Thursday, January 15

A New Idea

It is possible to create a championship system for college football's premier league that:

  • Remains within the current post season bounds established by the NCAA
  • Keeps the total number of games possible consistent with other NCAA football championships
  • Does not require a shortening of the regular season

  • Keeps the field limited enough to preserve the proven marketing value of the ranking systems to add to the excitement of the regular season
  • Builds on the existing structures, using the same governing bodies that the current system uses
What constituency of college football would be against a championship system that met all these goals?

According to the
A meeting of the group during the American Football Coaches Association convention at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center, executive director Grant Teaff said there is no consensus for a viable alternative to the BCS system.

“There’s just no plan out there,’’ he said. “Our coaches would vote on one if there was one out there. I ask our coaches all the time, ‘Okay, give me a good plan and we’ll present it to (the NCAA),’ and we scratch our heads.”
In 2008 the NCAA refused to approve the modest change of a plus one format, citing a desire not to expanding the college football post season further into January. This is used to argue that no room is available to discuss a playoff without shortening the regular season.

The real problem with a plus one is that it does not address the main problems with the current system. It does not guarantee access for all undefeated teams. It does not resolve the issue of potential controversy at the cutoff, merely pushing that dispute down a level. Why would the NCAA approve adding a game that promises to fix the system but does nothing to address any of the core issues?

With a growing number of public officials raising an eyebrow to the current system, and congress' proven track record of making things worse, it would be best to fix the system internally.

A new idea is needed.

Instead of being an agreement to pair the top 2 teams in a national championship bowl the BCS needs to be charged with the task of increasing the consensus of the national champion and become the governing body for assigning prestige to the bowls and conferences.

That is unless the BCS is achieving its real purpose of undermining the tradition of the bowls while raising a public outcry for a playoff. In that case the BCS is doing an exceptional job as it is.

Saturday, March 7

Contrast with the MWC Proposal and a plus one

The MWC has launched a BCS proposal. A plus one has been discussed in the past. This post shows how a championship system is superior to these plans at addressing the core issues.

In essence the current system is a two team tournament. Both the plus one and the MWC proposal are expansions of this to two or three round tournaments. Some plus one formats allow the selection to be made after the existing BCS bowls making these systems not be a true tournament but allowing more flexibility to the bowls.

By not setting a specific structure even more flexibility can be reached in a championship system than the most general plus one formats.

Length of season and timing
Observing that the NCAA tournaments currently used for lower divisions allow for schedules of up to 16 games total, these formats push the limit allowed by a regular season of up to 13 games. A three round playoff is possible and is the upper limit of the championship system.

One issue is the resistance by NCAA presidents to allow games beyond the current limit of the second Monday in January. A plus one can accommodate this if the BCS bowls are restored to New Year's Day but the MWC proposal tramples this underfoot.

By restoring the BCS bowls to New Year's Day the championship system is able to stay within the same bounds as a plus one. Quarter finals would be at the start of the bowl season.

Undefeated Teams
Any championship that allows teams to go undefeated and not have a chance at the title is fundamentally flawed. I have yet to see a plus one that can handle the 2004 scenario. The MWC proposal forms a selection committee to pick the teams. While such a committee could be charged with ensuring all undefeated teams garner a spot no such assurances are made in the plan.

Other 3 round proposals have been suggested that specifically call for replacing the lowest teams in the standings with any undefeated teams that would be left out. The championship system specifically includes all undefeated teams.

The current system raises questions when #2 and #3 are closely ranked.

Consensus is a function of both the gap between the teams and the deviation of the teams rankings (including all 120 teams in this discussion). The gaps in ranking are distributed at a similar rate throughout the rankings with a slight narrowing of the gaps in the middle. The deviation is parabolic with a maximum at the middle of the rankings and nearing 0 at the top and bottom. These combine to significantly confound the issue of finding consensus at a cut off the more teams are included.

With the current system one maybe two teams have a legitimate claim to have been left out. The NCAA tournament has a bubble with up to 12 teams that can make a legitimate claim that they should have had a spot in the tournament.

A plus one does not alter the consensus much relative to the current system but a 3 round playoff begins to significantly increase the risk of cutoff controversy. If establishing a true championship justifies increasing cutoff controversy why stop at 8 teams?

Rather than specify a specific tournament format the championship system specifies the criteria. This allows consensus to be used to assign a cutoff directly increasing the agreement of the cutoff values better than any fixed format. This method is significantly enhanced by keeping the field small.

