The best solution for the BCS mess
You don't need me to tell you this has been the most thrilling, unpredictable and absurd college football season ever. The season to end all seasons. The season that thoroughly mutilated the flimsy principles propping up the Bowl Championship Series. Those of us with working neurons have known as much for a long time. But let me begin by stating the obvious, with a little bit of a hedge: Most years, college football needs some sort of playoff system.
AP Photo/Dave Martin
Does LSU really deserve to be in the national championship game? The Flex Plan would solve this problem.
Well, I am. And I've devised a system that I'm calling the Flex Plan.
This plan is actually a simple concept. It goes like this:
Some years, if there are two clearly dominant teams, there will be a single national championship game (see: Ohio State versus Miami in 2002, or Texas versus USC in 2005). Some years, if there are three deserving teams (see: USC versus Oklahoma versus Auburn in 2004) -- a problem the BCS cannot handle without its supercomputers imploding -- there will be a plus-one, of sorts: a three-team playoff, with a bowl game between the No. 2 and No. 3 ranked teams, followed by a bowl game between the winner and the No. 1 team. Some years, if there are four deserving teams, there will be a four-team playoff, held at the sites of three major bowls (see, arguably, USC versus Auburn versus Oklahoma versus Utah in 2004). And some years -- as in the Grand Scrum of 2007 -- if there are at least eight teams with good arguments, there will be an eight-team playoff, again involving the major bowls and some other bowls, which would be chosen simply by which ones are willing to put up the most money (this way, bowl officials can remain corrupt, but their corruption will be peripheral and beside the point).
In the future, there might be scenarios requiring five- or six- or even nine- or 10-team playoffs. But for now I am keeping it simple.
Obviously, the Flex Plan, since it is based on contingencies, would be slightly more difficult to execute. And it may not be politically feasible, since it does not cater to either "base" in this argument. But I think I have the ability to convince people to get beyond some of the divisions that plague our society and to focus on common sense and reason. And I happen to think we're in a moment in history right now when honesty and admitting complexity is a good thing, and the fact that I plagiarized both of those lines from Barack Obama doesn't mean I don't believe them myself.
Let us first examine the arguments.
Those who do not have a financial stake and still clamor against a playoff system do so because they believe a playoff system would dilute the importance of the regular season. I used to think this was a silly argument, but if we learn nothing else from this year, let's realize that it has proven to be a laboratory for ideas. These people have a point. The regular season is what makes college football more exciting and more interesting than any other sport. And here is the proof:
On Sept. 1, 2007, Michigan lost to Appalachian State. Michigan's season, Lloyd Carr's career and the school's entire reputation as an academic institution were immediately sullied. Somewhere, Dan Dierdorf wept.
Meanwhile, on Nov. 7, 2007, the University of Kentucky's men's basketball team lost 84-68 to a college called Gardner-Webb (which sounds like one of those art schools that used to advertise in the front pages of TV Guide). And what did that loss mean to anyone outside of a single state?
Nothing. Nothing at all.
With the Flex Plan, Michigan's season would not necessarily be over right away. But even if the Wolverines had gone on to win the Big Ten, they wouldn't have been guaranteed a playoff spot, either. Their future, along with the future of virtually every other team, would remain uncertain until the end of the regular season. And isn't that what we want?
Now I'm not discounting college basketball altogether, because the NCAA obviously managed to concoct the optimal postseason structure in that sport. How did they do so? They didn't put the decisions in the hands of television networks or bowl officials, who have no sartorial sense, or sportswriters, who are busy eating free sugar cookies while attempting to make deadline before their newspaper goes out of business.
In college basketball, the decisions are left to a (theoretically) impartial, (theoretically) well-educated selection committee. Of course, there's still controversy, but most of it involves either: (A) The fact that the Big East didn't get a bid for every single team with a winning record, or (B) that North Carolina was given a No. 2 seed in a "tough" region. In other words, it's media-generated controversy. It's something to talk about for several hours on a Sunday night. It's not based on a fundamental, structural problem.
And this is where the Flex Plan gains its strength: with a committee. And that committee, made up of 10 or so utterly impartial and incorruptible observers from every region of the country, would make the key decision in the Flex Plan, which is whether to expand the playoff system for that given season or to shun it altogether. All we need are 10 impartial, well-educated, incorruptible Americans. I know that's asking a lot, but I hear there are several remaining in North Dakota.
I'm sure someone will devise a reason why this plan would not work, cannot work, and never ever will work. It's a brutal world out there. But remember, the new model for the paradigm is cooperation, not aggression. And just because I borrowed that phrase from Dennis Kucinich, it doesn't make me a crackpot.
Michael Weinreb's book "Game of Kings: A Year Among the Oddballs and Geniuses Who Make Up America's Top High School Chess Team" will be released in paperback this month by Gotham Books. He is currently working on a book about sports in the 1980s. He can be reached at http://www.michaelweinreb.com.