Dear PortiaDisclaimer: This answer grew a little bit out of control as I was writing it. If you're only interested in what some alternatives to the BCS might be, go ahead and start scrolling down (keep scrolling, it's a ways down there) until you see a bold heading that reads "What might be a better system in the future?"
Hello controversial topic. Did you know that college football is the only NCAA sport in which a national champion is not determined by a tournament? It's true
. Because there is no playoff system, it's not uncommon for college football to be said to have a "mythical national champion
" at the end of the season.
I'm going to give you a brief history of what the current system is and how we got here, but first I want you to appreciate a) how much discussion there is on this and b) how little anyone agrees about what to do about it. To help get this perspective I googled a couple terms, and here are the number of hits that google turned up:
BCS versus playoffs
: 14,7000,000BCS problem
: 2,830,000College Football Playoff
: 2,600,000Alternatives to the BCS
: 1,170,000College Football Controversy
: 962,000BCS is BS
: 612,000Bowl Championship Series Controversy
: 210,000BCS controversy
Every year hundreds of articles are printed in newspapers about how the current system is broken. Same for sports websites. I'm sure there are many, many blog posts on the subject as well. Very few people feel the current system is the best means of choosing a national champion. This raises the three following questions, which I'll answer in depth: 1) What is the current system? 2) What was the system before the BCS? 3) What might be a better system in the future?1) What is the current system?
The current means of naming a national champion in college football is the Bowl Championship Series. First I'll offer a brief discussion of the regular season, then the post season, then the BCS itself. I'll be getting down to the basics, so if you start a paragraph and think "Bah, I already know that," then move on to the next paragraph.
Universities are generally associated with athletic conferences. Each conference is a group of universities, and those universities all play one another in their sports. In football, the regular season consists of 12 games, some of which are played against teams from outside the team's athletic conference (non-conference games), but the majority of which are played within the athletic conference (conference games). Because most games a football team plays each year are in-conference, the perceived strength of the conference greatly affects the perceived quality of a team. If a team is undefeated in what is perceived to be a weak conference, they may not receive the same national respect as a 1-loss team from what is a perceived to be a stronger conference.
Following the end of the regular season of college football come the bowl games. Bowls are sponsored by different companies, and played in different locations. All bowls are not created equal. Typically, conferences have contracts to send their bowl-eligible teams to specific bowls (a team must win at least six football games to be bowl-eligible). For example, the Mountain West Conference (which BYU is a part of) has a contract with the Las Vegas Bowl, as does the the Pac-10 Conference. The Las Vegas Bowl has the first pick of any bowl-eligible Mountain West team (they do not have to take the conference champion) and they also will host the team that finishes fifth in the Pac-10 Conference standings. Teams that play in bowl games are paid by the bowl sponsors, and this is where the real issue with the BCS comes in. It's all about $$$.
Here is a list of the payouts that universities receive for playing in non-BCS bowl games (all these numbers come from here
, and it seems like the list is a couple years old, but you'll get the idea even if it is not currently 100 percent accurate). You'll see that the payouts for non-BCS bowls range from $300,000 to $4.25 million. That's hardly chump change. Payouts for Non-BCS Bowls
Pioneer PureVision Las Vegas: $950,000
R+L Carriers New Orleans: $325,000
New Mexico :$750,000
Bell Helicopter Armed Forces: $600,000
Sheraton Hawaii: $398,000
Motor City: $750,000
PetroSun Independence: $1.1 million
Texas: $500,000 for Big East, $750,000 for Big 12
Pacific Life Holiday: $2.2 million
Gaylord Hotels Music City: $1.6 million
Brut Sun: $1.9 million
AutoZone Liberty: $1.5 million
Insight: $1.2 million
Champs Sports: $2.25 million
Meineke Car Care: $750,000
Alamo: $2.2 million
Chick-fil-A: $3.25 million for ACC, $2.4 million for SEC
MPC Computers: $250,000
Outback: $3 million
AT&T Cotton: $3 million
Toyota Gator: $2.25 million
Capital One: $4.25 million
Now let's take a gander at what a team playing in a BCS bowl game earns.Payouts for BCS Bowls
Rose: $17 million
Tostitos Fiesta: $17 million
FedEx Orange: $17 million
Allstate Sugar $17 million
Tostitos BCS Championship: $17 million
Obviously that is a huge
difference. I believe the BCS rules stipulate that if a conference gets two teams into BCS bowl games, the second team only receives $4.5 million, rather than $17 million. Teams from conferences that go to bowl games share the revenue amongst the other teams in the conference, though the team that makes it to the bowl game typically gets a higher percentage of the payout. However, there is one exception to this rule. If a team from a non-automatically qualifying conference makes it to a BCS bowl game, it shares the money with all
the non-AQ conferences (there are 5 non-BCS conferences). So, if a team from the Big Ten is in a BCS bowl game, they receive $17 million, which is shared with nine other schools. If a non-AQ team makes a BCS bowl game, they get $17 million, which is shared with 55 other schools.
