If the Mountain West Conference has its way, the structure of postseason college football will look more like the NCAA basketball tournament and less like the Bowl Championship Series.
As promised two weeks ago, the MWC publicly released Wednesday a detailed proposal to reform the BCS format, including the creation of an eight-team playoff. Commissioner Craig Thompson, along with four university leaders from the league, discussed and answered questions about the proposal on a conference call.
"We all believe that change is needed. The current system is not fair and somebody needs to stand up and say that and ask for a dialogue amongst all of the parties involved," said Tom Buchanan, University of Wyoming President and Chair of the MWC Board of Directors.
"We can't promote change without offering some alternatives. I think that's what we've done with this proposal we've put forward ... Our goal is to find a system that's best for college football."
Among the proposals:
— Changing the criteria for determining automatically qualifying conferences through on-field performance. A Football Bowl Subdivision conference would become an automatic qualifier "if over a two-season period the conference (1) has played a minimum of twenty inter-conference regular-season games against he six current automatic qualifying conferences and (2) has a minimum winning percentage of .400 in these games," according to the proposal.
Under that criteria, the MWC would earn an automatic BCS bid because it has posted a 16-13 record (.552) against automatically qualifying conferences the past two seasons.
Currently, only the Atlantic Coast, Big 12, Big Ten, Big East, Pac-10 and Southeastern Conferences are automatic qualifiers. Five other leagues — the MWC, WAC, Conference USA, Sun Belt and MAC — do not have an automatic berth to the BCS.
— Creating a 12-member selection committee to formulate the BCS standings instead of human polls and computer rankings. The committee would be similar in function to the basketball selection committee that evaluates teams and sets up the NCAA Tournament pairings and seedings.
— Devising a playoff allowing "deserving" teams the opportunity to compete for the national championship. It would feature five BCS bowls, including the Rose, Fiesta, Orange and Sugar, to be played the first week of January. The fifth BCS game would be awarded to a bowl that currently hosts a non-BCS game.
The committee would rank the BCS bowl teams from 1 to 10, with the two lowest-ranked BCS bowl teams playing in the fifth BCS bowl. Then the top eight BCS bowl teams would essentially participate in a playoff, facing off in the Rose, Fiesta, Orange or Sugar Bowls. The winners of those four games would meet in a national semifinal game and the winners of the semifinals would square off in a national championship game in mid-January.
— Changing the composition of the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee to include one voting member from each FBS conference and Notre Dame.
"We believe this proposal has great merit on several levels. We also understand, however, that there likely will be other ideas as to how the structure could be modified," Thompson said.
He wouldn't speculate about how this proposal might be received by the rest of the college football world.
"Our hope is trying to get a dialogue," Thompson said. "Certainly, it's a work in progress. We want to be perfectly clear, that we would hope that all FBS members engage."
Driving the timing of this proposal is an ESPN contract on the table that would extend the current BCS system for four more years, from 2011-2014. The new contract takes effect in April, 2010. For now, the MWC has refused to sign the contract.
"Now is the time to have the conversation about change in the current system because we have a contract in front of us that will extend the status quo for another four years," Buchanan said. "We want to have the conversation now, not four years from now."
What the MWC is looking for is better access to BCS bowls and legitimate access to the national championship game.
Thompson recalled looking into the eyes of Utah quarterback Brian Johnson after his team's dominating victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl last January. Johnson was asked if the Utes, the only unbeaten team in college football, should be playing for a national championship. "He said, 'I don't know why not. We haven't lost a game. We beat everybody we played.'"
"That's what this is all about," Thompson added. "It's about our kids, our student-athletes, our football players having a similar opportunity to play for a national championship."
San Diego State president Stephen Weber said this proposal is intended to be a catalyst for change in college football's postseason system.
"This is the beginning of the conversation, not the end of the conversation," he explained. "This is not just a gesture on our part. There is a fundamental unfairness here that the whole country is aware of. Somebody has to stand up and exercise some leadership if we're going to confront this unfairness. This isn't just about the Mountain West, it's about football in America and making it a fair process."