Even a flawed four-team playoff will come as a relief to fans weary of the steady stream of debates and controversies spawned by the BCS. Such disputes were inevitable under a system in which just two teams would be selected through a process based in murky computer algorithms in addition to human polls. The most controversial moment for the BCS came at the end of the 2003 season, when AP voters ranked USC #1 in the season’s final poll, after the BCS had selected LSU and Oklahoma to play in the National Championship Game.
That season’s split championship led to adjustments in the BCS formula, with the weight of the computer averages decreased, but controversy persisted. The very next season, five teams finished the season undefeated, with SEC champion Auburn, Utah, and Boise State left out of a championship game that featured Oklahoma and USC. Even this year, in the final incarnation of the BCS, there were four undefeated teams with three weeks remaining in the regular season, though late season upsets for two of these teams meant controversy around yesterday’s championship game was ultimately avoided.
The four-team playoff that will replace the BCS system next season is a step in the right direction, but falls far short of creating a truly fair structure. With just four teams participating, controversies about deserving teams who have been left out are sure to persist, with undefeated mid-major schools and one-loss teams from major conferences likely to miss the playoffs in many seasons. Additionally, these teams will be selected by a small committee, through a process that remains unclear, and one which will not involve the ballots of individual committee members being made public. The small size of the playoff and the lack of transparency in the committee’s selection process are sure to result in further controversy surrounding college football’s bowl season.
A better solution is to expand the playoff field and choose the participants through the fairest and most transparent means possible. Fair Sports Rules’ plan calls for the expansion of the field to 16 teams. As in the NCAA basketball tournaments, winners of each conference would receive an automatic berth. The remaining five at-large teams would be chosen by 100 of the nation’s top football analysts, writers, and former coaches using a proportional voting method called ranked ranked choice voting (also known as the Single Transferable Vote). Ranked choice voting is a fair election system used in countries like Australia, Northern Ireland, New Zealand, and Scotland, and U.S. cities like Minneapolis and Cambridge, Massachusetts. It has also been used since the 1930s to select nominees for The Oscars. A four-round playoff tournament between these 16 teams would bring an unprecedented level of excitement to college football, creating a period of “December Delirium,” comparable to college basketball’s “March Madness.”
While the new college football playoff is set to be in place through 2025, hopefully it can be refined in response to inevitable controversies as the BCS was. Implementation of a plan like the one we have outlined would go much further to please fans, quell controversy, and ensure that college football’s national champion is chosen through the fairest method possible.