Originally, there were only four BCS games. A fifth, called the BCS National Championship Game, was added and first played at the end of the 2006 season. So currently, there are ten teams which play in BCS bowl games at the end of every college football season. You would think that they would take the teams that are ranked 1-10 at the end of the season and plug them into the bowls, but you would be wrong.
So, how do teams get into a BCS bowl?
In the current system, the champions from six conferences are guaranteed to play in a BCS bowl game no matter where they are ranked. These conferences, called the automatic qualifiers, represent the "haves" in the college football world, while the other conferences are the "have nots." The six automatic qualifying conferences are the SEC, Big East, ACC, Big 12, Big 10, and the Pac-10. The non-automatic qualifying conferences (in the order of their perceived strength) are the MWC, WAC, Conference USA, MAC, and Sunbelt.
So, at the end of the season, the six champions from the AQ conferences are guaranteed six of the 10 available spots in BCS bowl games. It does not matter where they are ranked nationally; by virtue of being an AQ conference champion, they're in. Here are some teams that were ranked outside of the top 10 but have played in a BCS bowl game by virtue of being their conference's champion:
2002: #13 LSU (SEC champion)
2003: #14 Florida State (ACC champion)
2004: #21 Pittsburg (Big East champion)
2005: #11 West Virginia (Big East champion) and #22 Florida State (ACC champion)
2006: #14 Wake Forest (ACC champion)
2007: #13 Illinois (selected by the Rose Bowl committee, not a conference champion (the Rose Bowl stubbornly insists on having the Pac-10 and the Big Ten play every year, and in 2007 the Big Ten champ was playing in the National Championship, so the Rose Bowl took the next-highest-ranked Big Ten team))
2008: #19 Virginia Tech (ACC champion) and #12 Cincinnati (Big East champion)
Obviously the Big East and the ACC are benefiting the most from being AQ conferences. Since the BCS was formed the ACC has had 4 teams from outside the top 10 play in a BCS bowl, and the Big East has had 3. Often, higher-ranked teams from non-AQ conferences are passed over for the conference champions from AQ conferences. For example, last year there were four non-AQ teams ranked higher than #19 Virginia Tech: #16 BYU, #11 TCU, #9 Boise State, and #6 Utah. Only #6 Utah went to a BCS bowl game.
So, six of ten spots are automatically taken by conference champions. Also, the #1 and the #2 teams in the final BCS poll automatically play in the National Championship game. The BCS poll is derived by factoring in two human polls (the Coaches' Poll
and the Harris Poll
), as well as a series of computer polls that ranks teams based on record/strength of schedule/quality wins/other criteria. The BCS poll combines the human and computer polls to create its own top 25.
