For many years, the “mythical” national championship in college football was considered to be the team that finished the football season, and their bowl game, ranked #1 in the AP and UPI, or coaches polls. There was a trophy, though officially, there was no real recognition from the NCAA and the champion could lay claim only to the conference, or bowl game championship, that they had won. Over the years, there was a lot of discussion as to how to go about determining a “national champion” but the ever expanding bowl system was a huge roadblock in the way.
Enter the BCS. Stepping outside the NCAA boundary, a way of determining a national champion through the rankings and the bowl system was developed. It was a monumental failure, with several teams laying claim to deserving higher rankings and national titles virtually every year, and the overall attitude of coaches and sportswriters essentially devaluing the glass football trophy. Not much changed when two teams were invited to play a game for the trophy outside of the bowl alignment. The argument over who deserved it, who played a tougher schedule, and who was the best team still persisted. The BCS didn’t really produce a “national champion”, but could only claim for the winning team the “Bowl Championship Series Title”.
So the BCS ended, and there is now a “committee” that will meet, somehow objectively determine who the four best teams in the country are at the end of the season, and have some semblance of a playoff. Good luck with that working much better than the BCS, or with ending the arguments of who is a “national champion.”
There are now five “power conferences” with the bulk of the NCAA in tow, due to recent expansion. Outside of that, there are four or five conferences, and some independents, who make up what we used to call Division I-A. Eight teams, straight up, would do the trick. Each power conference champion, and three at-large teams, could be from the power conferences, might be from the outliers. Four games, four weeks, to the title. Plenty of time, plenty of competition. Use the rankings to seed the teams one through eight. Play the games at the bowl game sites. The minor bowls get their pick of the teams that remain. Then you’d have a true national champion, and the NCAA could control the process and award the trophy. The bowls wouldn’t be able to manipulate the selections and favor teams and conferences with big money.
That would also open the door for increased “big game” non-conference match-ups. The SEC could stop having to bully Florida International and Western Carolina and some inter-regional matchups with schools from the other power conferences would boost early season enthusiasm and attendance. I think that would help the schools in conferences like CUSA and the Mountain West as well.
The likelihood of such a playoff is probably pretty low. There’s too much money in the bowls, and the lack of commitment to excellence has been part of the system for far too long. A mismatch between a mid-level SEC team and a CUSA team in Charlotte or Jacksonville that fills the hotel rooms and other money-making venues is much more likely to occur than the top teams from each conference squaring off, week after week. I don’t think that would take away from the relative excitement of a bowl game in a place like Boise, Albuquerque or Shreveport.