There has been a ton of great feedback on the BCS Final Four post with generally positive reviews. Unfortunately, even that proposal might be too much of a change for the powers that be to enact overnight. So, I wanted to throw out a more traditionalist plus-one proposal that might be a bridge to getting to the BCS Final Four (or at least improve upon the current BCS system), which I call the “BCS Bowl Flex System”. It’s a variation of what Slant reader StevenD calls a “semi-seeded plus-one“, where the traditional BCS bowl tie-ins are largely maintained with some teams possibly “flexed” to create one or two de facto play-in games to the national championship (if not outright semifinals). The BCS rankings would then be re-calculated after the bowls are played to determined the plus-one national championship game matchup.
It’s not as clean on paper as the BCS Final Four or an outright playoff, but this type of format does carry a number of advantages, namely that all of the BCS bowls potentially will have an impact on the national championship race again and the Rose Bowl would go back to being exclusively Big Ten champ vs. Pac-10 champ affair.
(Any complaints that this isn’t a playoff and would be an “unfair” system are duly noted. The purpose of this post is to find some changes that the BCS conferences might be willing to implement in reality. Please see the various rules for a realistic college postseason scenario that must be followed in the BCS Final Four post.)
Here is how I would set it up:
THE BCS BOWL FLEX SYSTEM
1. The Rose Bowl will get the Big Ten and Pac-10 champs no matter what – I know that this might be passed off by non-Big Ten/Pac-10 fans as irrelevant/backwards/dumb, but this is a big deal to the powers that be. Nothing will get done in terms of college postseason changes unless the Big Ten is happy, which means that the Rose Bowl and the Pac-10 have to happy, as well.
2. Cotton Bowl is added as a 5th BCS bowl with the Big 12 tie-in – I noted in the BCS Final Four post that the BCS bowls are as elitist toward the non-BCS bowls as the AQ conferences are toward the non-AQ conferences, but this is trumped by the need to have at least 10 BCS bids per year. The seal has been broken – there’s no way that the AQ conferences (and specifically the frequent multi-bid recipients of the Big Ten and SEC) will go back down to just 4 BCS games and 8 total bids. As a result, a more traditional plus-one system is going to need a 5th BCS bowl and the Cotton Bowl is well-positioned as a natural home to the Big 12 champ (especially with its larger proportion of Texas-based teams with the losses of Nebraska and Colorado). I’ll discuss under Rule #6 below how the Fiesta Bowl receives some incentives to actually agree to give up the Big 12 tie-in.
3. Highest ranked non-AQ school receives automatic BCS bid – As I mentioned in the BCS Final Four post, this is the main bone that the AQ conferences can throw to the non-AQ conferences and I can see them actually agreeing to, which is that it can remove the top 12 ranking requiring for that class of schools to receive an automatic bid.
4. Subject to Rule #5 regarding flexes below, the other BCS bowls retain their traditional tie-ins – As a general rule, the Sugar Bowl gets the SEC champ and Orange Bowl receives the ACC champ. However, this is subject to the flex rules below.
5. Except for the Rose Bowl teams (which are set in stone), a highly ranked at-large team may be placed or a team may be flexed from its traditional tie-in to another bowl involving a #1 or #2 ranked team to create one or more virtual play-in games to the national championship – This process will likely seem disjointed and muddy written out, but it’s really not that difficult in practice (so bear with me). The objective is to ensure that any #1 and #2 ranked teams that aren’t playing in the Rose Bowl get to play in bowl games that are as close to being semifinals as possible. That’s no issue with highly ranked at-large teams, who can simply be slotted accordingly without any impact to traditional tie-ins. The real change is that a team that is ranked #3 or lower which does have a contractual tie-in with a bowl can be flexed to a bowl that is tied-in to a #1 or #2 ranked team (even if the #3 or lower team is tied-in to another bowl). For example, let’s say that the SEC champ is ranked #1, the Big 12 champ is ranked #2, the ACC champ is ranked #3 and the Big East champ is ranked #4. The Big East champ will be sent to the Sugar Bowl to create a #1 vs. #4 matchup, which is easy enough because the Big East doesn’t have a tie-in. However, to create the #2 vs. #3 matchup, the ACC champ will be flexed to the Cotton Bowl to play the Big 12 champ. As a result, the Orange Bowl would lose the ACC champ, but would receive a compensatory “flex replacement pick” (which is similar to the replacement pick if a bowl loses a tie-in to the national championship game today and as explained further in Rule #7).