A plus one is near a good system but some years appear to require a broader system. The championship system is able to adjust to each years needs, even the ones where the current two team tournament works.

Sunday, March 1

The Concept

The basic idea is to increase the BCS's mandate to become the governing body for the college bowl system and run a championship system. It would have three primary tasks.

1) Oversee the college football championship system.
2) Assign prestige levels of the bowls.
3) Assign prestige levels of the conferences.

All language in the contracts referring to specific conferences or bowls would be replaced with language referring to prestige levels and clear procedures to establish these values would be included.

Once this infrastructure is built the championship system can be improved.

Core Philosophy
Championship teams either:
1) Win all their games.
2) Build enough national consensus to overcome a loss.

A winning team deserves a regional bowl berth.
A conference champion deserves a premier bowl berth.

Only those teams with one of the criteria above deserve national championship consideration.

Bowl Prestige
The core philosophy clearly delineates three levels of post season games. To restore college football bowl tradition these will carry significant weight. All bowls will be free to establish contractual tie ins as they see fit. These tie ins and the performance of the conferences will determine the prestige levels of the bowls.

BCS games
This level includes the championship system games and BCS bowls. This involves the top 10 or 11 teams in the nation, 2 or 3 more than twice the number of BCS bowls. BCS bowls would be filled before any spots in any other bowls are taken. Only these games would be played after New Years and would pay 10+ million dollars for each team plus 4.5 million for teams advancing in the championship system.

The championship system would have a variable structure, typically between 2-5 teams. This would usually require an additional wild card game and occasionally require a play-in game.

For 4+ teams a BCS bowl would be used as semi finals and be a part of the championship system based on who has the tie in with the #1 team.

The requirements to be a BCS bowl are to have the #1 tie in for one of the BCS automatic qualifying conferences. Once a bowl becomes a BCS bowl its host city is appended to the end of the queue to host the National Championship game. A BCS bowl would retain their BCS status until they next host the National Championship game, regardless of conference strengths.

Premier bowl games
Premier bowl games would be played the last week of the year and would pay out between 2-5 million. They would be filled before any spots in regional bowls are filled.

All conference champions not in the BCS games would be in a BCS bowl.

The requirements for a premier bowl are any of:
1) #1 tie in with an at large conference
2) #2 bid for an automatic qualifying conference in good standing
3) #3 bid for a premier conference

Regional bowl games
Regional bowl games would be played between December 19th and December 24th. The focus would be to draw teams within reasonable travel distance who do not see each other often. They would pay 1-3 million each.

All bowls that don't have a tie in warranting premier bowl consideration would be a regional bowl.

Conference Prestige
Four levels of prestige are implied in the determination of bowl prestige levels. Some need of conference measure is needed. Numbers here are based on the BCS standings values. These are between 1.0 and 0.0, with 0.5 representing the boarder of BCS consideration. Teams above 0.75 almost always earn BCS bids. By taking the three criteria listed by the BCS, putting them on this scale and averaging them a good estimate can be made.

A four year average would be used and conference alignments for a given year would be based on the prior year's membership.

Conferences with a tie in to a BCS bowl are automatic qualifying conferences and are broken down into three categories. The remaining conferences are at large conference.

Premier conference
Conferences with an average over 0.75 would be premier conferences. In addition to an expectation that they would participate in the Championship system and field BCS at large spots they would have 2 premier bowls. Premier status is evaluated every year.

Automatic Qualifier
Technically, this would be automatic qualifier in good standing but when automatic qualifier is used alone it would refer to this category.

Conferences with an average between 0.5 and 0.75 would earn this category and BCS status for its premier bowl. An additional premier bowl would be theirs for their #2 team.

At Large
Conferences below 0.5 without a BCS bowl tie in fit this category.

Technically this would be provisional automatic qualifier. Conferences below 0.5 with a BCS bowl tie-in fit this category. This is possible because bowls can have tie-ins to more than one conference and hold their BCS status until they host the National Championship Game.

Conferences with this status may have their BCS payout reduced and not have a premier bowl. If a BCS bowl's conferences are provisional they would be a provisional BCS bowl until their conferences improve or they lose their BCS status after hosting the National Championship Game. The term provisional is intentionally chosen to carry a negative connotation.

