Friday, March 6, 2009

From the Archives: NCAA Football Playoff Proposal

I published this on my old site about four years ago. Still seems pretty relevant. What are your thoughts?

I’ve always been a proponent of the theory: if you don’t have a better solution, don’t complain about the current problem. Well, here’s my solution to college football’s current problem of determining a “true” national champion.

Every major sport (football, basketball, baseball, hockey, and even soccer) in every division (I-A, I-AA, II, and III) has a post-season playoff to determine the national champion with one exception: Division I-A football. Naturally, I think that should change. Admittedly, my solution is not perfect. But, it’s certainly a start.

The Proposal

Have a 16-team playoff with each conference champion (12 in total) earning an automatic bid plus four at-large bids.

Two caveats exist as well: teams must be bowl-eligible and in the top 40 of the CFBPR system (see below). Obviously, these are in place to prevent an inferior team from taking the spot of a worthy competitor.

Q & A

Why not have a 4- or 8-team playoff?

Among others, here are three answers:

First, with so many teams qualifying, there will be far less griping from teams “on the cusp.” If your team finishes in the top-10, they will, in all likelihood, qualify.

Secondly, because each worthy conference champion gets a bid, undefeated teams from smaller conferences are guaranteed entry into the playoff. So, the 2004 Utah’s of the world can prove themselves on the field.

Thirdly, a slip-up won't ruin your chances. In my opinion, every team is entitled to a slip-up at some point during the season. Your team can lose a game and still qualify in this the 16-team playoff. This may not be true in a 4- or 8-team system.

Lastly (and most importantly to the university presidents), the more games that are played, the more money can be made.

Why must teams be in the Top 40?

Teams outside of the top one-third (of the 119 teams in D-IA) have very little realistic chance of succeeding in a tournament of this sort. Of the teams currently ranked 1 through 13 in the BCS poll, only LSU (vs. Tennessee), Notre Dame (vs. Michigan State), and UCLA (at Arizona) lost to teams outside the Top 40 this season.

What is the CFBPR?

Humans, with some help from computers, will give every team from 1-119 a College Football Playoff Rank (CFBPR). This system will be similar to the BCS poll, but it will also include two additional measures: “bonus points” for (wins over opponents that finish the season ranked in the top-10) and "Loss Strength rank."

How are the at-large teams selected?

The highest rated, non-conference champions qualify automatically.

What about Notre Dame and the other independents?

Any independent team ranked in the top-10 will automatically receive an at-large bid. Independent teams ranked lower than 10th, will be treated like non-conference champions.

How are teams seeded?

Again, refer to the CFBPR for the seeds.

When will the games be played?

The first round games will be played on the second Saturday of December.

Final exams will take place between the first and second round games. (Let’s not forget these are student-athletes.)

Second round games will be played on the fourth Saturday of December.

Third round games will be played the following week.

The "true" National Championship Game will be played ten days after the third round games.

Where will the games be played?

The first round will be played at the higher seeded team’s home field.

Round two will be played at and in lieu of the Capital One Bowl, Gator Bowl, Outback Bowl, and Orange Bowl. (Note: all in Florida.)

Rounds three and four will be played at and in lieu of the Rose Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Orange Bowl, and Sugar Bowl. The championship game site will rotate on a year-to-year basis.

How would this fit in with the current bowl system?

This would not be all that dramatic of a change at the “bottom” of the bowl system. To combat the problem of bowls with conference ties, I introduce the trickle down solution. This is best explained with a concrete example:

The New Orleans Bowl has a contract with Conference USA and the Sun Belt Conference. The Sun Belt champion (Arkansas State) plays in the New Orleans Bowl. However, if Arkansas State had qualified for the 16-team playoff, the Sun Belt’s second place team (Louisiana-Lafayette) would go in place of the champion. In essence, a trickle-down.

The “top bowls” would be altered drastically (as seen above).

Won’t the student-athletes miss too much school-time?

Of the 16 teams that qualify for this playoff, only eight will play past the second week of December. The other eight will have been eliminated by that point.

Additionally, most schools have an intersession (interrum, winter-session, or whatever you’d like to call it) that runs from the third week of December through the third week of January. So, little class, if any at all, is being missed.

Plus, unlike the Division I-AA, II, and III teams, the teams that advance to the second round will have time off for finals.

