Before continuing, I should acknowledge that, as Chas from Pitt Blather reminded me, the bowl and BCS situation is controlled entirely outside the realm of the NCAA. Essentially, we are calling on a monopoly to regulate itself more effectively. In other words, this entire house is built on a foundation of tinder and oily rags, and we would thank you kindly not to set it ablaze by way of Bic lighter, matchstick, or staring at it for more than 5 seconds. Thank you.
I, like most college football fans, would greatly prefer a playoff. But I understand that won't be happening in the next, say, five years (if ever). So we're stuck with the BCS and its series of high-end "BCS" Bowls and BCS teams, and all things considered, it's better than the alternative.
But at the same time, of the 8-10 teams that comprise a BCS lineup every year, it is invariably true that the worst two teams are not the at-large teams, but weak champions of BCS conferences. Meanwhile, teams like 2005 Utah and 2006 Boise State have to run the table just for a sniff at the BCS. 2008 Ball State will probably go undefeated, then end up in Detroit (actually, we probably can't do much for Ball State in this proposal). All these teams will have won their conferences handily and earned substantially better BCS ratings than the automatic entrants from the BCS conferences.
Thus, in order to increase the level of competition across the board in I-A and in the BCS bowls themselves, there is a very simple, undramatic, and fair change the NCAA can make. It doesn't affect the rest of the bowl affiliations, it doesn't affect any timetables or logistics, and nobody can convincingly call foul. In effect, it is a simplifier. The change is this:
Eliminate the "BCS" designation for conferences.
The current system sends the six BCS conference champions, in-conference replacements for the Rose Bowl if a Pac-10 &/or Big 10 team makes the title game, and 2-4 at-large teams to the BCS bowls. The new system, however would reward the top six conference champions, regardless of conference. The next four highest-rated teams, be they conference title holders or at large, would fill out the ranks. It's much fairer to the teams that earn it on a year-by-year basis and who aren't going on some sort of BCS designation-legacy system.
(Oh, and if the Big 10 or Pac-10 can't replace their Rose Bowl berth with a top-12 team--2007 Illinois, we are glaring at you--then the spot goes to a much more deserving at-large team.)
Here's what the last four years and this year would look like under the "new" and "old" systems. Tell me which would make for better football and better TV ratings:
2004 (adjusted): #1 USC, #2 Oklahoma, #3 Auburn, #4 Texas (at large), #5 California (at large), #6 Utah, #8 Virginia Tech, #9 Boise State
2004 (actual): #1 USC, #2 Oklahoma, #3 Auburn, #4 Texas (at large), #6 Utah (at large), #8 Virginia Tech, #13 Michigan, #21 Pitt
2005 (adjusted): #1 USC, #2 Texas, #3 Penn State, #4 Ohio State (at large), #5 Oregon (at large), #6 Notre Dame, #7 Georgia, #11 West Virginia
2005 (actual): #1 USC, #2 Texas, #3 Penn State, #4 Ohio State (at large), #6 Notre Dame (at large), #7 Georgia, #11 West Virginia, #22 Florida State
2006 (adjusted): #1 Ohio State, #2 Florida, #3 Michigan (at large), #4 LSU (at large), #5 USC, #6 Louisville, #7 Wisconsin (at large), #8 Boise State, #9 Auburn (at large), #10 Oklahoma
2006 (actual): #1 Ohio State, #2 Florida, #3 Michigan (replacement), #4 LSU (replacement), #5 USC, #6 Louisville (at large), #8 Boise State (at large), #10 Oklahoma, #11 Notre Dame, #14 Wake Forest
2007 (adjusted): #1 Ohio State, #2 LSU, #3 Virginia Tech, #4 Oklahoma, #5 Georgia (at large), #6 Missouri (at large), #7 USC, #8 Kansas (at large), #9 West Virginia, #10 Hawaii (at large)
2007 (actual): #1 Ohio State, #2 LSU, #3 Virginia Tech, #4 Oklahoma, #5 Georgia (replacement), #7 USC, #8 Kansas (at large), #9 West Virginia (at large), #10 Hawaii (at large), #13 Illinois (replacement)
2008 (adjusted) (for now): #1 Alabama, #2 Texas Tech, #3 Texas (at large), #4 Florida (at large), #5 Oklahoma (at large), #6 USC, #7 Utah, #8 Penn State, #9 Boise State, #10 Georgia (at large)
2008 (actual) (for now): #1 Alabama, #2 Texas Tech, #3 Texas (replacement), #4 Florida (replacement), #5 Oklahoma (at large), #6 USC, #7 Utah (at large), #8 Penn State, #16 North Carolina, #21 Pitt
The lowest actual teams from 2004-2007 are 0-4, and only Florida State in 2005 was even competitive (L 26-23 (3 OT) to PSU). This season, any sane, impartial observer would have zero confidence in Pitt or UNC to beat Texas, Florida, Oklahoma, or USC. We're talking about different levels of competition, plain and simple.
In this newer system, the elite are uniformly rewarded. There won't be any more scenarios like 2004, where #4 Cal and #5 Texas are jockeying for a single position. And yes, while that wouldn't happen in a 10-team system, you're certainly assured this year of having to watch teams like Pitt and North Carolina/Maryland/Georgia Tech/Whofuckingever back their ways into the BCS only to get asshammered by a legitimately good team. Like you don't want to give their automatic spots to Utah and Boise. Come on.
In addition to creating better football, there's also the rather enormous issue of money. I would be amazed if someone created a cogent argument as to why half of the conferences in I-A deserve automatic BCS money every year. It's entitlement. It's a caste system. It's why Duke, where football is stuck between "afterthought" and "punchline," sees more BCS money on a yearly basis than Boise does.
Again, the BCS is in place, and it is what it is. Blowing it up and going to the playoff system, while romantic, is not feasible at this time. But it is feasible to at least make a concerted effort to get the real best teams in place for the bowls, not just the ones who were lucky enough to be in the biggest-named conferences a decade ago. Short of relegation, that's the only way to begin leveling the playing field in I-A.