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The Simplest, Best Playoff Plan

College football’s powers that be are congregating in Florida this week to discuss the future of the sport’s postseason.

Whatever the format, you know Nick Saban plans on continuing to collect those crystal footballs

You hear all of the different possible plans. You hear how the Big Ten and the Pac-12 want to preserve the Rose Bowl. You hear how the bowls could be excluded from the process and the sites for the semifinals and championship game could be auctioned off to the highest bidder. You hear how the conference commissioners and ADs don’t want to marginalize the postseason and they don’t want to forego the opportunities presented by the bowls, either.

I have floated various ideas and plans over the years. But the talk about playing semifinal games at neutral sites has me most concerned.

I just don’t know how that works. Think about the expense to follow a team. Fans need to purchase an airline ticket, get a hotel room, probably rent a car and also buy game tickets. You’re looking at $1,000 to $2,000 per person, depending on how long they want to stay. Attendance for the BCS bowls has grown soft with a lot of it due to the economy.

But just imagine the scramble fans would have to book trips for a semifinal game at a neutral site and then turn around and do it again for a championship game a week or two later. If you think bowl attendance is soft now, just imagine what it would be like under this format. Fans could go to one, but not many of them could afford or have the vacation time to do two such trips in a one-month period.

At any rate, here’s what I propose and why I propose it:

If I ran college football, I would move the start of the season up one week to the last weekend in August. That would allow the season to end over Thanksgiving weekend with the various conference championship games (and final weekend games for the Big East and Big 12).

On the Sunday after those games are completed, we would have by mid-afternoon the final BCS standings. I really don’t think or worry too much about how those are calculated. The current system is probably fine as it balances the human polls with the computers. I don’t like how coaches will use their votes to their own self-serving purposes. Perhaps there is a way they could mitigate that factor in the balloting.

The alternative would be for a blue ribbon panel of coaches, ADs, whoever to select the top four teams for a playoff. Some have said that would bring politics into the process, and we can’t have that, either.

At any rate, by 2 p.m. that Sunday we have the teams ranked one through four. I do not care if these teams win their conference championship or not. I agree with Nick Saban’s take here – these leagues are getting so big that it’s not impossible to have two top-four teams in the same league, as we saw this past year with LSU and Alabama.

On the following Saturday (usually the first weekend in December), we would have two national semifinal games. One would be at 4:30 p.m. and the other would be at 8:30 p.m. (If they really wanted to be greedy, they could stage one national semifinal on Friday and the other on Saturday so both games are in prime time.)

They would be hosted by the teams that finish ranked No. 1 and No. 2. No. 1 hosts No. 4 and No. 2 hosts No. 3.

I saw a comment from one of the commissioners that there is a reason why they no longer use home sites for the NCAA Tournament. (They may say that, but they certainly don’t care if a Kansas can help them sell out a dome in St. Louis, either. Just wait next March. If Indiana is all it is cracked up to be, the Hoosiers will play in the Midwest Region at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis … in front of 40,000 of their closest friends.)

I don’t care. This is my format and, believe me, my format makes the most sense – as in dollars and cents. And here’s why: You would be guaranteed two complete sellouts, even if you priced the tickets at $150 each – roughly double what most of the major schools now charge for regular season games. At some of our mega stadiums, that is a live gate of $13 million or more. Heck, maybe you even discount some tickets for students.

By rule, the visiting team would be granted at least 12,000 tickets so its fans have a chance to attend. Any unused tickets would be on the open market by the following Thursday.

If you use neutral sites, the only way that can possibly work is to have at least a two-week window to plan travel.

But I like my plan. It gives you the clear cut national championship game participants by midnight on the first Saturday of December.

The championship game would be at a neutral site on the best evening within two to five days after Jan. 1. If Jan. 1 falls on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, the game would be held on Friday night. If Jan. 1 falls on Thursday, Friday or Saturday, it would be held the following Monday night. The season is over by Jan. 6 at the latest.

That site could still come from one of our standard BCS bowls – the Fiesta, Sugar, Orange or Rose. I think the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas, deserves a look and maybe Atlanta (they are getting a new dome in the next several years) also deserves a shot. They can double-host to keep 10 or 12 teams in the big game mix. Whatever works and whatever makes sense.

The BCS can almost remain as is. The semifinal losers would fall to whatever bowls their leagues are aligned with. For instance, let’s say Wisconsin wins the Big Ten and loses to, say, Alabama in a semifinal. The Badgers still go to the Rose Bowl. The SEC champ still goes to the Sugar. The Pac-12 and Big Ten champs go to the Rose (there you go, Jim Delany). The ACC champ goes to the Orange and the Big 12 champ goes to the Fiesta. The Big East can keep a spot and its champ just goes into the at-large pool.

The Rose Bowl can continue to kick off at 2 p.m. Pacific time on Jan. 1 until the end of time, for all I care.

And then the other 29 or 30 bowls can fill in around the gaps. They have basically just become TV tonnage for ESPN. They pick up the slack over the last two weeks of December as college basketball goes dormant before the start of conference play.

So what have we done?

We have created two must-see national semifinal games that we know will draw big TV ratings, plus they are guaranteed sellouts to the tune of 70,000 to 100,000 people with a live gate in excess of $13 million each.