So after the conference champions and the #1 and #2 team are selected, there are a couple other rules which would allow a team to automatically qualify. Notre Dame is the only school mentioned by name in the BCS rules, and if it is ranked #8 or higher it is automatically awarded a spot in a BCS bowl game. (Notre Dame, which does not belong to a conference for football, receives $4.5 million if it plays in a BCS game (it does not have to share with any other school). Additionally, Notre Dame receives $1.3 million every year because it agreed to the BCS system, so even when the team is terrible
(see the last several seasons), they receive $1.3 million from the BCS.)
Also, a team from the non-AQ conferences can automatically receive a BCS Bowl bid if a team is ranked in the top 12 of the final BCS standings, or if it is ranked in the top 16 and is ranked higher than a champion from an AQ conference. However, if multiple non-AQ teams are in the top 16, only the highest-ranked team is guaranteed a BCS bowl spot. For example, last year four non-AQ teams met the criteria established by the BCS to qualify for a BCS bowl game. Utah, TCU, and Boise State were all ranked in the top 12, and BYU was ranked in the top 16 but ahead of #19 Virginia Tech, but only Utah got to go to a BCS bowl game.
So those are the ways teams can automatically qualify for BCS bowl games. But, if we count the six conference champions, and assume that both Notre Dame and a non-AQ team qualify, how are the remaining two spots filled? The committees for the bowl games that still have a vacancy can select any team that is ranked in the top 16 of the final BCS standings. There are no rules declaring that they must take the highest-ranked teams remaining; instead they tend to select the team they feel will sell the most tickets to their game. The only stipulation guiding the selection of any empty BCS bowl slots is that no conference can have more than two teams play in a BCS bowl game.
The whole reason for the BCS system is to ensure that the top 2 teams in the country play in the National Championship game, but the system has been very controversial. Here are some of the most significant controversies the BCS has faced:1998
The BCS started in 1998, which happened to be the year that Tulane, a team from C-USA, went undefeated. The earliest version of the BCS had no rules allowing for a non-AQ team to qualify for a BCS bowl game (the rules cited above were added in 2005), and Tulane was not invited to a BCS bowl game. 2003
At the end of the season there were no undefeated teams, but there were three teams with one loss (LSU, Oklahoma, and USC). USC was ranked #1 in both the human polls, but was ranked #3 in the final BCS standings, so LSU and Oklahoma played in the National Championship game. USC won their bowl game and was voted the #1 team in the country in the final human polls, despite not playing in the National Championship game.2004
In a worst-case scenario for the BCS, at the end of the regular season there were five undefeated teams: USC, Auburn, Oklahoma, Utah, and Boise State. Boise State was not invited to play in a BCS bowl despite being undefeated. Also, the University of California, which was ranked #5 in the country, did not receive a BCS bowl berth.2006
At the end of the season there were only two undefeated teams, Ohio State and Boise State. Boise State was not invited to play in the National Championship game (though it did play in a BCS bowl game, which it won). After Ohio State lost to Florida in the National Championship game, Florida was the national champion, even though Boise State was undefeated.2007
Missouri defeated both Kansas and Illinois in the regular season, and was ranked higher than both schools at the end of the season. Kansas and Illinois played in BCS bowls and Missouri did not.2008
Three non-AQ (Utah, Boise State, TCU) schools were ranked higher than the champions from the Big East and ACC. Utah played in a BCS bowl game, Boise State and TCU did not. At the time, Boise State was undefeated and ranked higher than Ohio State (which had two losses) in the BCS rankings, both human polls, and all the computer rankings. Ohio State was selected as an at-large team for the Fiesta Bowl and Boise State was passed over. TCU and Boise State ended up playing one another in one of the best bowl games of the year.2) What was the system before the BCS?
Let's start at the very beginning. Back in the 1870s some American colleges began to play a rugby-style predecessor to today's football. According to Wikipedia
, "The first game of intercollegiate football in America between two American colleges that most resembles the game of today was between Tufts University and Harvard on June 4, 1875 at Jarvis Field in Cambridge, Mass., won by Tufts 1-0" (obviously the scoring was different at the time). In the late 1800s, a man named Walter Camp
introduced many of the standard rules of today's game, which deviated from the more rugby style of play. At first, so few colleges played the sport, and so few games were played in total, that whoever had the best record was considered the national champion.
