Virginia vs. Utah
Pinstripe: Arkansas State vs. Northern Illinois
Liberty: #21 Southern Miss vs. Cincinnati
Belk: La-Lafayette vs. BYU
Meineke Car Care: Western Kentucky vs. Ohio
Independence: Toledo vs. Rutgers
It should be interesting to see how everything pans out, from conference realignment to the FBS postseason restructure. Hopefully these bigwigs make the right decisions, or even better, the best decisions for the sake of the college game, and try to keep the fans interested as well. There are a lot of important things (for programs, conferences and fans) hanging in the balance.