The teams that finish third and fourth, believe me, won’t give a rip that they have to go on the road to win a game and get to the title game. Under the current format, they don’t have a chance at the title. Plus, if they won a conference title, they are guaranteed a spot in a BCS bowl as a consolation prize anyway.

We have streamlined the process for selection. We know where the title games will be played years in advance and we’ve given fans a full month to figure out if they’re going to a BCS bowl game or the national title game.

Plus, we have saved the bowl system for the 60-plus teams that get to enjoy those opportunities. (If we could have a way to guarantee schools don’t lose money on bowl games, man, we’d have it all licked.)

How It Would Have Worked

Going back over the first 14 years of the BCS, here’s how these top four teams each year would have matched up:

1998 – Ohio State (4) at Tennessee (1); Kansas State (3) at Florida State (2) (OSU having to go on the road to an SEC team? Sign me up.)

1999 – Alabama (4) at Florida State (1); Nebraska (3) at Virginia Tech (2) (Alabama-FSU would have been a classic match-up.)

2000 – Washington (4) at Oklahoma (1); Miami (Fla.) (3) at Florida State (2) (This would have been a regular season rematch of Miami-FSU.)

2001 – Oregon (4) at Miami (Fla.) (1); Colorado (3) at Nebraska (2) (This would have been a rematch one week after Colorado defeated Nebraska in the Big 12 title game.)

2002 – USC (4) at Miami (Fla.) (1); Georgia (3) at Ohio State (2) (Petey’s Trojans visiting the defending champion ‘Canes and an SEC team visiting Columbus? Yeah, I think we have something here.)

2003 – Michigan (4) at Oklahoma (1); USC (3) at LSU (2) (Now the Trojans go to an SEC stadium?)

2004 – Texas (4) at USC (1); Auburn (3) at Oklahoma (2) (This was the year Auburn was unbeaten but aced out of the process.)

2005 – Ohio State (4) at USC (1); Penn State (3) at Texas (2) (OSU and PSU each won BCS bowls that year. Those semis would have been something.)

2006 – LSU (4) at Ohio State (1); Michigan (3) at Florida (2) (This was the year OSU beat Michigan, so one-loss Florida replaced UM in the title game … and pummeled OSU.)

2007 – Oklahoma (4) at Ohio State (1); Virginia Tech (3) at LSU (2) (This playoff would have had three two-loss teams and once-beaten OSU.)

2008 – Alabama (4) at Oklahoma (1); Texas (3) at Florida (2) (The Crimson Tide and the Longhorns on the road at two other traditional powers. Sounds good to me.)

2009 – TCU (4) at Alabama (1); Cincinnati (3) at Texas (2) (This would have been four unbeatens with a fifth one, Boise State, on the outside looking in.)

2010 – Stanford (4) at Auburn (1); TCU (3) at Oregon (2) (Andrew Luck vs. Cam Newton. Yeah, let’s do it.)

2011 – Stanford (4) at LSU (1); Oklahoma State (3) at Alabama (2) (Those would have been two power packed games.)

You notice that by expanding the field to four teams, you have allowed at least some extra access to the non-BCS conference teams into the national title picture.

There is talk that some of the home site cities would be too small. But places like Tallahassee, Knoxville, Tuscaloosa, Norman and the rest host one or two huge night games nearly every year. This would not be all that much different.

Of the 28 projected match-ups in the last 14 years, 24 of them would have been played South of the Mason-Dixon line or on the West Coast. Only four would have been played in the cold weather states of the North.

How It Would Look This Year

If we use this projection, of the top 25 by ESPN.com’s Mark Schlabach, here is how the national semifinals and BCS bowls could look this season:

Sat., Dec. 1 (National Semifinals) – Oklahoma (4) at USC (1); LSU (3) at Alabama (2).

Let’s assume the top seeds win these games, sending USC and Alabama to the national title game. Here is what the BCS pairings could look like:

Mon., Dec. 31 (Orange Bowl) – Florida State (8) vs. Pittsburgh/Cincinnati/Louisville/whoever wins the Big East (unranked)

Tues., Jan. 1 (Rose Bowl) – Oregon (6) vs. Michigan State (9)

Tues., Jan. 1 (Fiesta Bowl) – Oklahoma (4) vs. Stanford (13)

Wed., Jan. 2 (Sugar Bowl) – LSU (3) vs. West Virginia (7)

Thurs., Jan. 3 (Cotton Bowl) – Georgia (5) vs. Michigan (14)

Fri., Jan. 4 (National Title Game at Miami) – USC (1) vs. Alabama (2)

This covers all the bases. It gets all of the big leagues into the big games. I am even lifting the moratorium on more than two teams per conference. This puts three Big 12 and three SEC teams and two each from the Big 12 and Big Ten in the big six games. Extra teams left out are from leagues that are already represented, including South Carolina (10), Arkansas (11), Kansas State (12) and TCU (15).

It gives the TV partners no fewer than seven prime time games, all leading up to the national title game on a night when all of America can stay up late, party and enjoy it from start to finish.

This stays away from neutral sites except for the bowl games and it incorporates the existing bowls. My prediction is if they go to neutral sites for the semifinals, they will not like the results.

This is my plan. What do you think? Post your thoughts below.

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