As far as I'm concerned, the method used by the NCAA to pick a college football champion is fatally flawed. Division I-A football is the only college sport to not have a tournament. The other sports have national tournaments. The other football divisions, I-AA on down, have national tournaments. So why not Division I-A football?
Tradition, really, is the only explanation. The colleges have a long tradition with the bowl system, and they don't want to cut their friends loose. And rightly so.
But I think I have a solution that can give us the tournament we need without throwing out the bowl system we want to keep.
The major problems with the current system are that not enough deserving teams get a shot at the championship and that the non-BCS-6 conferences are penalized for not being big and rich. This year, the BCS is switching from eight to ten teams, but still only two have a shot at the championship; and they're making it an automatic berth for a non-BCS-6 conference champion team in the top 12 as opposed to the top 6 as they had it before. But that still doesn't give them a chance at the title.
The system that I will explain below solves both of the two problems by including every conference champion and essentially the top twelve teams ranked in the polls. No longer will a #3 team be on the outside looking in at the trophy game. No longer will a zero-loss or one-loss team from a mid-major conference be complaining all winter and spring.
In this system, there would be a tournament of sixteen teams. Each of the eleven conference champions would have automatic berths. The other five berths would be selected by a committee and would essentially be the top five teams in the polls who weren't conference champions.
Using the 2005 season as an example:
(* denotes conference champion)
On the Saturday after the conference championships (eg December 10, 2005), the top eight conference champions would host the other eight teams.
Louisiana-Lafayette* (16) at Southern Cal* (1)
Akron* (15) at Texas* (2)
Boise State* (14) at Penn State* (3)
Auburn (9) at Georgia* (7)
Miami, Florida (8) at West Virginia* (10)
Notre Dame (6) at Texas Christian* (11)
Oregon (5) at Florida State* (12)
Ohio State (4) at Tulsa* (13)
It may seem unfair that a high-ranked team like Oregon or Ohio State has to travel to Florida or Oklahoma, but the way I see it, if they couldn't win their conference, they're lucky to be in the tournament at all. And Notre Dame? It's time to suck it up and join a conference. No sympathy here.
The quarterfinals, semifinals, and national championship game would all be bowl games. In addition to the wealthy BCS four (Fiesta, Sugar, Orange, and Rose), I would include the three bowls with the next largest current payouts. These are the Capital One (Florida Citrus), Cotton, and Outback.
Since the Rose and Orange have the longest histories, I have kept them both on January 1 as the two semifinal games. The national championship game would either alternate between the Fiesta and the Sugar, or rotate between all five of the remaining bowls.
In the quarterfinals, the top four winners (as ranked by the committee) of the first round would play the lower four. The matchups would be located in the bowl game that makes the most geographic sense when considering all of the top four teams. The westernmost top-four team would play in the Fiesta, the next-most-western team would play in the Cotton, and so on. In our example, these games would have taken place on Saturday, December 17, 2005.
Fiesta Bowl (Tempe, Ariz.): USC (1) vs. TCU (8)
Cotton Bowl (Dallas, Texas): Texas (2) vs. West Virginia (7)
Capital One Bowl (Orlando, Flor.): Penn State (3) vs. Georgia (5)
Outback Bowl (Tampa, Flor.): Ohio State (4) vs. Oregon (7)
The higher-ranked teams would have games relatively close to their fan base, thus increasing ticket sales (and that's what it's all about).
In the semifinals, the four teams would be re-ranked and matched up similarly to the quarterfinals. In our example, these games would take place January 1, 2006.
Rose Bowl (Pasadena, Calif.): USC (1) vs. Georgia (4)
Orange Bowl (Miami, Flor.): Texas (2) vs. Ohio State (3)
The national championship game would take place on a good day approximately a week later (January 9, 2006).
Sugar Bowl (New Orleans, La. (in Atlanta that year)): USC vs. Texas
And thus, everyone gets their shot at the crown. High-ranked conference champions (Southern Cal, Texas) have favorable schedules without much travel (home, Tempe, Pasadena; home, Dallas, Miami). High-ranked non-champions (Ohio State, Oregon) have tougher schedules with more travel (Tulsa, Tampa, Miami; Panama City (Florida), Tampa, Pasadena).
A mid-ranked conference champion will have the reward of a home game in the first round, but it will be against a tough opponent. A low-ranked conference champion won't even have the home-field advantage, but at least they're at the dance, and I'm sure the Ragin' Cajuns would want that opportunity.