Sunday, January 8, 2012
Bowls, Playoffs and the Plus-1 Option
The "theoretical" beauty of the current BCS system is that it rewards teams that play well all season. It is almost impossible to qualify for the national championship game with more than one loss. Of course, the current system doesn't guarantee that the best two teams will always be selected (e.g., when there are three undefeated teams, which two get picked?), which is why so many are clamoring for a playoff. Nevertheless, let's be honest and recognize that with a playoff, the best teams will not always end up in the championship game.
It appears that if a playoff system is adopted, the Plus-1 option will be the initial format of choice. In this format, the the top four teams (as determined by the BCS rankings) would qualify for the playoffs, with the first and fourth seeds playing in one bowl (e.g., the Fiesta Bowl), and the second and third teams playing in another (e.g., the Rose Bowl). Then, the two winners would play an additional game (the plus-one game) for the national championship. If this format would have been followed this year, then LSU would have played Stanford in one bowl, and Alabama would have played Oklahoma State in another, and the tow winners would have faced off for the championship.
There is a problem with this approach, however. Teams can qualify for the playoff even if they don't win their own conference. This year, for example, Stanford finished behind (and was soundly beaten by) Oregon in the Pac-12, but the BCS rankings prior to the beginning of bowl season ranked Stanford fourth and Oregon fifth. Why? Because Stanford had only one loss while Oregon had two (one to LSU--#1 in the Coaches Poll--and the other to USC--#5 in the AP poll). Nevertheless, anyone who watched the Oregon-Stanford game would be hard pressed to argue that Stanford was and is the better team (note that I write as a Stanford alum).
Thus, an additional rule that should be put into place if the Plus-1 option is adopted is that, with one exception, a team can't qualify for the national playoff if it doesn't win its own conference. What's the exception? A team that doesn't win its own conference can still qualify for the playoff if the team that won the conference also qualified for the playoffs. Basically, this exception would function much like the wild card slots do in the NFL (and in MLB and the NBA). Taking this year as an example again, Stanford would not have qualified for the playoff, but Alabama, which didn't win the SEC, would have because the SEC champion, LSU, also would have qualified.