The decades-long wait for a true playoff system in college football‘s Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly known as Division I-A) is just about over after the commissioners of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) conferences and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick approved a plan Wednesday, June 21 to replace the BCS with a four-team tournament beginning in 2014.
But even the people who created the playoff admit it won’t satisfy everyone, or even the majority of fans, especially those who wonder why FBS can’t have an unquestioned national champion and suspect a four-team playoff will leave no room for a Cinderella team pursuing a national championship.
“I’m sure it won’t satisfy everyone,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott told ESPN.com. “Until you have an eight-team or 16-team seeded playoff, there will be folks out there that aren’t completely satisfied. We get that. But we’re trying to balance other important parties, like the value of the regular season, the bowls, the academic calendar.”
The proposed four-team playoff — which will be implemented if the BCS presidential oversight committee approves it during its meeting June 26 in Washington, D.C. — would replace the oft-criticized BCS, which has determined the national champion since 1998. According to ESPN.com, a committee would select the four participants based on criteria such as strength of schedule and conference championships.
The three games would be rotated among the four BCS game sites (Rose, Sugar, Orange and Fiesta), with the semifinal bowls decided before the start of every season and the championship game awarded to the bowl that bids the most.
A four-team playoff would be lucrative for all involved, including, of course, the participating conferences. According to ESPN.com, industry sources have said a four-team playoff could be worth between $400 million and $500 million each year.
It would also be good news for ticket brokers, who already fare well with the BCS national championship game. The median price for a ticket to the 2011 title game between Alabama and Louisiana State — which was played Monday, January 9 — was $1,565 the weekend prior to the game, according to StubHub.com. That was a dramatic increase from the average ticket price of $925 for the 2010 title tilt between Auburn and Oregon.
While a four-team tournament would answer the demand for a true playoff, it won’t do much to quell the criticism that college football’s power brokers have no interest in opening up the national championship race to outsiders from smaller conferences.
No “mid-major” has even played for the national championship during the BCS era, which has been dominated by the Southeastern Conference. The last six national champions have come from the SEC.
In addition, so-called mid-major teams have accounted for just seven appearances in BCS bowls. From 2006 through 2010, at least one unbeaten mid-major team played in a secondary BCS bowl. Boise State had two perfect seasons — including in 2009, when it knocked off fellow unbeaten mid-major Texas Christian University in the Fiesta Bowl — and never got the chance to play for a national championship
The last national champion to emerge from a non-power conference was Brigham Young in 1984, when the Western Athletic Conference champion Cougars were the lone unbeaten team in the country and won the national championship by winning a bowl game (the Holiday Bowl) that took place before New Year’s Day.
A 12- or 16-team FCS tournament would likely provide an opportunity for the champions of leagues such as the Sun Belt and Mid-American Conference and give those teams a knock off the Goliaths of the world and become America’s darlings, a la Virginia Commonwealth University in the 2011 men’s Division I basketball tournament or Stony Brook in this year’s Division I baseball tournament. VCU won five games to reach the Final Four while Stony Brook went to Miami and Louisiana State for a regional and super regional, respectively, and knocked off the national power host teams to become the first northeastern team since 1986 to reach the eight-team College World Series.