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Thursday, December 4, 2008

As promised a significantly longer time ago than I would have hoped...

Why should we put up with the reality presented to us by the BCS? A 16-team playoff with all conference champions can avoid most if not all of the pitfalls BCS backers claim would befall a playoff - especially if the media puts enough of an emphasis on seeding. I've heard people say we should top out a playoff at 8 teams and/or keep out the weaker conference champions (just the top 8 teams) in order to keep out teams that don't deserve to play for a national championship. To which I reply: That's kind of the point. By dangling the carrot of playing a scrub team that won a scrub conference in the first round, my system (and even an 8-team system with all BCS champions) motivates teams to keep playing even when they're safely in the field. (It's a more valid argument with the 8-team version, however, because lower-tier BCS conference champions are still good enough to surprise high seeds - especially overrated high seeds - and with only three rounds, can luck into a national championship, and with only two at-larges and no auto bid for good mid-major teams, they may be keeping out teams that deserve at least a shot.)

Last year, I in fact did conduct a 16-team Golden Bowl playoff, in much the way I imagine the NCAA would. Rather than blindly using the BCS rankings or even my own college football rankings, I used much the same criteria the NCAA uses for the basketball tournament: RPI, quality wins, road record, record entering the playoff, that sort of thing. The result was an odd field, to say the least (Virginia Tech the #1 seed?), caused by most BCS programs' tendency to schedule nothing but scrub teams in the nonconference schedule. (The ACC, which also produced Boston College as an at-large, was artificially inflated in this system simply by having a high number of high-RPI teams.) Nonetheless, I don't think I excluded anyone that was considered a plausible candidate for the real-life national championship, with Boston College and maybe Florida the only dodgy candidate in the top 12 or 13 seeds. (This year also produced three viable at-large teams - Texas, Texas Tech, the SEC title game loser - for a five-at-large field, which has me wondering if shrinkage might be feasible.)

However, I made a mistake in having all rounds determined entirely by voting. As I had even fewer readers than I had now, I got basically no votes. Result: I ended up making a lot of painstaking read-throughs of possibly meaningless statistics at Yahoo Sports, which burned me out so bad I never actually did declare the winner of the Golden Bowl Championship. I have more readers now, but most come for the webcomic posts, and even with voting I still have to come up with some concept of how the game would go, which practically means I don't come up with one. And that doesn't give you a vivid concept of how a playoff would actually go. It doesn't make you as excited as a real playoff. No simulated version can, but last year's model wasn't even trying.

Instead, I'm using to simulate each game - assuming they will have 2008 rosters up by next weekend (by which I mean the weekend of the 14th). Here's how last year's Golden Bowl might have gone down.

Also last year, I held first round games on campus sites and subsequent rounds at various other sites. The semifinals went to the Sugar and Rose Bowls, and I deliberately seeded the Big 10 and Pac-10 champions to meet in the semifinals to preserve at least a chance of the traditional matchup. (I may have underseeded #11 USC a bit to make it work.) The quarterfinals went to the Cotton, Capital One, Orange, and Fiesta Bowls.

This year, to better preserve the role of the bowls and further increase the incentive to play for seeding, I'm moving the quarterfinals to campus sites as well, although I'm not convinced about that. The semifinals will still be at bowl sites, and for a while I was tempted to go with a system that would determine which bowls would be the semifinals by which teams made the semifinals. That would be a logistical nightmare and was only ever a sop to the Rose Bowl's traditional Big Ten-Pac-10 matchup.

The bowls would run alongside the tournament and any teams eliminated in any round would move on to play one more game later on. First-round losers would be dumped into the general bowl pool with teams that did not make the tournament. I'm actually thinking any money they would receive would be the same as any regular season game, with only the stakes increasing its value, thus further encouraging playing for seeding and encouraging more competitive first round games. I'd also delete a week from the season, though I obviously can't do that here - and I actually like the Pac-10's switch to a true round-robin format since the 12th game was added - to make it work properly and prevent the Heisman ceremony from going ridiculously late.

Quarterfinal losers would go to one of the BCS bowls: the Sugar, Rose, Cotton, and Orange bowls would rotate between being semifinal games and bowls for BCS losers. I'm leaning towards not going with the Capital One Bowl, despite having a higher payout right now, higher ratings, and a higher SEC tie-in than the Cotton Bowl, because of the Cotton's now-bastardized tradition and the Cap One's corporate name, not to mention its proximity to the Orange Bowl. (In fact, because of the weird SEC tie-in structure for the 3 and 4 spots, which bowl I pick has major implications for the SEC tie-in structure at the top.) The Fiesta Bowl I'm reserving for a third-place game, for semifinal losers, but it still rotates with the semifinal bowls for hosting the Golden Bowl.

My work ethic and other projects and obligations permitting, the Second Annual Golden Bowl Selection Show will begin this Sunday at 7 PM ET (4 PM PT). Watch Da Countdown! Next weekend, around the 13th, I'll post the first round results, along with a revised minor bowl schedule; quarterfinal results will be posted the weekend before Christmas. This timing hopefully avoids finals week for schools which hold finals around this time, which I know is a concern. The semifinals are held around New Year's Day, along with perfunctory quarterfinal-loser-bowl results, and the Golden Bowl is a week or two later, maybe even as late as MLK weekend or the gap between the NFL conference championships and Super Bowl. (The idea of football being a "one-semester sport" is kind of diluted when the current National Championship Game is held on January 8th. The "gap" may be preferable to avoid conflicting with, say, the Senior Bowl, with two weeks after New Year's even more preferable.) Fiesta Bowl results would be available anywhere from a week to a day before the Golden Bowl itself.

I'm still kind of tweaking the whole format and I'm getting a MUCH later start on actually figuring out who's in or out than I'd otherwise like. Still, I hope you have an opinion and you're ready for the ride...

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