Let bowls be decided on the field, not by math

By Dave Fultz

As we all know – and probably celebrated a little too much – Ohio State fell from atop the college football world after its loss to our beloved Illini on Saturday. While this was good news for all of us celebrating on Green Street, it was bad news yet again for those in support of the Bowl Championship Series system.

In Ohio State, the BCS had an undefeated – and more importantly, undisputed – No. 1 team. But following their loss, the Buckeyes slipped to seventh in the rankings and left a mess at the top that might not get sorted out until the last day of the season.

When the computers had their say, LSU (9-1) and Oregon (8-1) moved into the coveted top two spots. They were followed by the still-undefeated Kansas Jayhawks, Oklahoma (9-1) and Mizzou (9-1) to round out the top five. So now there are eight teams in the top 10 with one loss or less and only room in the National Championship Game for two.

Here comes the controversy: If LSU, Oregon and Kansas all win the rest of their games this season, who gets to play for the National Championship? What if Oklahoma wins the Big 12 Championship against Kansas or Mizzou? What makes Ohio State’s one loss to the now-ranked Illini any worse than Oregon’s one loss to now-unranked Cal? All of these questions will again be answered by the computers when the final rankings come out on Dec. 2 before the start of the bowl season.

The real question that needs an answer is why college football fans have allowed their sport to be decided by computers when nearly every other sport’s champion is decided on the field. Most casual fans feel no real connection to college football’s numerous postseason bowl games because they hold no real meaning. Compared to the widespread success of men’s basketball’s NCAA Tournament that engulfs us all each March, the bowl season is a letdown. Last season there was controversy surrounding the Ohio State-Florida matchup that capped the season, and there has been frustration among those that support a playoff ever since the inception of the current system in 1998.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

How could a possible playoff system solve some of these problems? Upsets do happen and this season is a case in point. After all, that is why they play the games, isn’t it? I’m just asking that the National Champion be decided from a field of more than two “computer chosen” teams. An eight-team playoff combined with the current system would do wonders for college football and would also allow the BCS system to save some face.

I don’t believe the BCS has any problem picking the top eight teams, just a bit of trouble picking the top two. This is really no fault of the system, it’s a fault of those in charge, thinking that it is possible to choose the two best teams objectively. There is not enough separation at the top of the college football landscape to pick two through the current system. This is why the system could still stay intact – for the most part – to pick the top eight teams and set up a decisive playoff bracket.

As is the case now, teams would play no more than 12 games in the regular season and the top eight would be deemed “Playoff Eligible” and have a shot at the National Championship, rather than only the top two.

The eight teams would face off in the first round as is normally the case with No. 1 playing No. 8, No. 2 playing No. 7 and so on. The BCS could sponsor these games or do whatever they want to bring in ad revenue and the winners would move on to the semifinals.

The playoff system would continue to feature the four major bowls in the last two rounds of the playoff, with them rotating in priority as they do now. This will keep the current bowl tradition intact and allow revenue to flow as it has in the past.

For example, the semifinals would feature the Fiesta Bowl and Orange Bowl with the winners facing off in the Rose Bowl for the National Championship. The losers of the semifinal round would then face off in the Sugar Bowl for third place.

The regular season would end in mid-November just like it does now, the playoffs could start in the second week in December, and the National Championship game could then remain in the first week of January. This system would allow for a definitive champion every year and the fans would be able to see the best teams decide it all on the field.

After all, football is still a game, isn’t it?

Dave Fultz is a junior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected].