Monday, August 28, 2006

Fixing College Football (Part II)

A couple of interesting comments on my plan for re-aligning the college football conferences and I’m guessing most of you agreed with the sentiment that this may be a bit far fetched. (I believe the words “pipe dream” were used.) That’s all fine and good. I’m well aware that the powers that be are not interested in making radical changes. My plan is simply to put out there what would work. I am confident we will spend the next ten years or more wondering why USC and Auburn aren’t playing for the title when neither has a loss, or how a two loss Oklahoma team snuck into the picture or why TCU isn’t getting a shot or what to do with three undefeateds. That’s the reality of college football today. My point is that it doesn’t have to be. It just takes some common sense.

As for questions about which teams were in and which were out, remember that all teams are still D-I and all conferences will have a shot. We’ll get to more of that later. I could certainly see replacing Miami-OH with Northwestern, but the Wildcats never really fit into the Big 10 and I think one of those MAC teams that is actually trying to succeed in big time college football at least deserves a shot. I feel the same way when it comes to excluding Texas Teach and Baylor in favor of at least one team from the WAC and the Mountain West. Though decent schools, Tech and Baylor never would have been invited into the Big 12 if BYU had accepted the offer back when the league was formed. Just because they’ve been in for 10 years doesn’t make them a legit super-conference team to me. And finally, Duke. I understand their basketball prowess and if the same scheme were applied for both football and basketball, they would have to be included. But as a football only solution, the Blue Devils get the boot. They are awful and don’t deserve to be in a Super-Conference based on their gridiron incompetence. That’s just the way it is.

The next step in the process involves scheduling. This is pretty simple. First of all, no more Division II’s (known as “cupcakes” to most of the world, “tune-ups” if you have a lot on your schedule or you live in Manhattan, Kansas). If you choose to schedule a Division II, it doesn’t count on your record, but you don’t get to schedule an extra game because of it. The maximum number of regular season games is 11. The regular season must be complete by the weekend after Thanksgiving. For Super-Conferences, you play each team in your division one time. For regular conferences, you play each team in your conference once. That leaves four games on each schedule.

For Super-Conference teams, one of those games will come against a team from the other division in your Super-Conference. The match-up will be determined by the order of finish in each division the previous year – if you finish third in your division, you play the team the finished third in the other division. Home field rotates. One year one division hosts all of them, the next year the other division hosts. Think of the matchups, especially based on the first, second and third place teams. It makes me giddy! The schedule opens 13 weeks before the weekend after Thanksgiving. This year, that would be September 2. That’s when games are scheduled to begin already. That gives every school one or two off weeks throughout the regular season. Plenty of time for an 11-game schedule. I’m getting rid of conference championship games. They are worthless. The coaches don’t like them and they really aren’t fair. The current state of the Big 12 is a great example. If Texas runs the table and wins the Big 12 South, they shouldn’t have to play a nothing to lose Nebraska team that won the North, but is barely ranked in the Top 25. My system will reward both for winning their division, but Nebraska will have to work its way through the field to get a shot at the Longhorns.

Oh, and that reminds me. College football games will be played on Thursday and Saturday. That’s it, with some minor exceptions during playoff time. No Tuesday night game. No Wednesday night game. The NFL gets Sunday and Monday. High school football gets Friday. I don’t need to see Marshall play Northern Illinois on Wednesday night just because ESPN thinks it would be fun to get an extra game televised. Stick to the normal days! The compromise is Thursday with a couple of games televised that night. But that’s it! Not only is this better for the fans, the fact that the NCAA is allowing games on any day but Saturday goes directly against their “these are students-first” philosophy. Students first unless they have to go crazy prepping for a Wednesday game when they just played four days before that. If you’re so in love with protecting your student-athletes, make it Saturday only for college football! Otherwise, enough with the hypocrisy!

So that leaves us with three games for the Super-Conferences and four for the Standard Conferences. Schools can schedule these games against whomever they want – if Notre Dame wants to play USC every year, great. But, for Super-Conference teams, only one of these games can be against other Super-Conference teams. The other two have to be against Standard Conference teams. The philosophy here is that the in-conference schedule for Standard Conference teams is naturally going to be a bit weaker. They deserve a shot at as many Super-Conference teams they can get. However, the Standard Conference teams have no limits on their opponents. As long as they are Division-1, they can play whomever they want. Finally, all non-conference games must be complete prior to the beginning of conference play. Once conference play begins, that’s where we stay – until playoff time.

And that’s where it gets exciting. When play ends on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, it’s time to determine which teams are in the hunt for the championship. My system is simple. The format will consist of 24 teams. The division winners of each of the four Super-Conference divisions (8 teams) and the conference winners of each of the seven Standard Conferences (7 teams) get automatic berths. The final nine teams are the nine teams not yet in with the highest ranking according to the final BCS poll. Because the conference champs or division champs are automatically in, I can’t envision any scenario where an undefeated team isn’t in the playoff. They’ll have played every team in their division or conference at least once and not lost, meaning every other team in their division or conference has at least one loss. No more Utah’s and Auburn’s on the outside looking in. They get their shot.