As I’ve said, this doesn’t look very elegant when described as a process in writing, yet it’s fairly straight-forward (I hope) when looking at the 11 scenarios for matchups that would be created depending on which teams are playing in the Rose Bowl:
Scenario 1: No top 4 teams in the Rose Bowl
Bowl A: #1 vs. #4
Bowl B: #2 vs. #3
Scenario 2: #1 team in the Rose Bowl
Bowl A: #2 vs. #3
Scenario 3: #2 team in the Rose Bowl
Bowl A: #1 vs. #3
Scenario 4: #1 vs. #3 in the Rose Bowl
Bowl A: #2 vs. #4
Scenario 5: #1 vs. #4 in the Rose Bowl
Bowl A: #2 vs. #3
Scenario 6: #2 vs. #3 in the Rose Bowl
Bowl A: #1 vs. #4
Scenario 7: #2 vs. #4 in the Rose Bowl
Bowl A: #1 vs. #3
Scenario 8: #3 in the Rose Bowl
Bowl A: #1 vs. Flex Selection 1*
Bowl B: #2 vs. #4
Scenario 9: #4 in the Rose Bowl
Bowl A: #1 vs. Flex Selection 1
Bowl B: #2 vs. #3
Scenario 10: #3 vs. #4 in the Rose Bowl
Bowl A: #1 vs. Flex Selection 2**
Bowl B: #2 vs. Flex Selection 1
Scenario 11: #1 vs. #2 in the Rose Bowl
Bowl A: #3 vs. #4
* Flex Selection means that the bowl gets to pick any BCS eligible team that it wants, including those that are otherwise tied to other bowls except for the Rose Bowl participants.
** The reason why Bowl B gets Flex Selection 1 in this scenario is that, in theory, this ought to be a tougher opponent than Flex Selection 2. As a result, Flex Selection 1 should be playing the #2 team as opposed to the #1 team.
6. Fiesta Bowl receives flex preference for #1 or #2 teams that do not have tie-ins OR 1st at-large pick – Now, the Fiesta Bowl isn’t just going to give up a fairly valuable Big 12 tie-in to the Cotton Bowl for nothing. For all of the internal turmoil within the Big 12, it’s still the best conference for traveling fan bases outside of the SEC and Big Ten. I had thought of providing the Big East tie-in to the Fiesta, but from a bowl director’s perspective, this isn’t just compensation. In reality, the best way to coax the Fiesta into giving up its Big 12 tie-in to the Cotton is to provide it with more flexibility. Therefore, it gets two options. First, the Fiesta receives a “flex preference”, whereby it would automatically receive a #1 or #2 team that does not have a tie-in (i.e. Big East champ, non-AQ schools, others that weren’t conference champs). That would enable the Fiesta to “flex in” a team from another bowls in that situation despite not having a conference tie-in. Second, if there is no possible flex preference, then the Fiesta would receive the first at-large large pick (which comes after the flex moves and replacement selections are made), which often results in an extremely valuable 2nd place SEC or Big Ten team.
7. Bowls that lose a team to flexing receive a “flex replacement pick” – As alluded to earlier, this is similar to the replacement pick that a bowl receives if it loses a school to the national championship game today. A bowl that loses a flexed team would receive first dibs on any other school from the conference that it has a tie-in with or can choose anyone from the BCS at-large pool.
8. After flex replacement picks are made, the Fiesta Bowl gets its priority at-large pick and then the bowls pick at-large selections in the order of how high their tie-ins (or in the case of the Fiesta, the rank of its priority at-large pick) are ranked – The goal here is to create one or two other bowls that could possibly have an impact on the national championship race, so bowls that don’t have a #1 or #2 team will pick at-large teams in the order that their respective tie-ins (or in the case of the Fiesta, how high its priority at-large pick) are ranked. To be clear, those bowls aren’t obligated to take the highest ranked at-large teams available – they can take whoever is left from the at-large pool subject to the other selection rules that would remain in place (such as a maximum of 2 schools from any conference receiving BCS bids).
9. BCS rankings are re-calculated after bowl games are finished and national championship game rotates among the BCS bowl sites – After the BCS bowls are completed, the BCS rankings are then re-calculated to set the national championship game pairing. The game would be played one to two weeks after the last BCS bowl is completed using the double-hosting rotation similar today (only that the Cotton is newly included).
