There are plusses and minuses on both sides. If the BCS wasn't a good thing, the college presidents and the NCAA wouldn't be letting college football do it. That doesn't mean a playoff system won't be better. It could be, but I don't know for sure.
The BCS system certainly has its flaws and the way it is set up it is designed to fail from a standpoint that there is a good chance that some team worthy to compete for the national title is not able to do that. Auburn was in that position in 2004 when the Tigers were undefeated.
TCU, Boise State, Utah and other teams around the country that have had great seasons and won all of their games have not had a chance to compete for the national title and that is not the way it should be. They did all they could do and were left out and that is a flaw in the BCS system. Of course, the BCS is an improvement over what we had before that, which was a popularity contest for sure. That is why there are so many years with more than one team claiming to be the national champion.
A good playoff system would eliminate the major flaw of the BCS system, but whether or not it would be better for college football is worthy of debate. The current BCS/bowl system has generated a tremendous amount of revenue the way it is set up now. However, some might argue the possibility is there to generate even more money with a playoff system. It has certainly been great for basketball.
If college football goes to a playoff, there will be a lot of debate about the logistics. Will it be four teams involved, perhaps eight or even 16 teams? What the format will be is critical because you can't do it like basketball--that is too many games.
If you go with 16 teams in a playoff, that would mean 12 regular season games plus at least four more for the two teams that reach the championship game. In the case of an SEC team, because of its conference championship game, you are talking about playing 17 games. That is a lot of football so maybe eight teams would be a better scenario.
It would seem that with eight teams you could include all of the teams deserving of being in the playoff, but as basketball has shown polls and ratings are imperfect and many times the team ranked number one at the end of regular season isn't the team that wins the NCAA Tournament.
Something that I think is a positive for the playoff system is that the teams that are the best in September are not necessarily the best teams in January when a champion is determined. Injuries during the season can damage a team's strength significantly. Also, it is not uncommon for a team to develop a personality during a season and gain confidence and strength with each win, much like Auburn did this past season. Teams like that would have a chance of making it into an eight-team playoff even with a slow start in September or a loss to a strong non-conference opponent.
The four-team playoff has been discussed a good bit in recent years and it has some good points, but personally I don't think that is enough teams to determine a true champion. I think if you are going to have a playoff, you need to win at least three games to be a champion. With an eight-team playoff the current four BCS sites could be used for the games along with three other bowl sites. You can certainly make a case for games like the Cotton Bowl being involved in that type of playoff.
In an eight-team playoff you could start with the four first round games two weeks after the end of the regular season and go from there.
With more than 30 bowl games on the schedule, really and truly they are less significant as far as status goes than they once were. However, they are not insignificant to the teams that are playing in them because everybody wants to finish their season in a bowl game. They are particularly important for the lesser schools that are trying to upgrade their programs and there is no reason why those teams can't continue to benefit from the bowl system.
You could come up with a scenario where bowls plus a playoff system would be feasible. For example, you could set up an eight-team playoff that would be played at the top bowl sites and still keep most of the other bowls as they are. I wouldn't even be opposed to a plan that would allow teams that were eliminated in the first two rounds of the playoffs from accepting a bid to play in one of the later bowl games, but the important thing is to work out a system in which we have a true national champion every season.
For example, this year TCU has every right to complain that it didn't get a chance to play for the national championship, but under the current BCS system Auburn defeated Oregon in the championship game.
It looks like the federal government is threatening to get involved with how college football determines its national champion with the talk about an anti-trust lawsuit against the NCAA. I can't see that necessarily helping the Southeastern Conference, which is known as the best football conference in the country. Although Auburn didn't get a chance to play for the title after an unbeaten season in 2004, you have to think based on recent history deserving SEC teams will not be left out of the championship game.
I do think the SEC will be fine either way with the current system or a playoff. The university presidents, the NCAA and the politicians will decide how we go forward and both sides have a good argument.
(If you have a question or a subject you would like me to write about in future columns, you can email it to PatDye@autigers.com.)
From the mailbag:
Your Keeping Auburn Moving Forward issue of the Dye-Gest was a very interesting story and a nice bit of history that I really enjoyed. It seems that all Auburn times have difficulties and tumultuous events. Thanks for covering the lesser known events on the football and athletic side of the picture in your article.
I have served on an advisory council for the Department of Industrial and Graphic Design in the College of Architecture, Design and Construction for almost 20 years and those decades in the creative, academic arena have had turbulent similarities to the athletic program; changes in Deans, budget uncertainties, rumors of shutting down entire academic programs, professional fees uproars by students, overcrowding, and the always present need and pressure for graduates to be employed, which means that the faculty of the department must do a stellar job. The DIGD at Auburn is also a highly rated program; consistently in the top ten in the U.S.
David Stoddard '63
David, thanks for you comments on the column and your service to Auburn.
Editor's Note: This part of a series of columns that College Football Hall of Fame member Pat Dye is writing for AUTigers.com about the game he played and coached. An All-American at Georgia and one of the top head coaches in SEC history at Auburn who was also head coach at East Carolina and Wyoming, Dye participates in the Legends Poll, a Top 25 rating of the best teams in college football as determined by a panel of all-star former head coaches. Dye writes three columns a week--The Dye-Log, the Dye-Gest and Pat's Picks.