The final 24 teams are then seeded one through 24 based on the final BCS poll. Teams one through 8 get a first week bye. Teams 9 through 24 play each other the first Saturday after the regular season ends. (Team 9 plays 24, 10 plays 23, etc.) For Week 1 of the playoffs, games are held at campus sites of the higher seeded team. When those eight games are completed, the teams are re-seeded 1-16 and the 1-8 teams host Week 2 playoff games. (Again, one plays 16, two plays 15, etc.)

After two weeks of playoff excitement, we’re down to eight teams. Now the bowl affiliations come into play. Seven bowls will be associated with the National Championship series. The NCAA could take bids or simply invite the biggest and best. I would include the five currently part of the BCS system and add two more. Which weekend these bowls are played will rotate each year. Week 3 of the playoff has the eight teams remaining. Week 4 is the Final Four and Week 5 is the National Championship. The National Championship game is always played on New Year’s Day, unless that is a Sunday. In that case, the National Championship game is played on Monday. That means, on New Years Day, you crown an actual National Champ. No waiting for final polls. No questions surrounding two or more undefeateds. The decision is made based on who wins on the field. With the top 24 teams getting in, there is no way that there will be an undefeated team that doesn’t win the National Championship. It’s win or go home.

Now, in today’s bowls system, 56 teams get to play in bowl games. If my system ended there, only 24 teams would get a post-season. That’s where all the rest of the bowls come in. The other bowls can send out invites to other teams that didn’t make the playoff. The significance of these games doesn’t change what we see today. They can pick any of the teams that didn’t make the playoff. They can schedule the games whenever they want as long as it’s not after the National Championship game. College football ends on New Year’s Day. That’s that.

So, there you go. That’s my system. I’m sure it’s not perfect, but I think it would work. The max number of games any team would play is 16 – and that’s only if one of the lower seeded (9-24) teams made it to the title game. I’m guessing the National Championship game will be game 15 for most teams each year. We’ve already got teams that play 14 games a year, so that isn’t much of a stretch. The bowls would complain, but they’d get over it. I think the television folks would prefer this. You’ve got your sites for the final three weeks pre-determined and you are going to see the match-ups every one wants to see over the course of the playoff. All it takes is some willingness to change. And, one more thing. I’m sure the money issue can be worked out. Between gate receipts and the normal fees paid to participants and conferences, there will be plenty to go around. Every conference is assured at least one playoff or bowl game. So you can divide the first two weeks equally between the all Conferences, then do payouts based on remaining games after that. My point is, it’s not that difficult. If I can put something together while working on my laptop and sitting on my bed, the NCAA can get a group together and make it work. Let’s just do it!

The Race to 63! The Royals didn’t take my .500 admonition to heart, losing 2 of three to the Indians and Blue Jays. Now they need a winning streak to get things going in their favor. Current record – 47-85. Projected record – 58-104.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Fixing College Football (Part I)

It’s time to fix college football. Now, I know you cynics out there are saying, “Isn’t college football already fixed?” So, let me be clear. I am not talking about gambling. I am talking about a game that is so broken, that fans of just about every school admit going into the season that it is entirely possible for their team to win every game and not play for the “National Championship.” College football is so behind the times that several coaches that vote in the Coaches Poll admit that they rarely watch other teams play. College football is so lost that even though the Bowl Championship Series has been revised just about every year since its inception, it is still considered the ugly step-sister to every other NCAA-sanctioned method of determining a champion. (See tournament in your dictionary.)

So, before I come to you with my all-encompassing, change everything and see what happens solution, let’s ask the question. Why is college football broken? The game itself is incredibly exciting, the talent on the field has never been better and the passion of fans is off the charts. So what’s the problem? The answer, of course, is money. You see, money changes everything and when it comes to money and the NCAA, the bowl system is the proverbial cash cow (or, in the case of the Chick-Fill-A Peach Bowl ad campaign, quite literally a cash cow). Last season, there were 28 bowl games. There will be about that many again this year. Of those bowl games, one – maybe two – have implications on the National Championship. But all of those bowl games have an effect on the NCAA bottom line. Through sponsorships, ticket sales and broadcasting rights, the NCAA and its schools and conferences make money on each and every game – even when the stands are only one-third full. The bowl organizers make money on all but a few games. The advertisers make money on most games. It’s a delicate balance and the NCAA is terrified to disrupt it.

