Tuesday, December 4, 2012

College Football Playoff Proposal: 2013 Edition

Over seven years ago, I proposed a 16-team college football playoff, the details of which can be found here. Since then, it was decided that a four-team playoff will be used to determine a national champion beginning in 2014. This is a nice start, but like most things NCAA-related, it can be improved upon.

Although the majority of my original proposal remains in tact, there is one major change in addition to the minor ones: instead of 16 teams, I am suggesting only 12. This is mostly a result of conference realignment which has changed the landscape of the game. Seven years ago, there were 11 conferences. Two years from now, there will only be 10 (WAC will be gone).

Also of note, my initial estimate of between $100 and $350 million per year turned out to be understated. ESPN recently purchased the rights for only the semifinal and final games for $470 million per season. Add to that the other eight games that I am proposing, and we could be looking at a number closer to $750 million per season.


Preface: conference realignment is an ever-changing beast. I have done my best to fact check but please alert me of any incorrect assumptions.

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 in every division of college athletics has a post-season playoff to determine the national champion with one exception: Division I-A football (note: D I-A is now known as the Football Bowl Subdivision or "FBS"). Naturally, I think that should change. Admittedly, my solution is not perfect. But, it’s certainly a start. If you thought March Madness captivated the nation, just imagine what this would do.

The Proposal

Have a 12-team playoff with each conference champion (10 in total) earning an automatic bid plus two at-large bids. The top four seeds would receive byes into the second round, rewarding the best teams and ensuring the regular season will still matter.

This comes with two caveats as well:

1- teams must be bowl-eligible; and
2-teams must be in the top 25 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 and A

Why not have a 4-, 8-, or 16-team playoff?

 Among others, here are five 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-8, 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. Win and you are in.

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 a 12-team playoff. This may not be true in a 4- or 8-team system.

Fourthly, I want to reward the best teams with a bye and still include all conference champions, should they finish in the top-25.

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 25?

Teams outside of the top 20% of the FBS have very little realistic chance of succeeding in a tournament of this sort. Of the teams currently ranked 1 through 11 in the BCS standings, only two (Stanford and Kansas State) lost to a team ranked outside the final top 10 of the BCS standings. The teams at the top are clearly superior to everyone else.

What is the CFBPR?

Humans, with some help from computers, will give every team 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-25) 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-12 will automatically receive an at-large bid. Independent teams ranked lower than 12th, 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.

Semifinal games will be played the following week.

The "true" National Championship Game will be played ten days after that.

Where will the games be played?

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

The highest bidder can host the remaining games. (Yes, more money.)

How would this fit in with the current bowl system?

75% of bowls don't matter now anyway. They can still be played with no ill effects of having a playoff system in place. If it can work with a 4-team playoff, it can work with 12.

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

Of the 12 teams that qualify for this playoff, only eight will play past the second week of December. The other four 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 FCS, 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 (cnnsi.com poll).

What about the money?

See above.

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 undefeated teams with 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.

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

What if. . . 2012-3 Edition

Using BCS Standings as of December 2nd:

1. Notre Dame (Independent)

2. Alabama (SEC)
3. Florida (At-large)
4. Oregon (At-large)

5. Kansas State (Big 12)

12. Utah State (WAC)

6. Stanford (Pac 12)

11. Louisville or Boise State (Big East)

7. Georgia (At-large)

10. Nebraska (Big 10)

8. Florida State (ACC)

9. Northern Illinois (MAC)

DNQ (Not in Top 25): Tulsa (Conference USA), Arkansas State (Sun Belt), Louisville/Boise State (Boise State won the Mountain West this year but both will be in Big East)


-Florida State - Northern Illinois is an actual BCS bowl this year
-Potential Florida State - Notre Dame second round matchup
-Potential Georgia - Alabama second round matchup
-Potential Kansas State - Oregon second round matchup, which is also an actual BCS bowl this year


-Despite finishing in the top-10, Heisman favority Johnny Football would be on the outside looking in. Texas A&M finished sixth in the SEC so really not a flaw in this system, though.
-Two teams in the 20's qualified (Louisville, Utah State)

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 five weeks (after the regular season) before we see another meaningful game?

2. Coaches would remain with their institutions until after their season ends.

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.

Let me hear the feedback against this, please.