Aren’t there too many games?

If the NCAA presidents feel this way, they can drop the limit of games in a season to eleven.

Won’t this ruin tradition?

Yes, but so did the wildcard in baseball. Baseball has never been more successful.

College football is already so popular. Why change it?

Again, this in my opinion, would make the game even better. 81% of online voters agree with me ( poll).

What about the money?

The 2005-2006 bowls will pay out approximately $90 million that will be divided among 11 conferences. I’ve heard estimates for the revenue that could be generated through a playoff system between $100 and $350 million. I think there’s a reasonable way to divide that money so everyone’s happy. (I have a solution if the presidents are interested.)

The Winners

Unanimity: An unquestioned, unanimous college football national champion.

The fans: This has the potential to rival March Madness as the most exciting sporting event each calendar year.

The players: They will finally get to determine the national champion on the field.

Non-BCS Conferences: Finally, the little guys have a chance.

Undefeated teams: No more stories like the 2004-5 Auburn Tigers who went undefeated and have nothing to show for it.

The Losers

Conference title games: With limits on the amount of games that can be played, some conferences may decide to cancel the championship game and revert to another form of determining the conference champion.

University presidents: The presidents have been staunchly against this idea forever.

The Orange Bowl: The Orange Bowl drops from a top-flight (BCS) bowl down one notch to a second round game site.

Tradition(alists): Obviously, this will ruffle some feathers with those that still believe in working your way up the polls.

What if. . . 2005 Edition

Remember there would be no conference championship games; so, the playoff seeds would have looked something like this:

1. @USC (Pac-10)
16. Boise State (WAC)

8. @Notre Dame (At-large)
9. Miami, FL (Al-large)

5. @Virginia Tech (ACC)
12. UCLA (At-large)

13. TCU (Mountain West)
4. @LSU (SEC)

3. @Penn State (Big 10)
14. Georgia (At-large)

6. @Ohio State (At-large)
11. West Virginia (Big East)

10. Auburn (At-large)
7. @Oregon (At-large)

15. UCF (Conference USA)
2. @Texas (Big 12)

DNQ (Not in Top 40): Akron (MAC), Arkansas State (Sun Belt).

Sponsors looking at some of these games would be foaming at the mouth.

First round match-ups of Miami, FL at Notre Dame and Georgia at Penn State.

Potential second-round match-ups include Virgina Tech vs. LSU and/or a rematch of Notre Dame vs. USC.

To borrow a line from another college analyst (albeit basketball): “Are you serrrrr-ious, baby?”

The money’s there, the interest is there, and the structure is there. Let’s give it a shot. If it doesn’t work, we can always ask the computers who the national champion should be. I'll take my chances.

Two more reasons to have a college football playoff system

1. No long layoffs between regular season and bowl games. Why are we forced to wait four weeks (after the regular season) before we see another meaningful game?

2. Coaches would remain with their institutions until after their season ends. Boise State / Colorado Head Coach Dan Hawkins was under contract with Colorado but coached Boise State in their bowl game this week. How does this make any sense? He obviously was not focused on preparing his team for Boston College because he was busy recruiting players for his next job. Do you think Hawkins would have pulled this stunt if the Broncos were preparing for a first round playoff game? I certainly don’t.


  1. A 6-team playoff is the way to go.

  2. I’ll preface this by saying that this is what should happen, not what will happen.

    Top 6 in the computer rankings get in (regardless of conference), and the top 2 seeds get first-round byes. There are five games in total in this scenario, the same amount of BCS games currently. Each of the Big 4 bowls gets one game in the first two rounds, and the national championship game gets rotated every year.

    A 4-team playoff really wouldn't work because one of the bowls gets left out every year. Plus, the #5 team in the computer rankings gets left out, and there's almost no difference between the #4 and #5 teams in the country. In the 6-team scenario, the #7 team stays home. That team should have very little gripe about missing the 6-team playoff.

    Anything more than six teams results in too many games, and in every scenario except a 6-team playoff, one of the major bowls gets left out.

    Alas, my proposed 6-team playoff will never happen because it doesn't guarantee a spot for a team in every major conference.

  3. Also, Boston College would've beaten Boise State regardless. That team should have gone to the Gator Bowl that year. They weren't going to lose to a team that plays on a blue field.