Who loses in this deal? The fans. The fans pay the money and buy the cable packages and listen to the advertising and watch 27 games that are meaningless to the national title picture. And what are they left with on January 6th or 7th or 8th or whenever the championship game is played these days? Most of the time, we’re left with a disputed National Champion. Does that happen in college basketball? Not a chance. That first Monday in April always ends with a CBS playing “One Shining Moment” while the last team to win cuts down the nets. That’s a champion. No questions. One champ. College baseball? One champion? College softball? One champion. College volleyball, swimming, diving, tennis, wrestling, fencing, tiddlywinks? One champion for each level of competition. Heck, even the Division II and NAIA schools can pick one champion! We don’t get that in Division I college football. And it’s time for that to change.

Now, I’m not much for writing a series, but my plans to change college football is going to come in two columns. That’s because I have a lot to say and don’t want to run on forever in one column. The last decade of BCS confusion will indeed take me two installments to fix! First is conference alignment. Part II will include scheduling and bowl games. That way, you can rant at me if your team isn’t treated well not once, but twice!

Okay, let’s get on to the conference system in college football. There are too many conferences and they are not created equally. Even at the super conference level, the current conference alignment doesn’t make sense. The Big East is a great example this year. Though once somewhat powerful, the Big East is a shell of its former self as schools have jumped ship to other conferences. West Virginia is a title contender this year because the Mountaineers should run the table this year. It will be a huge upset for them NOT to be undefeated in December. That’s based on the fact that they are clearly the best team in a weak conference. But because the Big East has an automatic BCS birth, they are virtually guaranteed a spot in the national title equation. That’s not right.

When dealing with re-aligning the conferences, we’re going to start with some automatic disparity differences. For example, North Texas and USC are both Division I college football teams. However, the money that USC puts into their program is millions above the North Texas budget. They aren’t – and shouldn’t be – on a level playing field. However, if North Texas wins its conference and USC wins its conference, both ought to have an opportunity to make it to the national title game. This is the college basketball corollary – that smaller schools aren’t looking for an automatic spot in the championship game, but they are looking for a realistic path to reach that game. The result will be four Super-Conferences with 16 teams each, 8 in two divisions. The remaining Division 1 Teams would form 7 Conferences with 8 teams each. (We’re actually one short, so one team conference could have seven teams or the NCAA could induce another school to move up.) Conferences and divisions are based on geographic area and rivalry history. Here’s how I would break the four Super-Conferences down – we can think of catchy names for them later:

East Coast A
Boston College
Penn St.
Virginia Tech
West Virginia
East Coast B
North Carolina
North Carolina State
South Carolina
Wake Forest

Southern A
Florida St.
Georgia Tech
Miami (FL)
Southern B
Mississippi St.
Oklahoma St.
Texas A&M

Midwest A
Michigan St.
Notre Dame
Ohio St.
Midwest B
Iowa St.
Kansas St.

Western A
Oregon St.
Washington St.
Western B
Arizona St.
Colorado St.
Fresno St.
San Jose St.

I understand that everyone may not agree. Baylor, Texas Tech, Northwestern and Duke would be irate. But, the cuts had to come somewhere and frankly, I liked your programs the least! Also, it’s time for the NCAA to strong arm Notre Dame into a conference. No more special treatment. If they want a shot at the National Championship, they need to play by the same rules, special TV contract or not. And, finally, don’t call me a homer for including BYU in a Super Conference. BYU is a premiere program with a huge national following and the rivalry with Utah pushes them over the top. Plus, my brother-in-law would have clogged my inbox for the rest of the week had I not put them in.

Now, as I said before, the remaining teams would be aligned into standard 8-team conferences. There would be a total of seven. I’m not going to try and organize those conferences. Suffice it to say that the organization should be done by region. The process is simple. Take the final 56 teams and plot them on a map. Then organize them so that the eight closest are together. Pretty straight forward, plus you may actually develop some regional rivalries. There’s a novel thought.

So, there’s phase one – 120 teams in four Super Conferences and seven Standard Conferences. Now, before we move to schedules and bowl games in my next column, let me add one more thing. The BCS Poll stays. In fact, it needs to be expanded. I want it used to rank all 120 teams from top to bottom. The only changes I would make are that it needs to be released weekly starting with the first week of conference play and it needs to be somewhat static. Decide which polls and computers and college football insiders are going to be used and try and keep some continuity from year to year. The poll should be managed by a group of athletic directors and conference presidents that can rotate from year to year. It would be similar to the NCAA Selection Committee. I know many people hate the BCS poll, but in this scheme, I think it would actually work. But, for that revelation, you’ll have to wait for Part II next week. . .

The Race for 62! Though I haven’t written for a while, that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped following my favorite baseball team. The Royals have actually improved and don’t seem to be in danger of setting any major league loss records, though they are still flirting with the franchise loss record. After sweeping the A’s in a double-header on Friday, they lost the last two games of the series for a split. However, if they can play .500 baseball through the rest of the year, they will finish the season at 63-99! It’s still in reach! Current record: 45-81. Projected record: 58-104.