There is little debate that a playoff is the best way to determine the champion of any sport. We can all agree on this.
It's impossible to think that a playoff at the top level of NCAA football won't happen at some point, so here's saying the NCAA should take a little foresight and try to craft one now that protects the integrity of the regular season. (And yes, we realize the juxtaposition of using "NCAA," "integrity" and "foresight" in the same sentence. Alas.)
The college football regular season is best in sports, and every Saturday matters - although you could debate that this year, considering Alabama's likely going to get a mulligan, and it appears today's SEC title game doesn't matter in determining the BCS champ since LSU is almost assured of a ticket to the title game, win or lose against Georgia.
So in an effort to protect the regular season as much as embracing a playoff, let's have an eight-team bracket with the following ways to enter the field:
First we need a name. If the NCAA hoops tournament is called the Big Dance, for shoots and giggles let's call this the Power Polka.
There will be automatic bids to the respective champs of the four top conferences. The top four conferences could change every year and will be determined by a football-calculated RPI ranking. There will be only one computer ranking, and it will be available for everyone to see and decipher. (One of the big mistakes of the current system is the secrecy in which it operates.)
Every conference that wants to be considered has to have a conference title game. This is non-negotiable. Not every team has to be part of a conference, but every conference has to have a title game. (You can call that the Notre Dame clause if you want, but so be it. If the other schools want Notre Dame to join a conference, don't schedule them in football - force them to play a schedule so bad the Irish's season would look like a power version of Boise State's, only it would be broadcast on NBC every week.)
This year, the top four conferences are likely in order, the SEC, the Big 12, the Pac-12 and the Big Ten. So let's assume that the conference title games and the Bedlam Rivalry between Oklahoma at Oklahoma State (which in this case is a title game) finish as expected, here are the top four seeds:
2) Oklahoma State
This set-up allows for every game to continue to matter, at least in the power conferences, since any team - UCLA, Georgia, et al - in those big conferences can get to the Power Polka. It also encourages programs and conference administrators to toughen those nonconference schedules in an effort to improve the conference RPI.
The next four seeds would be selected by an eight-person committee that would be given a list of eight possible schools from the single computer ranking that determines the conference RPIs. This committee would be well paid by the bowls and the NCAA and would be required to stand up in front of the media and explain their choices. All of them. Again, hiding behind a slew of computer rankings and formulas and polls is a major flaw of the current system.
(Seriously, the coaches' poll is fun and all, but it has no business determining a champion if for no other reason than good college football coaches watch only two teams: theirs and this week's opponent. Ask Nick Saban or Les Miles or Mike Gundy or any other college coach about the strengths of a Houston or a Boise State or even a Stanford, and they'll say, "Well, the quarterback can play...," and then refer to the fact that they are more focused on the process or the want-to or being a man because he's 40.)
So, since this is the Power Polka, and again, assuming that today's conference championships go as above, here are the four at-large teams and their seeds:
7) Virginia Tech
Now the moving pieces and the drama of today's conference championships would be off the charts. This would offer a slew of play-in possibilities.
Look at the title games with the stakes from above:
SEC title game - LSU is in the tournament win or lose today, and that is justified. But Georgia may be the hottest team in the country not named LSU, and the Bulldogs could play their way into the No. 1 overall seed with a win. With a loss, it's hello, Outback Bowl.
Big Ten - Wisconsin or Michigan State: Winner gets in; loser says, "Hello, Georgia," in the Outback Bowl.
ACC - Virginia Tech gets in with a win, Clemson not so much.
Conference USA - Houston has everything on the line.
Pac-12 - No. 9-ranked Oregon won Friday night to lock in its spot. But after firing their coach, the UCLA Bruins could have shocked the world and got in the draw and possibly have made a run to the BCS with an interim coach.
Teams such as Boise State, Arkansas, Stanford and even Houston would be forced to watch nervously as the conference champs were determined.
Now we agree with the sentiment that the BCS current sites (the Orange Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl could be the semifinal sites) would need to be included to make this fly, and preference to bowl sites would be given to the higher seeds. Yes, LSU is in the Superdome in Round 1, but the Tigers earned that, so there. Here's our first round (provided the conference title games go as expected):
Sugar Bowl: LSU vs. Houston
Capital One Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Alabama
Cotton Bowl: Oklahoma State vs. Virginia Tech
Rose Bowl: Oregon vs. Stanford
How it plays out from there is anyone's guess. That's kind of the fun of having a playoff.