What can you say about the BCS that hasn't been said about Richard Nixon? Given the gaudy flaws of the man and the system, the popular and media impression of both is "bleh." However, both have developed, despite their wrongdoings, a small following of folks with sharpened intellectual arguments.
Without igniting some firestorm or triggering a congressional investigation and prompted by a discussion on the same subject by T. Kyle King at DawgSports (wassup, dawg? ... Actually, I'm sure no one ever talks to Kyle King that way), I wanted to share an idea I have been pimping in real life for at least a year, maybe longer:
The True Plus One.
I am among that sharpened vocal minority. I fully admit the major flaw of the BCS - its demonstrated inability to satisfactorily determine a national champion year-in and year-out - but am unwilling to concede that the potential discontents of its would-be successor, the playoff (which are, to-wit, a less meaningful regular season, the deteriorating import of a conference title, and the un-mattering of those bowls that do actually, still, matter), are a reasonable trade-off. I love Saturday. I fall asleep on Sunday. And the risk of turning college football into a poor imitation of the League is a risk too great for me to bear.
Nevertheless, college football is here to please the masses - not just me. It is, in fact, entertainment. And the natural thing for a medium of entertainment to do is conform to the wants and wishes of the people who consume it. College football must and will develop a system that more legitimately determines the national champion. The True Plus One is - in many ways - more legitimate than any other system of determining a "champion," save, perhaps, for a round robin.
Here's the plan:
Have the college football season. Have the BCS ranking system. Have the BCS games. Have the conference tie-ins.
If this sounds like the same old, same old, then let me throw a tired idea in there: seed the top conference champions in the BCS and rotate the games between the BCS Bowls. Let them figure out how the rotation works best for them. More or less, this is exactly what we had before the "BCS National Championship Game," only now there are two pre-determined games and not just one.
"Wait," thinks the reader, "if RCR thought this was new, they really have not been paying attention for the last few years." Then all of a sudden - BAM! We hit you with this revolutionary concept: there is no guaranteed championship game the next week.
Why the hell did we seed if we're not going to play the next game? Because, silly, in order to maintain the unique character of college football, sometimes - and this is key - the next game need not be played. Sometimes, the "national champion," according to the criteria and values of college football (which, I submit, are the conference championship and the unblemished record), can be determined by good bowl match-ups.
Here's the rule of the True Plus One: Reproduce the BCS after the seeded games. If the higher-ranked winner of the seeded games has a better overall record than the lower-ranked winner, that team is declared the BCS National Champion. If the lower-ranked team has an equal or better record, a PLUS ONE game will be played between the two at a site that did not host a seeded game.
That's the rule. It's a long rule, which makes it seem arbitrary. But, it's pretty black and white. It emphasizes winning games, but puts more teams in a position to potentially win it all. Let's put it into practice. Using 2000 through present, I'll show you the seeded match-ups that would have happend, predcit the winners of those seeded games, and show you the TRUE PLUS ONE match-up, if one is necessary.
2000: Oklahoma (12-0) v. Washington (10-1) / Miami (10-1) v. Florida State (10-1) / OKLAHOMA.
The TRUE PLUS ONE starts early showing that it is not a playoff. Miami and Florida State only have a shot if the Sooners trip up against Washington. Sorry, Canes, if you don't lose to the same Husky team that the Sooners just beat, you might have had your shot. Key example of the undefeated season remaining a program-defining aspect of college football.
2001: Miami (12-0) v. Illinois (10-1) / Colorado (10-2) v. Oregon (10-1) / MIAMI.
Okay, so we're off to a slow start with the playoff business. An important consideration here, though, is that the only reason Oregon doesn't get a shot is that Miami outpaced them in the regular season. Giving one-loss Nebraska a shot at the title over one-loss Oregon is not legitimate. However, giving undefeated Miami the title over one-loss Oregon is perfectly legitimate.
2002: Miami (12-0) v. USC (10-2) / Ohio State (13-0) v. Georgia (12-1) / MIAMI.
The TRUE PLUS ONE creates an outcome different than the one that actually occurred. You call that a problem, but aren't you some of the same ones that thought that the pass interference call in the Fiesta Bowl was bullshit? What makes a game won on a terrible call any more legitimate than an undefeated season with a bowl win over the hottest team in the country. The truth is: nothing.
2003: LSU (12-1) v. Florida State (10-2) / USC (11-1) v. Michigan (10-2) / LSU V. USC.
After a few results that, in retrospect, we find a little bizarre, the TRUE PLUS ONE creates an outcome that is exceedingly desirable. Oklahoma, losers of the Big XII Championship game are out, like they should have been. USC is facing Michigan in a Big 10-Pac 10 clash where the Trojans have an inside shot and the Wolverines have an outside chance at the PLUS ONE GAME. And Bobby gets a chance to play spoiler. High drama on New Year's Day leads up to the SEC/Pac 10 showdown we always wanted.
2004: USC (12-0) v. Utah (12-0) / Auburn (12-0) v. Oklahoma (12-0) / AUBURN V. USC
OH SHIT! I just solved a problem. Under the TRUE PLUS ONE system, Utah is not left out. All of the unbeaten teams get a shot. And we see the Auburn/USC game most folks wanted. With four undefeated teams, a playoff was desirable and unavoidable.