Championship System
With this infrastructure stabilizing the base of the bowl system it is possible to significantly improve the championship system.

The core philosophy outlines the criteria used for the championship system and the BCS bowls act as buffers stabilizing the pool of teams for the remaining bowls. This allows a variable structure to be created able to handle the unique situations of each year.

For reasons explained elsewhere "enough consensus" would be defined to be the equivalent of 1.5 ranking spots across the board in the BCS formula. A gap between #1 and #2 would never be used. If an undefeated team ranked below #4 would not play in a semi final or below #12 would not play in a play-in game the field would be expanded.

Historically this would be 2-5 teams, usually 3. This guarantees 2+ teams and up to 7 can be handled with 10 or 11 teams in the BCS games.

All scenarios: A national championship game is played a week after the BCS bowls
3-5 teams: A wild card game is added as a semi final
4+ teams: The BCS bowl with a tie in to the conference of the #1 team is a semi final
5+ teams: Play in games on December 19th hosted by the favored teams determine the final semi final spots.
6+ teams: The BCS bowl with a tie in to the #2 team is a semi final and no wild card game is played.
8 teams: A December 19th regional bowl would be made a neutral site #4 vs #5 game to account for the 12 teams participating in the BCS.

9+ teams: A gap has formed in every weekly BCS standings above this spot even if three at large teams qualify by being undefeated. It is a highly unlikely that more than 6 will ever qualify.

Monday, January 26

A Better Consensus

Prior to 1992 there was no reason to expect any consensus as to who the best team was unless one team was head and shoulders above the competition. The national champion was determined by two independent polls who periodically came to different conclusions.

In 1992 the first feeble attempts at pairing the top 2 teams in a bowl game were began, becoming the BCS in 1998 and adjusting to its current form in 2006.

Even with this system two sources of uncertainty remain that have proven capable of casting a shadow of doubt over the identity of the true champion. Often the claim to the #2 spot is hotly contested. If the #2 team upsets #1 in a close game and #3 pounds the #4 or #5 team in their bowl who should be #1? If a team goes undefeated with a weaker schedule due to historical ties most concede they likely are not the best team, but how can one ever know for sure? And what if they win big against a perceived giant?

In the former case the consensus is reduced by a close score in the ratings. In the second case it is reduced by a significantly increased variance of the opinions of the untested team.

Close ratings can be mitigated by increasing the distance between teams at the cutoff for national championship consideration. An impressive win might be enough to close a large gap between two adjacent teams but it would not make up for the additional increase one of the teams ahead of them would get for their win. They would be shooting for a moving target and one can only score so many points.

The variance in opinion of an undefeated team can be mitigated by giving them an appropriate test. Undefeated teams usually end up at least #15. With a win over a top 5 team this would be increased to near #5. Another would surely get them into the top 3. But with two wins over top 5 teams in a championship environment and ending unscathed, plus losses by #1 and #2, who would be left to make a claim against the only unbeaten team? Two games is enough.

Include all undefeated teams.
Include all teams above the first gap of 1.5 in the rankings average.

This alone does not guarantee that an undefeated team will be adequately tested or that there will be more than one team.

If the first gap is between #1 and #2 use the second gap in the rankings average.

These criteria directly address the only significant sources of doubt created by the current system, significantly increasing the consensus of the national champion while keeping the field to a very limited number.

The polls with no formal playoff was used as the championship system for 56 years, making this the longest championship system used without structural modification at any level of American football.

The second longest was that employed by the NFL from 1933 to 1967. That system involved one championship game between the division champions with extra games added if they were needed to break a divisional tie. Such a contingent structure is very well suited to accommodate the two criteria above.

Wednesday, January 21


It is senseless to propose a change without knowing what is being changed.


Prior to 1992 the bowl games were all there was to the college football postseason. This lead to conference champions being locked into specific bowls and rarely ended up with a #1 vs. #2 matchup, though it did lead to a New Year’s Day celebration of elite college football.

In 1992 the Bowl Coalition was formed to allow the top 2 teams in the nation to meet. The biggest problem for this alignment was that the PAC 10, Big 10 and Rose Bowl refused to join. In the end, the fall of Notre Dame and the SWC marked the death of the Bowl Coalition.

It was replaced by the Bowl Alliance in 1995, but the Rose Bowl coalition continued to hold out. Additionally, the conferences excluded from the Bowl Alliance began raising pressure of legal action based on anti-trust issues.

