Friday, November 11, 2011

Solutions from Across the Pond

            I believe most of us have concluded at this point that the BCS has been a bad idea.  First of all, the name is deceptive.  As there is only one game in the “Championship Series” is makes no more sense than calling the Super Bowl a series.  But more than that, it just doesn’t allow for any true champion to be crowned in the American way.  What is the American way?  Playoffs, of course.  Every other major sport in America has some form of playoffs to determine their champion. Whether even these are all completely necessary remains a mystery- why, for example, does Major League Baseball play 162 games to still allow 8 teams into the playoffs (and soon to be 10, from the sounds of it)?  No, the BCS’s strategy of crowning a champion is most similar to the British way.  And so, if anything, I’m starting to think it isn’t going far enough.  In fact, American sports in general could learn a thing or two from it.
What I mean by this first comparison is of course that the Premier League for association football in that country does not have any playoffs.  Each team plays each other twice, and whichever team is at the top of the standings at the end of the season wins.  That’s it.  Oh, sure, they have middle-of-the-season tournaments.  But they’ve all just decided that the champion was whoever could beat all the other teams most consistently.  This is what college football needs to figure out for itself.  They might have too many teams to do this in exactly the same way, but there’s another way English football worked around this problem, too.  A couple things called promotion and relegation.  The country has so many teams that they have decided to just put the best ones in the best league, and so on.  But we in America do have one disadvantage in being able to pull this off.  As a much bigger country, it would be hard to have a country-wide league in which everyone plays everyone.  American football is too demanding of a sport to have more than eleven or twelve regular-season games at that age.  But that’s why it would be easy to just form about four major regional leagues that each regional champion of a designated lower league could be promoted to in time.  Then the NCAA could just set up a plus-one situation between these four leagues.  It’s very meritocratic, and we would really get a true National Champion out of it.  But, in all honesty, that very situation is exactly what seems to be happening (albeit, de facto) with all the ridiculous conference realignment.  Is it a fair assumption to say that the Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC and ACC are going to be those major conferences?
By doing what the NCAA is doing with the “Football Bowl Subdivision” in order to determine a National Champion is also somewhat half-assed and in some ways they are admitting they need a playoff.  Just having the two best teams in a one-game playoff essentially undercuts all the sweat-equity those hard-working computers did to determine which team is the best.  If you were truly confident that you had the best team in the nation figured out, what is even the point of having a national championship game?  Err, this was the team that the computers told us was the best, but let’s try them against the second best just to be sure… So if they lose to the second-best, who’s to say the second-best wouldn’t have lost to the third best?  The whole system is undermined by any implication that a national champion still needs to be determined after the regular season.  I think, if they’re going to stick with the BCS, let’s stick it in their craw by saying No National Championship Game.  Oh sure, you could still have bowls, but maybe the top two teams don’t play each other.  Then we could have one of those hilarious situations like back in the day where the Gophers were proclaimed Nat’l Champs and then proceeded to lose in the Rose Bowl Game.
Baseball could even learn from our chums across the pond.  The possibility of relegation has already been brought up for baseball (and this is still somewhat doable, if only on a smaller scale), but I think there are a couple drawbacks to the way the sport is set up that should be scaled back a little bit.  Let’s say MLB is far and away the largest stage for baseball in the world- the equivalent of the European Champions League in soccer.  If that’s the case, they really need to scale back the season and streamline the playoffs.  One hundred forty-eight games is, I believe, the longest the season could be in still maintaining some efficiency.  In my opinion, the playoffs should go back to just two teams from each league, but let’s say that isn’t going to happen.  I’ve always really admired the way European clubs run the “knock-out” stages of their tournaments.  They play two games, a “home and home”, and whoever has the most goals at the end of those two games wins!  Why wouldn’t this work in baseball, if say, they needed one extra round for that second wild card they’re talking about adding?  The team with the better record could just pick the game they wanted to host, and then you would need extras in at most the second game.  Aside from that, I think American football really has its shit figured out.  But don’t even get me started on hockey and baseball, and their messed up playoff formats.

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