A true college football championship game will become America's second biggest sporting event, shy of the NFL's Super Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-US PRESSWIRE
BCS Executive Director Bill Hancock essentially signed the current BCS format's death certificate on Wednesday by proclaiming that the "status quo is off the table." The current BCS television deal expires after the 2013 season, and the negotiations are to determine what will exist starting in 2014. And it now seems like a given that there will be some sort of playoff. There's still a thought that a Plus-1 could still exist; that's the format where a championship game is determined following the bowl games. Bowl aficionados still like that approach because it preserves the bowls...but it's still not a playoff. It doesn't clear the controversy from last season when two teams have similar resumes and one gets aced out of the competition for the title game. Last year, it was Oklahoma State and Alabama. Husker fans remember the outcry over 2001, where Oregon and Colorado fans were outraged after Nebraska edged them out for a title game berth.
The clubhouse leader appears to be some sort of four-team seeded playoff; the debate seems to be shifting from "if" to "how". Several proposals have been raised: home fields, bowls, neutral sites. Even how teams are being selected is up for discussion. Does the BCS formula get tweaked, bringing back strength of schedule? Does the BCS switch to a selection committee?The four team playoff doesn't completely solve the "who was left out" debate; we still have that with the 68 team basketball tournament. But in the basketball tournament, nobody who's a serious candidate to win the title gets left out. The complaint revolves around being part of March Madness. Looking back historically, you'd be hard-pressed to find a season where more than four teams had a legitimate claim to play for the title. Usually it's no more than three teams. So four is a good number.
The debate over how teams will be seeded is interesting. I don't think the BCS formula is that far off the mark, frankly. Put strength of schedule back into the mix, and you've got a fairly decent formula. But there's always a risk of having a rematch in the semi-finals. That might give the edge to letting a committee set up the playoff. As long as you have qualified football people making the choice, a selection committee would work. If you have a rematch in the eventual title game, so be it. If those are the two best teams of the final four, let it happen.
Where to play the games seems to be the biggest stumbling block now. Bowl fans want the New Years Day bowls to host the semifinals. And, of course, so do fans who live relatively close to a bowl site. "Everybody loves to travel to Phoenix or New Orleans!" they argue. They are correct in that those are fun destinations, but let's not forget that the logistics of transporting tens of thousands of fans to bowl sites on short notice is mind-boggling. And it's blatantly unfair to teams north of the Mason-Dixon line.
Hence, the Big Ten's proposal to have the top two seeded teams hosting. It eliminates travel for most of the fans, and rewards teams at the top of the standings. If anything, it makes the regular season even more relevant. But warm-weather schools protest; they like being able to claim that playing LSU in the SuperDome is a neutral site. Of course, that argument is ludicrous, so now the argument turns towards schools with smaller stadiums. Schools like Kansas State, Oregon, Boise State, and TCU have smaller stadiums. Some claim that they aren't able to handle a football game, even though they do it six to eight times a year. Others say those venues are too small for a major event like this. Perhaps, but that argument cuts the other way. Most BCS contending schools play in stadiums bigger than what would be available for a neutral site. So perhaps you put in place a rule that a school must have a minimum stadium size of 60,000 seats to host. If they have too small of a stadium, they either must move the game to a neutral site of sufficient size...or they'll lose the opportunity to host. Kansas State would have to move the game to Arrowhead. TCU would move the game to JerryWorld.
Some complain that not knowing the locations of the semi-finals until the very end is tough for corporate sponsors. I argue that's hogwash; most stadiums have skyboxes now-a-days, and with electronic signage, sponsorships should be easy to accomodate. So the bigwigs have to fly somewhere and figure out an event on short notice? If they have the money to fly their corporate jets in, they can find a way to put on an event.
In the end, the neutral site approach for the semi-finals is not going to work well unless the neutral sites are within driving distance of a participating school. Airline travel is difficult enough in this era without having to do it on a few days notice. And with the specter of a national title game coming up, people will elect to skip the semifinals if the travel is too much of a hassle. So even if the BCS chooses to go with a neutral site approach at first, I think it'll eventually switch to the home fields due to attendance concerns.