The game became more popular at the college level, and in 1902, the first post-season bowl game was introduced, an East-West game which was to feature the best teams from each region of the country. However, the game was so lopsided (Michigan was defeating Stanford 49-0 in the third quarter), that Stanford asked for the game to end before the fourth quarter began. This was the last post-season bowl game for 14 years.
Despite no post-season games, football continued to rise in popularity and more schools began to play the game. However, due to the lack of padded protection for the players as well as the more violent nature of the game (there was no forward pass allowed yet, so every play involved players running into each other from opposite sides of the line of scrimmage), there were numerous injuries, and even some player deaths. President Teddy Roosevelt threatened to ban the sport, and in response the National Collegiate Athletic Association
was formed. In order to decrease the number of injuries in the game, the NCAA changed the rules of football to allow the forward pass in 1905 (this prevented all 11 defensive players from running full speed at the offensive line, as they now had to look out for players running down-field to catch a pass).
Starting in 1916, bowl games began to be played again after the regular season. Bowl games, such as the Rose bowl, began to be associated with specific conferences. If you follow college basketball, you're aware that most universities are part of an athletic conference. BYU is currently part of the Mountain West Conference, but was previously part of the Western Athletic Conference. Neither the MWC or the WAC are considered one of the "big" football conferences. Early on, bowls began to have contractual ties with specific athletic conferences. For example, the Rose Bowl has traditionally pitted the champion from what is currently called the Pac-10 Conference against the champion from what is currently called the Big Ten Conference. The traditional affiliation between specific bowls and specific conferences is one of the reasons some people argue against having a playoff: they want traditional post-season conference rivalries to remain in place.
Naturally, with the rising popularity of college football, people began to wonder which team was the best. In 1926 an economics professor devised a system that incorporated the quality of the opponents and the margin of victory to determine the best team in the country. Some others devised systems throughout the 1920s and the early 1930s to declare the national champion.
A significant change to the system came in 1946 when the Associated Press began a poll of sportswriters and sportscasters. This poll would be key in declaring the national champion. Soon other polls were created (many other polls), but the most important was the Coaches' Poll, which asked college football coaches to rank the best teams in the country (though today most polls rank the top 25 teams, polls used to only rank the top 10 or 20 teams, and the list was not expanded to the top 25 until 1989).
The AP Poll and the Coaches' Poll became the most recognized polls in college football, and each declared a national champion at the conclusion of the season. There were other polls that also declared national champions, but traditionally the AP Poll and the Coaches' Poll have carried the most weight, and have been recognized as declaring the national champion. Now, you may wonder, what happens if the two polls choose different teams as the national champion? Well, if that happens, both teams that are ranked number one claim to be national champions, and it's called a split-championship. One reason the current BCS system was put in place was to avoid having a split national championship (important side note: it hasn't worked). Here's a list of split national championships since 1946, when the first AP Poll was introduced:
2003: LSU and USC
1997: Michigan and Nebraska
1991: Miami and Washington
1990: Colorado and Georgia Tech
1978: Alabama and USC
1974: Oklahoma and USC
1973: Alabama and Notre Dame
1970: Nebraska and Texas
1966: Notre Dame and Michigan State
1965: Alabama and Michigan State
1964: Arkansas and Alabama
1960: Mississippi and Minnesota
1957: Auburn and Ohio St.
1954: Ohio St. and UCLA
1953: Maryland and Notre Dame
1952: Georgia Tech and Michigan State
1951: Tennessee and Maryland
1950: Oklahoma and Tennessee
1947: Michigan and Notre Dame
1946: Army and Notre Dame
The NCAA set up tournaments to determine the national champions in most sports (starting in the 1930s), but not football. Why, you ask? Cost, concerns about disrupting the academic lives of student athletes, and the fact that players generally need a week between football games (whereas, for instance, basketball games can be played on back-to-back days).