With the Rose Bowl willing to come on board in 1998, the Bowl Championship System was formed. Allowances were made to the remaining conferences to reduce the risk of violating anti-trust laws.

The original purpose of the BCS was to allow the top 2 teams to meet in a bowl game, something that vary rarely happened before the system was created. Now people are questioning if the correct two teams are selected. One can easily see how a slippery slope towards a playoff argument is a compelling argument to those who created and operate the BCS.

The formation of the Bowl Coalition itself, however, was a move towards determining a national champion. With the formation of the BCS all leagues came on board to the idea that having a national champion for the premier league in college football is important.

At its core, the BCS is an agreement between all 11 FBS conferences and the bowls to determine the top 2 teams and the eligibility of teams for the premier bowl games. The participants have agreed to the system, though the only real alternative would be to become a FCS team. The BCS only has one employee, whose primary responsibility is to run the public relations for the system.

The problem is that deciding on the top 2 teams is an intractable problem. Some years, like 2002 and 2005, it is fairly clear cut. Others, like 2004 and 2008, it is a little less so. The BCS has, in good faith, attempted to do the impossible task it was assigned to do.

A new BCS

My plan would actually bolster the BCS as an institution and increase its credibility. It would have three purposes:

Maintain a ranking of the conferences to determine conference and bowl categorization.
Maintain a ranking of the teams to determine the participants in a championship system.
Organize the national championship game and make provisions for any wild card games or play-in games the championship system requires.

All bowls, including the BCS bowls, would be free to create tie-ins with the conferences and TV networks without BCS oversight. First the championship system teams are placed, then the BCS bowl select their teams, then the premier bowls make selections and finally the regional bowls would be filled.

The conference and team rankings should be both public and reproducible from the guidelines.


One vote would be given to each of the 6 elite or guaranteed conference, one to any independent finishing the season in the top 15 within the last championship cycle as an independent (Notre Dame), one to a representative of all remaining teams, one to each of the BCS bowls, one to a representative of the premier bowls and one to a representative of the regional bowls. This would make 14 total votes.

It might even be reasonable to allow the elite conferences two votes, currently making 17 votes.


Three categories for conferences are defined. If criteria such as those found at BCS GURU are used, a value of 0.5000 would be a good line to warrant guaranteed status. A value of 0.7500 would warrant elite status. Currently the SEC, Big 12 and Big 10 would be elite conferences, the ACC, PAC 10, and Big East would be guaranteed conferences and the rest would be provisional conferences.

The top tie-in for an elite or guaranteed conference would be a BCS bowl. A premier bowl would be the top tie-in for a provisional conference, the second tie-in for a guaranteed conference, or the third or better tie-in for an elite conference. The rest would be regional bowls.

Membership Evaluation

The current BCS cycle is the time since the BCS bowl that hosts the national championship was evaluated.

The current conference criteria are sufficient but should be worded to look over the current BCS cycle rather than the last 4 years and be defined more precisely and published.

Every year elite and guaranteed conferences would be evaluated to see which conferences warrant elite status.

Each year the conferences with a tie-in to the BCS bowl hosting the national championship game would be evaluated to see if they warrant provisional status. If the bowl does not have a tie-in to a guaranteed or elite conference after this evaluation it would lose its BCS status and not be put back into the cycle until one of its conference tie-ins regained guaranteed status.

Each year all provisional conferences are evaluated to see if they warrant guaranteed status. If any do their top tie-in would gain BCS status and be appended the next cycle.

An Open Book

The BCS has garnered a stigma of being elitist and exclusionary. The only real way to counter this stigma is to embrace full transparency.

The BCS would run the championship system and determine its participants. This would be done in the open for the public to see in a way that is concretely defined ahead of time. The BCS bowls not participating in the championship system as semifinals would then be free to invite teams at their pleasure.

Using the current guidelines and the rules outlined above it would even be possible to announce the conference and bowl status changes for the upcoming year when the final BCS standings are released.

Rule changes should require a super majority of 60%. Voting would then be mostly an honorary title as the only other issues that would receive much attention would be which venues would be added to the wild card game queue.

Saturday, January 17

Contact me

If you see issues with this idea please leave a comment in the appropriate blog so that the issues can be addresses. I have made a number of improvements through beta testing the proposal on various blogs around the web but am always open to suggestions.

My motivation is not one of profit, but one of improving the fairness, excitement and enjoyment of college football.

