Dick Jerardi: How to make the next football championship series better than BCS

Posted: June 15, 2012

IF THE 11 FCS commissioners really wanted to be fair, they could adopt a formula similar to what works in the other college football divisions — a 16-team tournament with the 11 conference champions and five at-large teams. No deserving teams would be left out, and you actually would have a chance in the first round of having a Butler or Virginia Commonwealth University. Maybe Boise State actually would have gotten to prove itself all those years when it never did get that chance.

But the haves don't even want to give the have-nots that opportunity, so, as the replacement for the dreaded BCS is being debated, that 16-team concept isn't even part of the discussion. This has been never been about fair. It has always been about money, how to get it and how not to share it.

So, after a meeting Wednesday in Chicago among the conference commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director (N.D. is its own conference) Jack Swarbrick, a consensus is starting to develop about what will replace the BCS. After 2 more years of BCS controversy, it appears major college football is close to adopting a Final Four format in which the best four teams will play a semifinal and a championship game, starting after the 2014 season.

A number of models have been discussed. Thankfully, the current model is not among them.

“The status quo is not on the table,'' BCS executive director Bill Hancock said.

If, in fact, it is going to be a Final Four, the major questions are: how are teams chosen, and when and where do they play?

Polls, with self-interested voters, and computers, with formulas few understand, do not work. So, why not try a selection committee modeled on the 10-person committee used to select the at-large teams and seed the NCAA basketball tournament?

I have been in a room at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis twice for mock selection exercises. Voters, of course, have individual biases and preferences. But the votes among a disparate group are tabulated by computer to form a consensus. It is not perfect, but it is reasonable.

The fifth school will always be unhappy, which is why 16 teams would be better. But that is not happening, so why not do it this way?

Forget conference champions. Just vote on the four best teams. Get a committee (retired coaches, retired players) whose members watch as many games as possible. Develop a system that will give the members some feel for relative strength of schedule among the logical teams. Then, vote four teams in and seed them 1-4.

It obviously will be harder to narrow it down to four teams than it is for the basketball people to come up with its 37 at-large teams. But it can be done.

This really should not be that difficult, but this is college football, a giant moneymaker and a sport that has never found a foolproof way to allow its two best teams to play for a championship.

So, if this Final Four happens, when and where do they play? For reasons I have never figured out, the bowls, which, in many cases, have been shown to be most effective at extracting money from the schools that play in them, are given great deference. So, if the bowls have to be involved, play the semis early January in the Rose and Orange one year, the Fiesta and Sugar the next. And sell the championship game to the highest bidder.

They could hold the title game at one of the major bowls if that bowl wants to pay. Perhaps a city with a giant stadium would make a bid. Might be some combination of both.

Television will be salivating for a Final Four. The major networks would bid major dollars.

The strongest conferences, such as the Southeastern Conference and Big 12, want a Final Four of the best teams. Others, such as the Atlantic Coast Conference, might want a conference champion format as long as that champion finishes in the top six. No telling what the Big East might want or even if the hybrid conference will even have a say.

If this Final Four does go down, that could get us closer to four superconferences, with the stronger schools left from the ACC, Big East and the other five minor conferences, scrambling to get into the SEC, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12. Somehow, you know the bulk of the money will flow to those four leagues, with the ACC getting some and the Big East grabbing whatever it can. The other five? Good luck.

The good news is the BCS is dying, if not quite dead. A new and somewhat better way of deciding a college football champion likely will be announced this summer. There should be no more hopeless teams that could not even win their own leagues getting a chance to play for the title because the formula for rating the teams was so flawed. If there is a terrific team (like Alabama last year) that did not even win its own division but was clearly was one of the best teams, that team will get its chance with the Final Four format.

The commissioners are scheduled to meet next week in Chicago to get a proposal ready for the presidents for their meeting on June 26 in Washington.

Trying to get all these power brokers to put aside their self-interest for the greater good of the game has always been the issue. It appears they are closer than ever to agreeing on a format. Then, it will be how, when and where.

It won't be perfect. Nothing in college football is ever that. But it will be more rational. In the often unreasonable world of college sports, rational is a goal that really should be attainable. 

Contact Dick Jerardi at jerardd@phillynews.com.

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