For decades, the system for selecting the national champion was waiting to see who the polls declared to be the number one team in the nation after all the bowl games were played. Starting in 1984, talk of changing the system began. Why? Because BYU, a team from a conference that was not a traditional power, won a controversial national championship. Several people
have argued that this was one of the initial sparks that led to today's BCS system, including:Mark Blaudschun
of The Boston Globe
It was an undefeated BYU that faced a 6-5 Michigan team in the 1984 Holiday Bowl, having been shut out of a bigger bowl because all the openings were filled by champions of other conferences. But that was also a time when USC couldn’t have played Florida in any BCS-type bowl game because the PAC-10 champion was committed to the Rose Bowl and the Southeastern Conference champion was committed to the Sugar Bowl.Kelly Lyell
BYU’s side-door championship started the serious talk about changing the system.
of The Coloradoan
The system for determining a national championship in football was created, in part, by BYU winning the national title in 1984 as the nation's only undefeated and untied team. Now, the Cougars are trying to help destroy that system as a member of the Mountain West Conference, the most prominent of the have-nots in the current Bowl Championship Series.Andrea Adelson
of The Orlando Sentinel
That 1984 BYU team stands as the only contemporary national champion other than Notre Dame not currently in a BCS conference. It was a triumphant moment for the university, a win for non-power schools everywhere. But it also had unintended consequences. That championship helped set in motion the BCS system we have today.
<B>The Bowl Coalition
However, even if BYU's 1984 championship, as well as the controversy of split national champions, made people discuss the need to alter the system, change was slow. After split national champions in 1990 and 1991, the Bowl Coalition
was formed. The Bowl Coalition was formed by the five most powerful football conferences at the time (SEC, Big 8, SWC, ACC, Big East) and also Notre Dame (Notre Dame's football team is not affiliated with an athletic conference).
...five conferences, six bowl games and leading independent Notre Dame joined forces to create the Bowl Coalition, which was intended to force a de facto "national championship game" between the top two teams. By entirely excluding all the other conferences, the Bowl Coalition also made it impossible for a non-Bowl Coalition team to ever win a national championship as BYU did in 1984.
The goal of the Bowl Coalition was to eliminate split national champions by having the two highest-ranked teams at the end of the season play one another in a de facto "national championship" game. Previously, contractual obligations forced the champions from conferences to play in specific bowl games, but the members of the Bowl Coalition agreed that the two highest-ranked teams within their coalition would be released from their contractual obligations so that they could then play one another.
The Bowl Coalition was problematic for several reasons. One oft-cited flaw is that it excluded two of the traditional college football conferences, the Pac-10 and the Big Ten. They were not included in the Bowl Coalition because the champions from each conference were contractually obligated to play in the Rose Bowl, and the conferences and the Rose Bowl would not alter their contract to allow a team to play in the Bowl Coalitions' championship game if one of the two teams was ranked #1 or #2. Also, the system did not allow for any possibility of a team from one of the non-Bowl Coalition conferences to play in its "championship" game, no matter how highly ranked they were.
Furthermore, a problem which plagues all non-playoff systems of naming a national champion is the tricky issue of what happens if there are three undefeated teams at the end of the season, ranked in different positions in different polls? Or what if a team with 1 loss is ranked higher than an undefeated team? In 1993 Nebraska and West Virginia were both undefeated, and Florida State had 1 loss. The Bowl Coalition's poll ranked Nebraska #1, Florida State #2, and West Virginia #3, meaning an undefeated team did not play in the "national championship" while a team with 1 loss did. 1994 was also a year of controversy for the system, as Penn State from the Big Ten went undefeated, but could not play in the Coalition's championship game, because it had to play in the Rose Bowl.
