An alternative to the current BCS system
Now that the college regular season is over and the BCS games are all set, the blogosphere is abuzz with the Ohio State-Michigan-Florida triangle and the playoff system. The playoff system holds many advantages to both teams and fans. Instead of 5 big games, we get anywhere from 7 (three-week playoffs) to 31 (five-week playoffs). A team that loses two or even three games in the regular season still gets a chance to win the championship (much like Steelers did last year on the road to SB, being the first no.6 in a conference to win the title). The advertisers still get a chance to shove their name (with 31 games, every game can have a "name", and with 7 we can still have all the minor bowls).
However, there's still a question about rankings and schedules. The rankings are largely (66%) subjective (even though the analysis shows that the computer rankings are on the average within 5 places over a number of years). The schedules can be very unfavorable to some teams like Boise State that didn't have a single game against a ranked opponent and ended up at no.9 despite a perfect 12-0. But wait, there is a solution in another sport - the Swiss system tournament.
Although the complete ruleset can be compared only to the BCS eligibility rules, it's all very simple. At every stage, you play against somebody with a similar record. If you have a winning streak, you'll play against good teams. If you have a losing streak, you'll play against bad teams. Eventually, after a comparatively short number of rounds, the standings reflect the actual strength of the teams as averaged over the entire tournament, and no team can complain about having a weaker schedule than the teams that are ranked higher. There are three major rules:
1. In the first round, it's either random draw or you play according to the ranking against a team of opposite strength (no.1 plays the last one).
2. In the second round, the winners of the first round are drawn to play against each other. The same with the losers.
3. In all the consecutive rounds, the teams are divided in three groups (according to the current records). First, the best team in the top group gets the top ranked team in the same group that it hasn't played against. Repeat the process from the next top ranked team. Then, the same is applied in the bottom group from the bottom. Finally, the middle group gets drawn.
This ensures that the team that is ranked no.1 at the end played most of the best teams throughout almost the entire tournament. Moreover, every round (starting from round 3) we get increasingly better matchups. In addition, every team gets plenty of chances to bounce off after a loss, since the teams above them will play other teams of equal strength.
Who wins - obviously the fans, the TV stations and the advertisers. It's practically a playoff that goes on throughout the entire season. There's no need for any human or computer based ranking. The performance on the field decides everything. There's no need for playoffs since we have them "built-in". There's no need for the championship game since no.1 had to beat pretty much everybody else in the top 10, and the same goes to no.2. Of course, this may come as a bonus (as all the other bowls). In addition, a really good team that has a breakthrough season gets all the chances it needs to go to the top.
Who loses - only the big teams (including Notre Dame). No more easy seasons with only 2-3 games against ranked opponents. No more easy money just because you have national following. They'll have to prove their worth and earn their money the hard way - on the field.
The last question remains - what about the existing conferences? This can be easily worked into the system. One week you get to play an in-conference rival, another week you get to play an out-conference rival. It can even go on two week-two week basis. This would amount to 6 in-conference and 6 out-conference games. That's OK since (1) there are conferences where you don't play all the teams (like Big 10 and Big 12) and (2) you get to play the in-conference rivals of the similar strength. The home-away issue is addressed in the complete ruleset (for chess it's white-black).
The world chess team championships usually use 13-round tournament with over 100 participating teams. Sounds familiar?