The perfect plan

The perfect plan
By Dan Wetzel, Yahoo Sports
January 5, 2007

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports
More Division I-A playoff – The man standing in the way | Rose Bowl roadblock

GLENDALE, Ariz. – As perfect as the January weather is here, as perfect as the sunset over the craggy mountains can be, as perfect as a sun-baked afternoon around the pool feels to the fans of Ohio State and Florida who have flocked here for a post-holidays holiday, this still isn't perfect.

It could be, of course, if only Monday's Bowl Championship Series title game was the conclusion of a 16-team college football tournament that could rival the NFL playoffs and Super Bowl as the biggest, grandest and richest sporting event in America.

The reasons why this is not close to happening, no matter the overwhelming wishes of fans, players and coaches, are well-documented elsewhere in this Yahoo! Sports report.

Despite its unlikelihood, the ideal solution is worth a perfect dream. Here's how it should be set up.

A 16-team field. Just like Division I-AA, a tournament would feature four rounds with teams seeded one through 16. Just like the wildly popular and profitable NCAA men's basketball tournament, champions of all 11 conferences earn an automatic bid to the field.

While no one would argue that the winner of the Sun Belt (this year, Troy) is one of the top 16 teams in the country, there are multiple benefits of including champions of low-level leagues.

First, it brings true Cinderellas into the mix. And while the likelihood of a 16th-seeded Troy beating No. 1 Ohio State in Columbus is remote, the men's basketball tournament has proven the mere possibility (or even a close game) draws in casual fans by the millions.

Allowing annual access to the tournament – a celebration itself on small campuses – would encourage investment in the sport at all levels, and that would improve quality throughout. Suddenly, there would be a reason for teams in the Sun Belt to care.

The inclusion of weaker teams – essentially three to four teams with little chance at winning – rewards the top seeds with virtual bye games. That maintains the integrity and importance of the regular season because everyone would want to get into the top four seeds.

At-large bids. In addition to the 11 automatic bids, there would be five at-large selections made by a basketball-like selection committee. This would ensure that in almost every season, 11 of the teams in the tournament would be high-major programs – the automatic bids from the six major leagues (ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC) and the five at-large teams which would in all likelihood come from those same conferences.

Now Michigan, which finished the regular season 11-1 with a lone loss at No. 1 Ohio State, would not only get a second chance at a national title but also a home game or two.

While the selection process still would draw complaints from the teams left out, those teams often would have two losses or significant flaws. Gone forever would be the days of an unbeaten Auburn not getting a chance.

This would guarantee that the tournament, despite the inclusion of smaller teams, still would be dominated by the heavyweight programs that are almost exclusively the best. In most years – when a Boise State isn't perfect – the seeds would play out so that Nos. 1 through 11 would be major teams and all home games would be in major stadiums. By the second weekend, it would be mostly, and rightfully, about the big boys.

Home games for the higher seed in the first three rounds. The most bizarre part of college football's current championship system is that the schools allow outside businesses – the people who own the bowl games – to get a cut of the revenue. It would be unfathomable for a league such as the NFL or NBA to allow independent promoters to stage its playoffs.

College football is leaving millions on the table by staging top games in far-off locales. Ohio State, for instance, earns an estimated $5 million-plus for each home game. And that is just direct revenue. Forbes estimates Buckeye football games generated $42 million for the Columbus area in 2005.

Since money talks in college football, the addition of the 14 hugely profitable home games that the first three rounds would create would be an enticing revenue stream. Also, with the competitive value of home field, this again maintains the importance of the regular season because the higher the seed, the more likely a team advances.

One of the flawed arguments of most projected playoffs is the inclusion of the current bowl games. But it would make no sense to stage multiple neutral site events since few fans would be able or willing to travel week after week. Moreover, it just would continue to line the pockets of business that have no rightful claim (except that is how it always has been) to college football.

Bowl games could still exist. One could serve as the championship game, giving college football its neutral, Super Bowl-style site to conclude the tournament. Whether it is here in suburban Phoenix or a rotation of other traditional bowls such as the Rose, Sugar and Orange doesn't matter.

As for all the other bowls, they can go on as they wish. There is value to the smaller bowls in smaller communities, and if the Sun Bowl in El Paso still wishes to stage a game, it by all means should. It just won't have selection access to the 16 tournament teams. But it doesn't have access to teams of that quality now. It still can host a meaningless game between two moderately successful schools. For most bowls, nothing changes.

The lack of 16 "bowl-qualified" teams would filter down, of course, and run as many as eight minor bowls out of business since there won't be enough bowl-eligible clubs.

But if the reason college football is not staging a playoff is the need to save the International Bowl in Toronto, then something is seriously wrong.

The schedule. While Division I-AA plays all four rounds in four weeks and stages the title game before Christmas, Division I-A might be better served playing the first one or two rounds in December, breaking for final exams and staging the semifinals just after Christmas and the title game in early January.

The schedule is a minimal concern. Something can be worked out. Whatever it is, it would allow teams and stars to become familiar to the American public, for momentum to build and excitement to grow.

If Boise State beating Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl proved that Cinderella can exist in college football, the fact that the underdog Broncos suddenly are the most popular team in the country but have no more games to play is proof that college football is leaving so much on the table.

Right now, more fans would probably rather watch the razzle dazzle of Boise State play one more game than watch the actual BCS title game even if both Florida and Ohio State probably are better teams.

It's just the latest example of a flawed system and why as great as things can seem out here in the desert with a great game approaching, college football still has so far to go to achieve perfection.

Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Dan a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

Updated on Friday, Jan 5, 2007 4:00 am, EST

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