Posted by Adam Jacobi
In one of the strongest overtures yet to a revamped offseason in college football, the Mountain West Conference has proposed a 16-team playoff in the current FBS -- and a complete dismantling of the Bowl Championship Series.
Craig Harris of the Arizona Republic reports that MWC commissioner Craig Thompson has submitted the plan to the NCAA, and says it could increase playoff revenue multiple times over:
Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson, in an interview with The Arizona Republic, estimated a playoff would generate $700 million annually for college football, more than three times the nearly $182 million the BCS generated last year.
"What we are trying to do is offer an alternative with the current system. We have not been comfortable with the current system," said Thompson, who based his financial projections on current television contracts with various conferences.
The Mountain West plan would make it easier for champions of all 11 Football Bowl Subdivison conferences to qualify for the post-season as long as a team is ranked among the top 30 in the country. The rest of the tournament would be filled with at-large selections, and a committee would determine the seeding. Teams not making the tournament could play in minor bowl games.
CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd has all the details of Thompson's plan, which you can peruse here.
Now, the odds of this proposal actually being adopted are somewhere between "no" and "NOOOOO," because there's nothing to suggest that Thompson has the support of any of the BCS conferences. Plus, if the current logjam atop the polls works itself out to the point that there's two clear BCS Championship participants, a playoff suggestion would be political kryptonite for at least 12 months. "The system works," the powers that be will all crow, and let's face it: they'll have a point.
However, if let's say Wisconsin and Stanford are both undefeated and left out of the playoff situation -- or if somehow a one-loss LSU or Alabama overtakes a BCS conference team -- the tide could theoretically turn against a BCS system in favor of a playoff. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has long enjoyed his conference's relative power in the current BCS arrangement, when a 12-0 Big Ten team never has any problem garnering a BCS Title Game invitation for its troubles. Change that arrangement, though, and who knows what enmity Delany will be garner?
That all said, while the number of 16 teams sounds admrably inclusive, there exists the pesky problem of dilution of quality. Here are the current Nos. 11-16 teams in the 2011 BCS standings as of October 19.
11. Kansas State
12. Virginia Tech
14. South Carolina
15. West Virginia
16. Michigan State
That group of teams -- which also comprises 11-16 in the AP poll but in a different order, so there aren't any unpopular shenanigans with determining that tier -- is not bad. It's also depressingly mediocre compared to Nos. 1-6 in the same polls, and in no way a group of teams that has any legitimate claim at the national championship. And that's if we ignore Thompson's plan to incorporate conference champions who are in the Top 30 of the BCS standings. That would sub out Michigan State for Houston, and No. 28 Notre Dame and No. 32 UL-Lafayette might be sniffing bids too. This is the Mountain West's plan.
Now yes, looking at the NCAA basketball tournament, mid-majors with middling resumes are not universally a bad thing. Butler, in particular, was an extremely compelling Cinderella team -- in 2009.
But Thompson would be much wiser to look at Butler in 2010, when the team was seeded at No. 8 again and made an unlikely run to the title game again, only to stink up the joint in a loss to heavily favored UConn, a game so bad it sort of cheapened the Huskies' NCAA title and made some grumpy fans wonder how, precisely, this was all the NCAA could muster for a supposedly authoritative championship game. And when the BCS has faced similar complaints about quality, it's been from its placement of BCS-conference teams -- even when they're ranked, ohidunno, 16th -- into bowl games where they clearly don't belong. And now we want to open the door for those teams to, in theory, make the championship game?
So that's the test for how deep a playoff's cutoff really ought to go: not whether fans would enjoy seeing a team of that seed compete for a championship, but whether that low seed getting blown out in a championship round would tarnish the tournament for a significant portion of fans. If your playoff plan can't pass that test, it's not an improvement over the current BCS, which -- for its maddening lack of credibility and fairness -- does a fine job of putting deserving teams on the field with the championship on the line. Pretty low hurdle to clear, really, but I'm not sure Thompson's plan does that job.