The 2010 NCAA Div I-A Football Playoffs (One Casual Football Fan’s Dream of What Could Have Been…)

Okay, those of you who read this blog and have no interest in college football would probably do best to move on right now. Fair warning.

Those of you with an interest in college football, here’s the thing: I think the BCS, the convoluted apparatus currently used in the top division of college football to determine which teams play in a championship game, is a big pile of crap.  I’d like to think a large number of sports fans agree with me.

Ever wonder what we’re missing without a tournament?  Yeah, me too.  So, I’ve developed six tournament formats, shown below, including one of 16 teams, 20 teams, 24 teams, 28 teams and 30 teams.  In each case, conference champions of EVERY Division I-A conference receives a berth to the tournament, just like in NCAA basketball.  With 11 conferences, that leaves room for five at-large berths in the 16-team grid, nine in the 20-team, 13 in the 24-team, and so on.

Click on any bracket to make it a smidge bigger and more readable….


Looking at these brackets makes it quite obvious that, whatever the format we use, we’re missing some pretty good looking tournaments, with potential for upsets in the early rounds (which makes things exciting) and a pretty balanced bracket for the main contenders to prove themselves with.

The teams chosen as representation do NOT represent a value judgement on my part… meaning, I’m not saying that based on my own convictions any one team is more worthy than any other.  Since many conferences have not determined their champions yet, conference champions for these brackets are chosen as the highest rated team in the conference, first by BCS, then by AP voting, then by Jeff Sagarin’s computer rankings if no team from a conference appears in the first two rankings.  At-large teams will be the teams remaining in those rankings, in that order, that are not conference champions.  Seeding is made using the same three rankings. All information is based on what is current on Sunday evening, November 28, and I might update it next week after the conference championships if the feature proves popular.

I will admit right now that I am nothing but a casual college football fan.  My teams are, well, always pretty terrible.  I know nothing of, say, Nebraska’s running defense can play with Oklahoma’s rushing attack, nor Southern Mississippi’s special teams play would match up against that of Northern Illinois.  I am counting on the numbers that have been produced by people who are paid to follow the sport in a wholly intellectual exercise by a casual fan, for the benefit of casual fans.

That said…. Doesn’t this just look like more fun?

For those of you who are unfamiliar, here’s what happens: using rankings determined by human “experts,” combined with the opinions of various computer power algorithms, is made into a weekly ranking called the Bowl Championship Series standings, which is put out in the final few weeks of every football season.  In the final standings, which are often comparing teams that never faced each other and have no common opponents, the top two teams go to the BCS Championship Game, the winner of which is declared the national champion.  Eight other teams go to BCS “bowls,” which are games that are carried over from a traditional set of season-ending match-ups started nearly 100 years ago, but which ultimately have very little meaning; the winner of each bowl is named the “____ Bowl Champion” for the year, and each school gets paid handsomely for their appearance.  Appearance in the BCS Bowls are guaranteed to winners of six conferences, subdivisions of college football, while members of five other conferences can potentially get into one of these handsomely paying bowls if they win EVERY game AND everything goes absolutely perfectly in terms of voting and computer calculations and so forth.  No team from a smaller conference has yet achieved entree into the national championship match.  In fact, it’s more likely that a team from one of the six automatic bid conferences which has lost once or even twice will go to the national championship game over an undefeated squad from the other five.

Then, typically, what happens to all other teams with winning records, if they’re not part of the BCS Bowls, is that they get invited to other, pretty lame bowls named after muffler shops and local credit unions, which pay less, have significantly less prestige and little if any interest from fan bases.  In sum, Approximately half of all top division college football teams end up in one bowl or another at the end of the year.  On top of that, by the time these “post-season” bowls begin, there are only two teams that have any chance at winning the national championship, which means all but one of these bowls  mean absolutely nothing whether won or lost.  They are basically exhibition matches.

To suggest that reform in this system is needed does not break new ground.  It’s been suggested many times by many people, especially those with allegiances to the “smaller” teams in the non-BCS conferences (like, say… me).  But, I’d like to take a look at what, exactly, the football world is missing by not reforming this hodgepodge of meaningless bowls into a tournament that actually produces a winner from a large group of teams.  In every other North American sport, a tournament determines the championship of sports leagues, including the lower divisions of college football.  Why should the top division of college football be any different?

Author: Andrew Shears

Andrew Shears is an Assistant Professor of Geography at Mansfield University in Mansfield, Pennsylvania. His research interests lie at an intersection of the human-environmental nexus, and includes branches of mapping, technological, memorialization and urban geographies. He lives in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania with his wife Amy, a professional photographer.

3 thoughts on “The 2010 NCAA Div I-A Football Playoffs (One Casual Football Fan’s Dream of What Could Have Been…)”

  1. Unfortunately for us, the biggest of the big wigs are waist deep in corporate sponsorships, which is why the playoff won’t happen for at least another 10 to 15 years. Many questions need to be addressed for this to be pulled off. For instance, would games be able to be played in the northern US outdoors? How will the tournament fit in with academics and school calendars? How will corporate America be involved in this? Finally, is there a way we could merge the tradition of the bowl system (e.g., neutral sites) with the progressive attitude of a playoff system? These questions must all be answered.
    The best option would probably be one that gives the top 16 a bye week, making the field 48 teams – halving both is also an option, although I don’t like it. This would essentially replace the bowl system, which gives too much consideration to mediocre teams. However, it would only work if the RPI were used for seeding instead of the God-awful components of the BCS.

  2. The sad part is that this could have been the future if Boise State had decided to step-up and if Nick Saban could keep this year’s Crimson Tide from choking. Alas, the BCS will live on unless South Carolina destroys Auburn in the SEC championship game and TCU is able to vault to second place.

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