The Bowl Coalition ended following the 1994 season, in part because one of its member conferences, the SWC, was dissolving. The Bowl Alliance was formed starting with the 1995 season.The Bowl Alliance
For all intents and purposes the Bowl Alliance
was pretty much the same as the Bowl Coalition, and it had the same flaws. It did not include the Big Ten or the Pac-10 Conferences, it excluded any team from outside of its member conferences from participating in one of its bowl games (which paid participating teams more money than other bowls), and it had issues with using multiple polls to determine the top two teams in the country.
One of the biggest controversies for the Bowl Alliance occurred in the 1996 season and involved BYU. BYU was 13-1 and ranked #5 at the end of the season (BYU had played so many games because a) teams that fly to Hawaii to play the University of Hawaii are allowed to play one extra home game to make up travel costs, and b) at the time the WAC had a championship game at the end of the regular season but before the bowl games). The Bowl Alliance did not take BYU into one of its games, which was highly controversial. You can read a New York Times
article about it here
The controversy surrounding BYU's exclusion helped to end the Bowl Alliance the following year. Because of the amount of money involved, and because BYU was excluded because of the business contracts of the power conferences, there were threats of anti-trust lawsuits (similar threats have plagued the current BCS system). Again quoting Wikipedia
In 1996, despite 18 conference championships in 23 years, one of the winningest records in college football and a #5 ranking in the AP poll, BYU was excluded from a Bowl Alliance bowl and was relegated to the Cotton Bowl beating Kansas State to finish the season 14–1. Now the Bowl Coalition was also at risk of anti-trust because of the monopoly on the bowls. LaVell Edwards, BYU Coach, testified in Congress at that time about the inherent unfairness in recruiting for teams who were excluded from bowls simply because of conference affiliation. With the pressure of potential Congressional action, the Bowl Alliance reformed into the Bowl Championship Series that not only included the Big Ten and the Pac-10 conference but also cracked opened the door to allow the possibility of a "mid-major" team's participation.
Starting with the 1998 football season, the Bowl Championship Series
was formed. The BCS attempted to address several of the flaws of the previous system. First, it included the PAC-10 and the Big Ten. It also did not automatically exclude teams from other conferences participating in a BCS bowl game, though it made the possibility of such teams participating unlikely. Also, the BCS created its own system for determining the top 2 teams in the country, which would automatically play in the BCS Championship game. The system included combining the AP Poll, the Coaches' Poll, and several computer polls to create the BCS Standings.3) What might be a better system in the future?Plus One
This system has been recommended as a remedy for those years when more than two teams are undefeated at the end of the regular season, but only two teams can be invited to play in the National Championship game. Essentially, this system boils down to playing the BCS games, plus one additional game after the dust has settled and we see who look like the best two teams after the bowls have been played.
There have been two versions of the Plus One format suggested, as explained here
. In one version, before the BCS games are played, the top 4 teams from the final BCS standings are seeded, so that #1 plays #4 and #2 plays #3. Then, the winners of each of those two games will meet in the National Championship game.
The other version has all the BCS bowls played, then a new BCS ranking is generated. The new #1 and the new #2 from that ranking will then play in the National Championship game.
The Plus One system was proposed and rejected by the BCS conferences in 2008, but some people believe this is the most likely adjustment for the BCS system to adopt.Eight-Team Playoff
This solution has one very big proponent: President Obama
. President Obama has gone on record
saying that he feels college football needs an eight-team playoff, but that it is far from a political priority for him to try to make it happen. One of the biggest drawbacks to considering a playoff in college football is the amount of time needed between games. Every round in a playoff needs a week in between. So there is no way you could have a 64-team playoff, à la March Madness. The main two recommended sizes for playoffs are 8 teams and 16 teams.
With the 8-team playoff, you add two games to two teams' schedules. There would be three rounds, but all teams involved in the playoffs would have been in a bowl game anyway. This limits the number of teams that have extra games, and if one game were dropped from the regular season, it would not significantly affect the current number of games played anyway.
