(If you've been following college football, you can probably skip these next two paragraphs.)
As you probably already know, NCAA Division I-A football is about the only major sport without a national champion tournament. The reason, of course, is the bowl games. A few years ago, the Sugar, Orange, and Fiesta Bowls got together and figured that since they're getting most of the conference champions to go to their bowls anyways, why don't they try to jury-rig them so they get #1 vs #2 in a bowl game, and call that the National Championship game? So they did, calling it the BCS, and getting the major conferences in on it, except the Big Ten and Pac-10, which were sending their champions to the Rose Bowl. It seemed to work well, except that what if the #1 or #2 team in the country was from the Big Ten or Pac-10? So a couple years ago, they managed to ensnare the Rose Bowl as well, promising the Big Ten and Pac-10 that they'll be in the Nat'l Championship game if they give up the Rose Bowl once every 4 years.
The problem is, this jury-rigged system is Doomed To Failure. It works great if there are two teams that are clearly better than everyone else to play in this game, but otherwise it blows goats. This point is being made obvious this year. Clearly #1 Miami, who is undefeated, deserves to play for the title, but there's no obvious contender. Nebraska, who got selected by the BCS formula, didn't even make it into their conference championship game, because they lost their last game of the season, badly, to Colorado. Colorado had already lost 2 games, but won their conference. Oregon only lost one game, but played a comparatively weak schedule. So which is more important? Won-loss record? Head-to-head competition? Strength of schedule? Everyone differs on these points, so no one agrees on who should be playing Miami for the national title.
The Real Solution, of course, is to have a playoff. But that runs into the problem of the bowls, which dominate the last week of December and New Years Day. Here is my solution:
The college football season is generally over by December 1. This year was an exception, thanks to 9/11, but generally that's the case. If you look at the bowl schedule, pretty much no bowl games of any importance are played before Christmas. That leaves us from 12/1 to 12/25. It shouldn't be any problem to fit 3 Saturdays of a tournament in there. The 4th and final week would be the national championship game, which could be played in January at a neutral site (much like the Super Bowl is); play it, say, the Saturday before the NFL's AFC and NFC championship games. No interference with the NFL, almost no interference with the bowls. 4 rounds of a playoff means 16 teams could be invited. Since the NCAA basketball tournament has already stolen the name Final Four from the Indiana high school basketball tournament, they can simply steal another name from it: the Sweet Sixteen.
Let's look at those 16 teams for a minute. There are 11 Div I-A conferences: the SEC, the Big 12, the Pac-10, the ACC, the Big Ten, the Big East, the Mountain West, Conference USA, the WAC, the MAC, and the Sun Belt. Looking at Jeff Sagarin's rankings at http://www.usatoday.com/sports/saga
*1. Miami *2. Colorado 3. Nebraska *4. Oregon 5. Tennessee 6. Florida 7. Texas *8. Maryland 9. Oklahoma *10. Illinois *11. LSU 12. Michigan *13. BYU *14. Louisville *15. Fresno State *16. Marshall
The bottom 4 seeds are relatively weak, but you're going to get that in any system where conference champions get automatic bids. Also, I shifted the seedings slightly from my original setup to avoid LSU being shipped to Tennessee for the first round (since they played in the SEC title game). Here's what the tournament bracket would look like:
1. Miami __________ |_________ 16. Marshall _______| | |_________ 8. Maryland _______ | | |_________| | 9. Oklahoma _______| | |_________ 5. Tennessee ______ | | |_________ | | 12. Michigan _______| | | | |_________| | 4. Oregon _________ | | |_________| | 13. BYU ____________| | |_________ 6. Florida ________ | |_________ | 11. LSU ____________| | | |_________ | 3. Nebraska _______ | | | |_________| | | 14. Louisville _____| | | |_________| 7. Texas __________ | |_________ | 10. Illinois _______| | | |_________| 2. Colorado _______ | |_________| 15. Fresno State ___|
This sounds all great and wonderful, but there's one problem: the bowls. This system would take the national championship away from the bowls, and thus take a good deal of revenue from them. My solution: buy them off. Any bowl that has a team that's in the nat'l tourney bracket gets a cut of the money (gate receipts and television) from the games that team plays in, including the championship game, which helps forestall a second problem: the gap between the first three rounds and the title game. All the bowls are played during that gap, and for all but the two title-bound teams, the bowl game will be the final game of the season. But two teams will end up in bowls that aren't their last game. Unfortunately, there's no way around that. The bowls that they're in will make off well-- they have a team that's played in 4 tourney games, so they get 4 slices of the tournament money pie. The time gap itself shouldn't be a problem; there's already a large gap now between the end of the regular season and the bowls.
Anyways, that's my grand idea. 16-team tournament split around the bowls, put conference champions in it so no one has anyone to blame but themselves for being left out, use the money from it to pay off the bowls.