BCS Rankings: Alabama and Notre Dame May Not Be the Two Best Teams

College football fans will be watching Notre Dame and Alabama square off in the BCS Title game Monday night. The Bowl Championship Series (BCS) lists Notre Dame as the highest ranked college football team this year. Alabama is the second best team out of the remaining 25 ranked teams. This year’s BCS Title game is not as controversial, since Notre Dame is unbeaten and Alabama defeated Georgia, previously ranked No. 3, at the SEC championship game in December.

The BCS ranking system, however, has long been controversial and imperfect (see the BCS, AP, and ESPN rankings from throughout the season here). The system utilizes two polls and an average of six computerized rankings to determine standings for college football teams. While this seems to be a balance between human polling and statistical data, the system has been unable to satisfy college football fans, as well as Congress. One criticism is that the system overlooks unbeaten smaller school in favor of one-loss major schools.

The NCAA has decided to adopt a different system beginning in 2014. This “playoff” system will be between the top four college football teams instead of just the top two. The four teams will be matched up and play in two semi-final bowl games. The winners will then play each other for the national championship. While the BCS used polls and statistical data to determine rankings, the new “system” will utilize a selection committee to determine the top four teams. The committee will utilize criteria, for example strength of schedule and record, to make their determinations.

While statistics and formulas could be blamed for the BCS system, the committee will now bear the brunt of any dissatisfaction. A different system can be implemented, however, that provides an easier path towards determining the top two teams. This would require the NCAA to form (reform) into eight conferences, utilize divisions as well as conference championship games, and accept two series of games to determine the top two teams.

There are currently 11 conferences along with four independent schools: Army, Brigham Young, Navy, and Notre Dame. While the Southeastern Conference (SEC) has 14 members, the Big East only has eight members (soon to be much less). Creating eight conferences and integrating the independents would help balance the physical structure of college football. Smaller conferences could be merged or disbanded, forming a balanced structure in college football. The independents would also finally associate with a specific conference.

Each conference would be structured into two divisions. The teams in each division would play each other once during a season to establish a division leader. These games would total six or seven, depending on the number of teams, out of a total of 12 games. The remaining games would be divided into conference games as well as open games. The open games would allow out of conference rivalries (Notre Dame vs. Southern California, or South Carolina vs. Clemson) to continue. Each conference division winner would then meet in a conference championship game.

The eight conference champions would then play each other in a first round. The champions could be seeded, as in the NBA, or could utilize an existing bowl structure as in the Rose Bowl where PAC-12 and Big Ten teams play each other. The four winners of the first round would then play each other providing the two final teams for the college championship game. Each series of games could be scheduled two weeks apart allowing time for logistic concerns (e.g. airfare, lodging, etc).

This system provides something for everyone to hate. Notre Dame will hate the idea of losing its’ television contract. Existing conference leaders will cringe at the idea of losing their positions or adding schools that may “weaken” their conference. Smaller football programs, like Northern Illinois, may be resistant to joining conferences where they could be dominated by larger schools like Ohio State or Nebraska.

While the BCS system has been consistently criticized, the new NCAA committee selection system will be similarly disparaged. The human influence of picking top teams will always include pedigree, conference, and personal preferences. Utilizing a true playoff system, where only the winners advance, can solve the issue of determining the “best” college football team.