Should College Football Replace the Bowl Championship Series (BCS)
with a Playoff System?

ARCHIVED WEBSITE: The Bowl Championship Series (BCS) was formed in 1998 to pit the top two BCS-ranked college football teams against each other in a national championship while eight other top teams play in four bowl games.

Many football fans argue that a playoff system should replace the BCS. They contend that it is the only fair way to determine a national champion and that the BCS method is subjective, profit-motivated, and sometimes leaves the best teams out of the championship game.

Opponents argue that the BCS system is in the best interest of the athletes, fans, and sponsors because the bowl games generate huge profits for schools and their local economies, keep the season shorter for student athletes, and almost always have the two best teams playing each other for the national title. Read more background...

ARCHIVED WEBSITE: No new data posted since Sep. 18, 2012.
On Sep. 18, 2012 we archived this site – meaning we will likely no longer make any updates to it. The site was archived because on June 26, 2012 the BCS announced the formation of a four-team playoff system and on Aug. 2, 2012 the NCAA formally approved extending the college football season by one day to accommodate the playoffs, thus ending the period of over 140 years with no playoff system in college football. The playoff is scheduled to begin during the 2014-2015 season with a selection committee ranking the top four teams at the end of the season; having #1 play #4 and #2 play #3 in bowl games (rotated annually among six different bowls); and having the winners play for the national championship (held in a different city each year). This website will remain accessible so that our readers can continue to benefit from the information it provides. If something materially significant occurs on this subject, we may update or even "unarchive" the site. For a list of all our websites, please visit www.procon.org.
Top Pro & Con Arguments

A post-season playoff leading up to the National Championship would replace the subjectivity of human and computer polls with the objective measure of winning or losing a game.



A 2007 Gallup poll showed that 85% of college football fans supported a change to a playoff system of some kind. 69% of fans surveyed preferred the idea of a playoff tournament involving the top four, eight, or 16 teams to replace bowl games while 16% preferred a one-game playoff between the top teams emerging from the post-season bowl games.



If a team loses one game it is probably out of contention for the National Championship; if it loses twice there is little chance the team will qualify for any BCS game. Therefore, if a team loses early in the season then the rest of its games lack excitement, and the claim by BCS proponents that every game counts does not hold true.



A playoff system would give each school an opportunity to earn a fair share of the revenue distributed to the 11 conferences in the FBS. Since the BCS conferences automatically qualify for BCS bowl games, they receive a disproportionate amount of the annual bowl revenue. Since football earnings fund other sports, this disparity affects athletes in all sports. [3]



The BCS human polls are subject to bias, which has been cited as one reason the University of Utah was kept out of the 2008 championship game. [4] One third of the standings are based on how the coaches rank the teams, which assumes that coaches have time to watch all of the games while also preparing their teams each week. A playoff system, used by most other sports, would eliminate the controversy.



The BCS rewards undefeated BCS teams, so schools sometimes try to schedule games against weaker opponents to protect their records. A playoff would remove the easy schedule and make the championship solely about performance.



A playoff system would not mean the end of the BCS rankings, which could still be used to determine the top 4, 8, 12, or 16 teams, depending on how many playoff games are feasible. Every game during the regular season would still be as important as under the current system, because a few losses would make it difficult for a team to qualify for the playoffs.



The national champions in other major college sports are determined by playoff systems. Even the 140 plus football teams of the NCAA's FCS (formerly known as Division I-AA) compete in a 16-team tournament. The only reason that the BCS is still controlling the football post-season is because the system has become entrenched.



A playoff system would extend the 13 week regular season by at least a month, which would interfere with athletes' college studies and which could potentially lead to more injuries from playing.



The BCS system makes every regular season game crucial for the teams in contention to finish in the top two. The importance of every game increases attendance and revenue, which is shared with other sports and non-athletic programs at each school.



Before 1998, bowl revenue was shared only by the conferences that had teams playing in the major bowl games, (2.3 MB) [12] but the BCS changed the system to share the revenue with every conference. Replacing the BCS would decrease the revenue to conferences without teams in the playoffs.



The BCS rankings are designed to favor consistency over the course of the entire season. It rewards teams that beat the opponents they are supposed to beat as well as underdogs that upset higher-ranked teams. Under a playoff system, a team could lose an entire season's worth of hard work by having one bad day.



The college football post-season bowl games are popular and profitable. Critics of BCS say that most people want a playoff system, but the bowl game attendance numbers contradict their argument. Attendance at the 2008 season bowl games was nearly equal to each stadium's capacity, in some cases exceeding it. For example, the Rose Bowl capacity is 91,000 and attendance was 93,293. [5]



The proposed playoff system alternatives are actually less fair than the BCS system in place. In a league of 120 teams, there is no way for every team to play each other in the course of the regular season, let alone in a playoff during the post-season.



The BCS conferences have stronger teams in them. An undefeated or one-loss record in a BCS conference should mean more than the same record in a weaker, non-BCS conference because the teams are not facing opponents of the same quality. The BCS rankings consider strength of schedule in the computer rating formulas, and the human voters account for it as well.



A playoff system would entail each team playing games in different cities during the holiday season in December and January, with no way to predict where any game besides the first one would take place.Students and alumni would be unable to make travel plans in advance to support their teams.




Did You Know?
  1. 77% of people polled by ESPN think the four-team playoff announced on June 26, 2012 was the right move for college football. [20]

  2. Television contracts for the playoffs are estimated to generate annual revenues ranging from $600 million to $1.5 billion. [24]

  3. Congressman Joe Barton (R-TX) introduced the College Football Playoff Act of 2009, a bill that would make any national championship game illegal if it did not result from a playoff system. [14]

  4. Princeton and Rutgers were both chosen as the first college football national champions in 1869. [13]

  5. The various polls and ratings used since 1869 have named two or more teams as the national champion in 110 of the last 140 years. [13]




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