The world of sports is a funny old place.
In the world outside of sports, most people will tell you that you can try, but you can’t be perfect and mostly that’s true. You might try to compile a perfect driving record or strive for clean copy in your sports column, but, generally, you’re going to get pulled over and ticketed once in a while. You’re going to make a few typos in your column now and then.
But the sports world is different. Perfection is not only possible in sports, but also perfectly attainable. In baseball, if a pitcher retires 27 batters without any of them reaching first base, he has attained perfection. In bowling, if a bowler makes 12 strikes in a row, she has attained perfection.
I’m not saying it’s easy, it might take many years and many attempts to accomplish, but it can be done.
Just last month, the NCAA took a small step toward perfection.
The NCAA recently approved a four-team playoff to determine the Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) national champion, beginning in 2014, and thus replacing the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) tyranny that will have ruled the lives of college football fans for 15 long years.
I mean Kim-Jong II ruled North Korea for 17 years, but the BCS’s reign seems a lot longer and fraught with more hubris and casual cruelty to its subjects, am I right?
Just kidding, folks.
Regardless, this is a great advancement in the history of big-time college football. Folks, one day in 2014, we are going to decide a national champion the way every other sport in the universe does: on the field.
No more calculating poll numbers, dividing by 2,875 and then multiplying by the square root of infinity. No more worshiping at the foot of Jeff Sagarin’s computer screen, wondering where the machine thinks LSU ranks against Alabama.
All of that is over.
We are going to put 11 guys on one side of the field, 11 guys on the other, and we’re going to play football. And we’re going to play football until one team has scored more points than the other three teams in the playoff field.
There will be a champion, crowned based on how they played in two high-pressure, nationally televised games.
It’s a pretty good system. But, again, it’s not perfect.
There’s still plenty of room for whining, plenty of room for “why them and not us?” There are still selection committees to convene, strength of schedules to calculate, and teams to leave out.
But I have a solution. It’s crazy but it is already being used elsewhere, has been for decades, and it works.
My solution: If you’re worried about excluding teams from the playoff, then exclude no teams from the playoff.
I propose a college football tournament spanning all four divisions of NCAA football (FBS, FCS, and Divisions II and III), with 256 teams playing for one trophy over the course of 11 weeks. It’s similar to the Football Association Cup in English soccer, which is, I think, the fairest tournament in the world.
In England, all you have to do to get into the FA Cup is apply and be accepted (last year, 825 teams applied and 763 were approved; the 62 left out likely didn’t have a field to play on or couldn’t afford to travel or something).
Once you’re in, you play until you lose. Teams at the bottom of the English football pyramid start the tournament and teams higher on the pyramid are added in successive rounds (Premier League teams are added in round nine). Eventually, two teams play for the cup. There are no seeds, no computer formulas. All of the teams go into a bingo-ball hopper and the machine spits out names.
It’s brilliant, but can it work for college football in America? Yes, it can.
Here’s my proposal:
The top 256 college football teams in America make the tournament: all 120 from the FBS, all 94 playoff teams (that means no Ivy, Pioneer, or SWAC teams) from the FCS and the top 34 applicants (17 each) from Divisions II and III.
Rounds 1-4 are qualifying rounds featuring games between FCS and D2/D3 teams beginning on the third Saturday in November. All of the teams go into the hopper and are randomly drawn together. McNeese State might be hosting Montana or traveling to Mount Union (Ohio). It’s the luck of the draw.
There will be eight teams left at the end of round 4. These eight teams are then added to the 120 FCS teams and, again, games are randomly selected and begin on the second Saturday in December. The field is the narrowed down to two teams that will play a championship game two Saturdays before the Super Bowl (if it were played this year, the game would fall on Jan. 26).
I think this a great idea. No one is being excluded from the top two tiers of the NCAA. There are 11 weeks of postseason football the NCAA can monetize however it wants. If the NCAA wants to call the games “bowls,” then, by all means, they can do so. But the sweetheart deals the bowls used to get will be gone. Fans will have football all the way up to the Super Bowl instead of weeks of sitting around waiting for the Poulan Weed Eater Bowl to kick off “bowl season.”
It’s perfect. And while this kind of thing may not work in the outside world, this is sports.
And in sports, we can attain perfection.
Brandon Shoumaker is a graduate of McNeese State University and has covered sports for more than a decade for various publications. Coaches or parents with story tips or comments may contact Brandon at firstname.lastname@example.org or send him a message on Twitter (@bshoumaker).