College Football Champs

Yesterday was January 1, and we now have a new NCAA Division I football champion. Congratulations to the ________ of ________ University, who persevered through a grueling playoff run against top teams in each round, and then dominated _________ in the final game to win the well-deserved championship trophy.

Oh wait, that’s not the way it works.

Although every other sports league in the world — including every other NCAA sport (even the other divisions in football) — has a structured playoff system in which the leading contenders play each other in a series of games to determine a champion, the NCAA has polls of coaches and sportswriters, and then a trumped-up “championship game.” to decide who will be the No. 1 team in Division I football.

It’s a ridiculous scheme, and it’s only allowed to continue because people actually continue to watch the exhibitions that are put up as “bowl games.”

Let’s take the National Football League by comparison. The NFL will begin its playoff schedule next weekend. Four of the 12 teams in the post-season tournament will have byes the first week. The rest will play win-or-go-home games, and after the weekend, the tournament will be down to eight teams. The next weekend will feature four games, and then two games the following weekend, leading up to the Super Bowl on February 6. Each of the games will feature the league’s elite teams facing each other in high-stakes games; you win, or your season is over. At the end of it all, the winner will have had to run a gauntlet of three or four tough games against top competition over a period of five weeks. The Vince Lombardi trophy actually means something.

In the NCAA Division I, on the other hand, we’ve had a gaggle of exhibition games featuring second-tier teams to fill the time between the real season and the “championship game.” On New Year’s Day alone, there were two games in which both teams had 7-5 records. The two teams who have been anointed to play in the so-called championship game — Oregon and Auburn — played their last games on December 4. That means it will be more than five weeks before they play the game that will supposedly determine the championship of college football.

Five weeks. Where else in sports is there a five-week gap between games?

I won’t be watching. And frankly, I don’t know why anyone would.

Bracket For The NCAA Football Championship

(Note: This is the Who, What, Where and When. The Why can be found here)

Honestly, this is so easy those NCAA guys could do it in their sleep. Take the top 12 teams, rank ’em, and pit ’em against each other, giving the top four a first-week bye. The second week, No. 1 plays the winner of 5 vs. 12, No. 2 plays the winner of 6 vs. 11, etc.

Hey, if you want to, you can expand it to 16 teams. Or 24 teams, giving eight teams a first-round bye. But by then your post-season is getting pretty long — this isn’t the NBA, after all — so I would keep it at four rounds.

But what about poor Virginia Tech, you ask? They finished 13 in the rankings, with only two losses on the season. Haven’t we arbitrarily eliminated a team that had a legitimate right to consider itself one of the top 12 teams in the country? Aren’t they cheated by this system?

Yes, that case could be made. I will concede that there will always be arguments about teams in the ‘teens under this system. For this bracket, I’ve used the final BCS rankings. The NCAA can use whatever ranking system it wants; it doesn’t matter a whole lot, because if a team ends the regular season ranked 13th and gets eliminated from the championship playoffs, it’s not like anyone could say they were a legitimate contender to be No. 1. They were a legitimate contender to be No. 5, perhaps, but who really cares about No. 5?

The teams who are legit contenders, though, will have the chance to prove themselves, on the field, where it matters. Every year there are a handful of them, and only two get to actually play for the “championship.” Under this easy-to-implement system, 12 teams will.

For this exercise, I’ve tried to locate the games in warm-weather cities, preferably in cities that already have bowl games, and avoiding domes as much as possible. The top-ranked teams get the location that’s the closest to their campus. For some of the early games, we can even call them “bowls” if the NCAA thinks it will generate more revenue, but I think the fact that they’re mileposts along the road to a true college championship will make them important enough. The championship game is on January 1, the traditional final day of the college football season.

So here’s the prospective lineup:

WEEK 1 (December 11)
Game 1, Memphis, Tenn. (We’ll call it the Liberty Bowl): Wisconsin (5) vs. Missouri (12)
Game 2, Tampa, Fla.  (Tampa Bowl): Ohio State (6) vs. LSU (11)
Game 3, San Antonio, Texas (Alamo Bowl): Oklahoma (7) vs. Boise State (10)
Game 4, San Francisco, Calif. (California Bowl): Arkansas (8) vs. Michigan State (9)
First round Bye: Auburn (1), Oregon (2), TCU (3) and Stanford (4)

Week 2 (December 18)
Game 5, Jacksonville, Fla. (Gator Bowl): Auburn (1) vs. Game 4 winner
Game 6, San Diego, Calif. (Holiday Bowl) Oregon (2) vs. Game 3 winner
Game 7,  Dallas, Texas. (Cotton Bowl): TCU vs. Game 2 winner
Game 8, New Orleans, La. (Sugar Bowl): Stanford vs. Game 1 winner

Week 3 (December 24)
Game 9, Miami, Fla: Game 5 winner vs. Game 8 winner
Game 10, Pasadena, Calif.: Game 6 winner vs. Game 7 winner

Week 4 (January 1)
National Championship, Glendale Ariz.

Get your office pools ready!

Boycott The Bowls!

NCAA Division 1 Football is only sports league that holds its meaningless exhibition games at the end of the season, rather than the beginning of the season.

Check ’em out: there are 34 college bowl games, beginning with the “New Mexico Bowl” on December 18, right on through the “Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl” on January 9 … and that’s not counting the so-called “BCS National Championship Game” on January 10.

The latter, of course, is a national championship in name only. It will not feature two teams who have had to fight through a playoff process to reach the title game; instead, they will be teams who have been selected through an arbitrary process involving computer rankings and votes from so-called experts, for whom one criterion will no doubt be teams that will produce a large television audience.

More importantly, these two teams will have been IDLE for five or six weeks before the game, rather than playing a series of elimination games building up to a final matchup, the way it’s done in every other league on the planet. Think about it: this is supposedly the most important game of the year, but the teams will have seen no competitive action for more than a month beforehand. During this five or six weeks, the rest of us are supposedly being distracted by farces such as the “Pinstripe Bowl” or the (I kid you not) “Beef O’Brady’s Bowl.” I can’t wait to see the pride on the faces of the players who win that one, walking off the field with their gleaming Beef O’Brady’s trophy to take back to their school’s awards cabinet.

Thirty-five games means 70 teams will be playing “post-season” football this year. Are there 70 post-season-worthy teams in Division 1? A few years ago the NCAA instituted a laughable rule that teams can’t be invited to bowl games unless they win six games during their regular season. Honestly, it would be hard to set that bar any lower. So we now have the spectacle of truly mediocre teams hoping to get their sixth win so they can be “bowl-eligible” and maybe, with a 6-5 record, get an invitation to the “Humanitarian Bowl.”

Forgive us, NCAA, if we don’t watch this dreck.

Actually, the only way this system ever gets changed is if we DON’T watch it. And I don’t mean turning off the “Hawaii Bowl” so we can spend some time with our families on Christmas Eve. That’s an easy call, just as skipping 95 percent of these crappy matchups will be. But we as a sports-fan nation need to go all the way and turn our backs on January 10 when the Anointed Two face off in the so-called championship game. This game is no more meaningful than the other 34 games; it will not produce a true national champion.

I say ignore ’em all. Let that January 10 game have a ratings share of zero. Then maybe the NCAA will wise up and hold a real national championship.