2005: USC (12-0) v. Georgia (10-2) / Texas (12-0) v. Penn State (10-1) / USC V. TEXAS
Here things turn out the same. We just get more football. But, of course, there is the added drama for Texas and USC in knowing that if the other team loses, they can wrap it up on January 1.
2006: Ohio State (12-0) v. Louisville (11-1) / Florida (11-1) v. USC (11-1) / LOUISVILLE V. FLORIDA
So, here, I've picked an absurd result to stress the importance of winning the bowl game. I don't think that Ohio State would have lost to Louisville, but upsets do happen. It's important to exhibit such an upset for purposes of testing the TRUE PLUS ONE. Even though Ohio State has the same record as Louisville and Florida, it is left out. This makes sense because the TRUE PLUS ONE emphasizes the college football tradition of performing well in the bowl game. The game happens because Louisville, likely the lower-ranked seed game winner, has the same record as Florida. Apologies go out to Boise State, as we did not solve your problem. We are not Obama.
2007: Ohio State (11-1) v. Oklahoma (11-2) / Virginia Tech (11-2) v. LSU (11-2) / OHIO STATE.
Assuming, of course, that Ohio State retains its #1 ranking, no game would happen under the TRUE PLUS ONE, illustrating how this is not, in fact, a playoff. This seems illegitimate to us in hindsight, becase we know that LSU beats the crap out of Ohio State. However, extract that knowledge from your mind, and it's clear that Ohio State is a legitimate National Champion in this scenario. The fact of sports is that, sometimes, teams are denied the opportunity to show how talented they are because they let some less talented team slip by them. In this case, LSU is punished for losing inexplicably to Arkansas in the final game of the regular season by being denied a shot at the title, preserving the importance of the regular season. Also, no Hawaii. Sorry.
2008: Oklahoma (12-1) v. Utah (12-0) / USC (11-1) v. Florida (12-1) / FLORIDA V. OKLAHOMA.
The hypothetical winners here are not terribly important. The TRUE PLUS ONE advances the legitimacy of Florida's championship in 2008 - as if it needed it - by including Utah in the possible championship picture. But, imagine if Utah wins that game. Two scenarios emerge, either they are ranked HIGHER than the other winner, in which case they are declared National Champion (sorry, Timmy, should've won all your games) ... or they are ranked LOWER than the other winner and are guaranteed a shot at the title that they never got. What underscores the importance of the regular season more than Florida being denied the national title by a Utah team that just took care of its own business?
2009: Alabama (13-0) v. TCU (13-0) / Cincinnati (12-0) v. Texas (13-0) / ALABAMA V. TEXAS
With all the undefeated teams in 2009, a playoff is certainly warranted. And here is the real genius of the TRUE PLUS ONE: in five out of six years, where one is warranted, a playoff exists. However, the real risk of no playoff maintains the cardinal importance of the regular season. The TRUE PLUS ONE is an improvement over the BCS because it expands access to the championship. Between 2004 and 2009, fully five teams that otherwise had no shot at the title, get their opportunity. At the same time, its flexibility (maintained by a simple rule: make the bright-line decision after the games have been played) maintains the uniquely supreme importance of winning every game. This, in turn, maintains the drama of every week.
Now, if you've gotten this far, you're, at least, intrigued. Or maybe you think this is the most absurd way to determine a "champion" ever devised. No doubt, it is convoluted. However, it recognizes the unique qualities of college football that a playoff ignores. This sport was built on conference championships and undefeated seasons. The TRUE PLUS ONE requires the former and strongly suggests the latter. Consider that in four out of ten years, under the TRUE PLUS ONE, Utah (2008), Ohio State (2007), Ohio State (2006), Miami (2001), and Oklahoma (2000) are able to parlay their superior record into a legitimate, consensus national championship without the hassle of another game. Under the TRUE PLUS ONE the undefeated season is not just about seeding - it is of paramount importance, as it can shorten your season by a game.
By god, it's crazy. But so is this sport. How many times have you thought to yourself, "the NFL is just so damned unpredictable." Not never, but rarely. We savor the insanity of the weekend-to-weekend live-and-die of the Saturdays. While the Colts are sitting their starters, the Bearcats are laying it all on the line for a one-point victory.
I love Ole Miss athletics because I'm a Rebel. My daddy was a bulldog, and I saw the light, and I bleed it. When the NCAA Tournament expands to 128 teams, I'll still flip my shit because the Rebs are in the Dance. And I've gotten rarely more excited at an Ole Miss athletic event than I have during the Men's NCAA Tennis Tournament. No matter the forum or the format, I'll dig Rebel Sports.
But I love college football.
I want to know what every team is doing. Every conference race matters to me. No FBS game is too small. And I can't do that with college basketball, or even college baseball - sports where my interest rarely wanders outside the Southeastern Conference. I love college football because its uniquely small margin for error creates a universe where a butterfly's wing in Akron creates a tsunami in Palo Alto.
The TRUE PLUS ONE will never, ever happen. Ever. I understand that. But, for hypothetical discussion, it is, I submit, the most superior combination of unique college football values and access to the championship devised by anybody, anywhere.