APPLYING THE SYSTEM
The interesting thing about this system is that for all of the words that I just spewed out on flexing, it actually doesn’t need to be exercised very often in practice. Simply slotting at-large teams differently than today is 90% of the battle. Here’s how the BCS Bowl Flex system would’ve worked in every year since 2005 (which marks the first season of major changes to the BCS ranking formula):
Rose: #2 Oregon (Pac-10) vs. #5 Wisconsin (Big Ten)
Sugar: #1 Auburn (SEC) vs. #3 TCU (non-AQ/at-large 1)
Orange: #13 Virginia Tech (ACC) vs. Connecticut (Big East/at-large 5)
Cotton: #7 Oklahoma (Big 12) vs. #8 Arkansas (at-large 4)
Fiesta: #6 Ohio State (at-large 2) vs. #4 Stanford (at-large 3)
Rose: #7 Oregon (Pac-10) vs. #8 Ohio State (Big Ten)
Sugar: #1 Alabama (SEC) vs. #4 TCU (non-AQ/at-large 2)
Orange: #9 Georgia Tech (ACC) vs. #10 Iowa (at-large 5)
Cotton: #2 Texas (Big 12) vs. #3 Cincinnati (Big East/at-large 1)
Fiesta: #5 Florida (at-large 3) vs. #6 Boise State (at-large 4)
Rose: #5 USC (Pac-10) vs. #8 Penn State (Big Ten)
Sugar: #2 Florida (SEC) vs. #3 Texas (at-large 1)
Orange: #19 Virginia Tech (ACC) vs. #12 Cincinnati (Big East/at-large 5)
Cotton: #1 Oklahoma (Big 12) vs. #4 Alabama (at-large 2)
Fiesta: #10 Ohio State (at-large 3) vs. #6 Utah (non-AQ/at-large 4)
Rose: #1 Ohio State (Big Ten) vs. #7 USC (Pac-10)
Sugar: #2 LSU (SEC) vs. #3 Virginia Tech (ACC/flex)
Orange: #5 Georgia (flex replacement) vs. #13 Illinois (Big Ten/at-large 3)
Cotton: #4 Oklahoma (Big 12) vs. #9 West Virginia (Big East/at-large 2)
Fiesta: #8 Kansas (Big 12/at-large 1) vs. #10 Hawaii (non-AQ/at-large 4)
Rose: #1 Ohio State (Big Ten) vs. #5 USC (Pac-10)
Sugar: #2 Florida (SEC) vs. #3 Michigan (at-large 1)
Orange: #14 Wake Forest (ACC) vs. #8 Boise State (non-AQ/at-large 5)
Cotton: #10 Oklahoma (Big 12) vs. #6 Louisville (Big East/at-large 4)
Fiesta: #4 LSU (at-large 2) vs. Notre Dame (at-large 3)
Rose: #1 USC (Pac-10) vs. #3 Penn State (Big Ten)
Sugar: #7 Georgia (SEC) vs. #11 West Virginia (Big East/at-large 4)
Orange: #22 Florida Sate (ACC) vs. #14 TCU (non-AQ/at-large 5)
Cotton: #2 Texas (Big 12) vs. #4 Ohio State (at-large 1)
Fiesta: #6 Notre Dame (at-large 2) vs. #5 Oregon (at-large 3)
The only time that the flex option would’ve ever been exercised was in 2007, where #3 Virginia Tech was flexed from the Orange Bowl to the Sugar Bowl. In terms of ticket sales, that actually granted the Orange a favor as it would have presumably selected #5 Georgia as its flex replacement pick. In all of the other seasons since 2005, the desired matchups were achieved with solely slotting the applicable at-large teams. (I could post the pre-2005 hypotheticals, as they had more examples of flexing, but it’s fairly incredible how bat-s**t crazy the old BCS rankings were when looking back on them. As much as the BCS gets criticized today, at least the rankings over the past few years have generally passed the smell test (with most quibbles coming over a spot or two). The old ranking system, on the other hand, seemed to love teams that didn’t actually win their conferences, particularly from the Big 12.) Thus, a plus-one system featuring top-tier and meaningful games could be fairly easily created without much disruption to the traditional bowl tie-ins.
The BCS Bowl Flex system definitely won’t placate the playoff-supporter crowd in the same manner of the BCS Final Four, but it may be something that’s more palatable to the powers-that-be within the AQ conferences (especially the Big Ten) while upgrading the quality of the BCS bowls back to where they were in the pre-BCS days. Certainly, the return of the “real” Rose Bowl would be a massive plus. A non-AQ school such as TCU also gets a direct shot at the national title game in a season like this one (or can improve its resume greatly in other seasons by getting to beat a top AQ school). Is it perfect? Absolutely not. However, I do believe it would be better than what we have today and it’s easier to sell incremental steps to the BCS conferences and bowls than wholesale change.