If you wish to contact me about helping to promote this idea, e-mail me at

Even better yet, e-mail the offices of the head coach, athletic director and university president of your school and their conference representatives. Get the word of this idea to friends, local media outlets and your elected officials.

The biggest item in my wish list for this idea is the establishment of an on-line petition endorsing this idea.

Restore College Football Bowl tradition

The current championship structure has undermined much of the college football bowl tradition, beyond just altering traditional conference pairings.

New Year's Day was once a haven for the best of the best bowl games, making this day a national celebration of college football. This tradition has been greatly tarnished by spreading the premier bowls further into the new year, culminating with the national championship game.

The timing of the bowls once correlated strongly the prestige of the bowls. The recent burst of additional bowls has done little to honor or preserve this tradition.

Timing of the bowls
The core philosophy sets out three tiers of games and defines their purpose:

A winning season warrants a berth in a regional bowl game.
A conference championship warrants a berth in a premier bowl game.

Only the two criteria above warrant consideration for the national championship.

While not critical to the championship system proposed, using this as an outline for when bowl games are played would greatly restore much of the college football bowl tradition.

The top tier games, referred to as championship system games, are those involved in the championship structure and the remaining BCS bowls. Only these games should be in the next year.

The second tier, referred to as premier bowl games, are those bowl games that have first pick of any conference once these selections have been made. Only these bowls should be between December 26th and December 31st.

All other bowls are in the third tier, referred to as regional bowls games. These bowls should be between December 19th and December 25th.

The order of the bowls in the core philosophy would then match the timing of the bowls and the increase in prestige they represent. The bowl season would then naturally build in intensity, culminating in the championship system.

Determining a bowl's tier
A bowl's tier is completely determined by its conference tie-ins. The BCS has good criteria for measuring the whether a conference warrants BCS consideration or not. If a conference warrants BCS consideration its top bowl tie-in should be a BCS bowl, and that bowl's host city should be a part of the national championship rotation.

If a conference warrants BCS consideration its second bowl becomes a premier bowl, otherwise a conference's first bowl is a premier bowl game. Allowing conferences with a BCS value above 0.75 to have two premier bowls further rewards the top conference above and beyond inclusion in the BCS bowls.

All other bowls are regional bowl games.

This allows bowls to maintain their traditional conference tie-ins and fairly determine which bowls deserve what tier as the balance of power naturally shifts from one conference to another through the evolution of the game.

The Cotton Bowl
The Cotton Bowl is one of the oldest bowl games. It's image has been greatly reduced since the Southwestern Conference, its historical major tie-in, folded in the 1980's. Rumors have been circulating that the Big 12 would like to make this bowl their BCS bowl tie-in, diminishing the Fiesta Bowl's current status.

The Fiesta Bowl was started in 1971 to guarantee the WAC a bowl berth for its top team. With the split between old WAC members forming the current WAC and MWC, this bowl would be an excellent venue for the champions of these rival conferences to face off each year. The 2008 Poinsettia Bowl demonstrated the value of such a game.

As the MWC and WAC are the two leading conferences outside the BCS, this would also put the Fiesta Bowl as the lead candidate among bowls to earn BCS status, depending only on either of these conferences crossing the BCS threshold.

The other premier bowl games would then be the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, the Capital One Bowl, the Gator Bowl, the Sun Bowl, the Liberty Bowl, the Motor City Bowl, the Holiday Bowl, and the New Orleans Bowl. If the top conferences are allowed to have two premier bowls the Outback Bowl could warrant consideration here as well.

The other 20 bowls would be regional bowls.

With the current alignment the Cotton Bowl, Las Vegas Bowl and Humanitarian Bowls would be premier bowl games.

Evaluation of BCS Conferences
Each year the conferences associated with the national championship host city for that year are examined to see if they still warrant BCS inclusion. If the Bowl has a tie-in to a conference warranting BCS inclusion they maintain a spot in the cycle.

After the national championship host is examined all conferences without a tie-in to a BCS bowl are examined. If a conference earns BCS status it's premier bowl is appended to the end of the current cycle of national championship host cities.

If the top conferences are allowed to have two premier bowl games this should be reevaluated after every year for the next year.

The result of this is that once a conference earns BCS status it will have it for one full national championship cycle, at which time they will be reevaluated every year their bowl tie-in hosts the national championship game.