Would a four-team playoff really be less controversial than the BCS?
Last month, BCS executive director Bill Hancock told reporters that conference commissioners would be discussing "50 to 60 concepts" for reforming the sport's postseason. This week, we found out the eye-opening details for one of those plans.
"All of the Big Ten athletic directors are comfortable exploring the possibility of a four-team playoff," Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis told
Mind you, the Big Ten does not dictate BCS change, and the other conferences presumably have their own visions for future postseasons. The SEC and ACC first proposed a four-team playoff
Still, the details of the Big Ten's reported plan are mouth-watering for the many fans thirsty to see the current BCS abolished. For one thing, it's a bona fide playoff. The Big Ten ADs aren't even bothering with the "plus-one" euphemism at this point. Four seeded teams means a bracket, home-field advantage and all the other elements most sports have long employed in determining a champion.
Big Ten fans in particular, put off by the SEC's recent stranglehold on the national championship, love the idea of Florida or LSU having to travel to potentially frigid Columbus or Madison in mid-December. After all, Big Ten teams have long played bowl games against SEC foes in that conference's backyard.
Longtime readers know I've been calling for the System Formerly Known as a Plus-One
I do think the "cold weather" factor is being completely overblown, and the blog Team Speed Kills
Still, it's fascinating to review the hypothetical matchups that would have taken place had this proposal existed from the start of the BCS' 14-year history. Plus-one detractors have long contended that expanding the field wouldn't eliminate controversy, but merely displace it. Instead of arguing over who should be No. 2, we'd argue who should be No. 4. They're probably right.
"I know a lot of people would love to see one more great football game, but I'm not sure this type of playoff will make it more fair," said Michigan AD Dave Brandon, an outspoken critic who recently called attempts at a college playoff "ridiculous." "At some point, you have to draw the line," Brandon said. "With four teams, there will be controversies about who those four teams should be because it's usually not clear."
But how frequently would a four-team field leave out a truly worthy title contender? Would there be years where four would be far messier than two? If so, is that a small price to pay for avoiding indisputable injustices like 13-0 Auburn not getting a shot at the championship in 2004?
In an effort to find out, let's revisit every year's title matchup and accompanying controversy and compare it with the likely reaction to a four-team field.
So when we total it up, a four-team playoff would have been more effective than the stand-alone title game 10 times in 14 years. That's certainly progress. But it's also true that the controversy won't fade. While there have been just three seasons (1999, 2002, 2005) in which the BCS title-game matchup was deemed universally satisfying, there were only four in which the four-team field was controversy free.
Yet with the lone exception of a clunky 2008 season, the debates we would be having over Nos. 3 and 4 would be easier to digest than some of the gross injustices that have plagued the 1 vs. 2 game.
And oh, by the way, we would have seen TCU at Oregon (2010), Michigan at Florida (2006), Auburn at Oklahoma (2004) and Oregon at Miami (2001).
Is that something you might be interested in?