With an 8-team playoff it is most likely that two rounds of the playoffs would be played in December, before Christmas, and the National Championship game would be played on New Year's Day.
The criticism of this system is that football players involved in the playoffs would have difficulty with finals. Various tweaks to the schedule have been suggested to address this (one round in December, two rounds after the semester ends), but it's not as though their semester has not already been disrupted.
Another difficulty with this system is determining which eight teams get to participate in the playoff. There is no way the six current BCS conferences would sign off on a playoff system if their conference champion was not guaranteed a spot. That would only leave 2 spots open, and actually make it less likely that a non-AQ team would be invited to a playoff than the current BCS system allows. Ideally, the top eight teams would play, no matter what conference they played in, but that is unlikely (and really, most sports that have a playoff allow conference champions in, no matter what their record (see: NFL, MLB, NBA, NCAA Basketball)).
The Mountain West Conference proposed an eight-team playoff system
this year, but it was unanimously rejected by the other conferences.Sixteen-Team Playoff
This proposal is pretty much like the 8-team playoff, but it adds one round to the festivities and doubles the number of teams participating, thus increasing access for all.
One other snag the playoff proposals hit is with where to host the games. Some suggest we keep the current bowls, but have them host playoff games instead of bowl games. Some say the higher-seeded team should get an extra bowl game. Nobody has really found the best system (college football is mired in the momentum of tradition, and nobody seems to want to get rid of the bowl games).
The BCS insists a playoff is untenable because football is so physically demanding, but that is ridiculous because division II, once called I-AA, now called The Football Championship Subdivision, which is also sanctioned by the NCAA, decides its championship by...you guessed it, a playoff. They use a 16-team single-elimination tournament
. So there is NCAA football which has a playoff...that right there sort of proves it is a viable option. 40-Team Super League
This system is way out there. It breaks all traditions of college football. It ignores current conferences, the bowl system, the traditional power structure...there is no way the people who are currently profiting from college football would ever ever ever agree to this. But I love this idea. It's my favorite suggestion. It would make college football so much better.
It was proposed by ESPN
over the summer. A bunch of their writers who cover college football decided to think outside the box and ignore the way things have always been done in order to come up with the best system for college football. They borrowed some ideas from the English Premier League (soccer) and this is what they came up with.
The new system begins by undoing the old system. There will be none of the current conferences, and instead of 120-odd universities playing in Division I, there will only be 40. The other 80-odd teams are relegated to a new Division II. The 40 best teams which make up Division I are divided into 4 conferences with ten teams each. They all play each other, and at the end of the season the 4 conference champions have a 2-game playoff that ends in the National Championship game. Simple.
But here's the best part, which makes this system so wonderful. At the end of the season the five teams from Division I that have the worst record and the five teams from Division II that have the best record swap places. The worst teams in Division I would be playing their hearts out at the end of the season so they wouldn't get demoted. There would be no game that the players didn't care about. And the have-nots in Division II could break into Division I any given year.
When ESPN proposed this system, they also had a draft to name the 40 teams that should make up Division I based on the current state of affairs in college football. Utah, Boise State, and BYU were the only current non-AQ schools taken in the draft (all three were taken in the top 25), which I thought was a slap in the face to TCU. But hey, there are a lot of good programs out there; it is hard to only pick 40. But, if this system were in place, any school that thought they deserved to be in Division I would be able to prove it the next year.Conclusion</I>
So...there you have it. A not-so-brief description of the BCS and possible alternatives. By far the most interesting alternative in my book is the 40-Team Super League, but it is also the least likely to ever happen.
Also, because a new contract was signed this year by all the conferences (the MWC held out the longest before signing), there will be no changes to the BCS system before 2014. We're stuck with what we've got until then. Unless something crazy happens, like the Justice Department declaring the BCS to be an illegal monopoly.
P.S. Here is some useful addition reading, if you're interested:
BCS 101: The BCS explained
Wikipedia: Bowl Championship Series
Mathematician's Blog about the BCS
Breakdown of the BCS