Fixing the BCS mess

The NCAA's ongoing refusal to adopt a seeded "plus-one" format for its Bowl Championship Series subdivision (formerly Div. 1-A) provides a challenge for critics of the current BCS format.

That challenge: Come up with a format so enticing that even the party poopers who run major college football will jump on board. I think that format is readily available and ridiculously simple ... but more about that later.

The shortcomings of the current BCS system are obvious but I'll briefly hit some of the key points:

- Only one bowl game – the BCS Championship Game – really matters. The tradition-rich Sugar, Orange and Rose have been reduced to window dressing, along with the relative newcomer, the Fiesta.

- Not every team who deserves a shot at the national title gets one. LSU won the 2007 national title with two losses but Auburn didn't even get to play for the 2004 national title with zero losses. Any system that allows this to happen is seriously flawed.

- Teams who play weak schedules have a better chance to make the BCS Championship Game than teams who play tough schedules. Ohio State qualified for the title game by breezing through Big Ten play in 2006 and again in 2007 only to have its unworthiness exposed in the BCS title game each time. Are we going to see the Buckeyes in the title game every year until someone else in the Big Ten remembers how to play big-time football?

While I agree with those who say the BCS system is inadequate, I also agree with those who suggest that a 16-team playoff is not the answer. Over-emphasizing the postseason would serve to trivialize the regular season, and that would be an awful mistake.

I want Tennessee's Sept. 20 game with Florida to be monumental. I want to leave Neyland Stadium that evening thinking that the winner has put itself in line for a shot at the national title and the loser has put itself behind the 8-ball.

If all the Vols have to do is be one of the 16 best teams to qualify for a postseason playoff, losing to Florida would be no big deal. Losing to Georgia a few weeks later in Athens would be no big deal, either. Tennessee could still qualify for the 16-team playoff by going 10-2. I enjoy the do-or-die feel of college football's regular-season games, and I don't want any system that will significantly diminish that.

All of which brings me to "The Plan" to make college football – already the best game on the planet – even better. I wish I could take complete credit for this plan but it's essentially a variation of other plans I've heard through the years.

Anyway, The Plan is this:

Assign the top eight teams in the final BCS regular-season rankings to the four BCS bowl games, honoring tradition whenever possible by sending the SEC champ to the Sugar, the Big Ten and Pac Ten champs to the Rose, etc.

Play two of the BCS bowls at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. on New Year's Eve and the other two at 4 and 8 on New Year's Day. No other bowls can be played at these times on these days. This way you don't have two great games scheduled opposite one another.

Stage the BCS Championship Game on the first Saturday that falls on or after Jan. 8, pitting the teams ranked No. 1 and No. 2 AFTER the bowl games are completed.

Here are the advantages in this plan:

Instead of playing simply for pride, the teams involved in the Sugar, Rose, Orange and Fiesta Bowls would be playing for top-two rankings and a berth in the BCS Championship Game. With each bowl being a potential springboard to the title game, all four contests would be more intense and more meaningful.

A team that ended the regular season ranked third, fourth or fifth – maybe even sixth, seventh or eighth – would still have a shot at the national title. Last January Georgia jumped from No. 4 in the final Associated Press regular-season rankings to No. 2 after its Sugar Bowl defeat of Hawaii. In my format that would've earned the Dawgs a spot in the BCS championship game. Southern Cal and Missouri made significant post-bowl jumps last January, too, the Trojans rising from No. 6 to No. 3 and the Tigers from No. 7 to No. 4.

Under the current BCS setup, the title game is big and the other BCS bowls are anti-climactic. My system would restore the Sugar, Orange, Rose and Fiesta Bowls to their rightful positions of importance.

The current BCS setup limits the national title game to the teams ranked 1 and 2 at the conclusion of the regular season. My system would allow teams ranked No. 3 through No. 8 to entertain at least faint hopes of earning a national-title shot as they prepare for bowl play. That keeps a lot more fans a lot happier a lot longer.

Inside Tennessee Top Stories