Ever since Mark Cuban got us all talking about getting a playoff in college football, the Internet has been buzzing about the best college football playoff system. Of course there are several ideas out there, some with merit, some just nonsense. Anyone who has read “Death To The BCS” knows some of the hurdles to a playoff. So it is with that in mind that I’ve decided to stop thinking optimistically or ideally about the situation and think realistically.
So let’s be realistic about a couple of things that should change but won’t.
1. The NCAA will not step in and create a mega-realignment of the conferences to balance them out and make them fair.
2. The NCAA will not be changing requirements for FBS or FCS anytime soon. The teams we have in the FBS are the teams we have in the FBS. We’re not getting rid of any of them.
3. The NCAA will never prohibit FBS vs. FCS games, as this is a requirement to move up from the FCS to FBS.
4. No playoff proposal will survive that doesn’t have some kind of contingency plan for the bowls.
These are four realities that I will just have to deal with. I would love to realign conferences to be more balanced. I would love to just drop about 40 FBS teams back to the FCS. I would love to cease all FBS vs. FCS games. I would love for the bowls to go away. Such is not the world in which we live. So the playoff system I’m going to suggest here is simply the best college football playoff system we can have within those circumstances.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about a few common misconceptions and clear them up:
1. Playoff games at bowl sites will never work. Read “Death To The BCS” for more information on this. Travel expenses, loss of home game revenues, logistics and plenty of other obstacles make it entirely impossible to set up a playoff system that uses bowl locations for playoff games.
2. Anything less than 12 teams in a playoff cannot work. You will still be creating unequal access to the postseason. All conference champions get in. No way around it. Every team needs to have a clear path to the playoff.
3. The season cannot go on past the current date of the BCS championship game. Universities would throw a hissy fit.
Ok, so without further delay, here is the best college football playoff system. First, the NCAA is obviously going to have to get involved if a playoff is going to happen. The NCAA runs the other playoffs in college football, so they will have to run this one too. A few ground rules will have to take place in order for the timing of everything to work. Here are the rules the NCAA must set in place:
1. No regular season game can be played after Thanksgiving weekend. This means conferences with championship games must have those played before December. It’s the only way timing can work here.
2. No bowl games will be played before the second weekend of December. Bowl games and playoff games cannot be simultaneous or would each detract from one another.
With these ground rules in place, the rest is pretty simple. Let each team in each conference make their schedules as normal, with the understanding that no game is to be played after Thanksgiving weekend. Let each conference decide on its own how it wants to crown a champion. At the end of the regular season, all 11 conference champions get an automatic invite to the playoff, regardless of rankings, records or anything else. This way all teams have equal access to the playoffs.
Five at large bids will be determined by a committee, the same way at large bids are done for March Madness. BCS rankings can be used here or any other criteria. The committee selects the five at large selections and then seeds all 16 teams, 1 – 16.
Bowls are then given the opportunity to invite teams that are eligible. Playoff teams and sub-.500 teams are not eligible. This will naturally cut out a few of the bowls, but that’s fine since a majority are just causing teams to lose money anyway. This forces them into more efficiency so that teams carefully select their options and which bowls they want to attend. If Notre Dame gets 4 bowl invites, they will go to the one that gives them the best opportunity to make money. That’s not how it is now, where teams take what they can get. This gives the benefits to the teams, not the bowls and their executives.
The first round of playoffs is the first weekend of December. Matchups are 1-16, 2-15, etc. Higher seeds get the home game. The second round of playoffs is the following weekend. Winners advance in the bracket and play whoever comes next. After this weekend, there are four teams left.
At that point, bowl games are allowed to begin and run through January 1. No bowl game is allowed to be played after New Years. If a lack of bowl eligible teams limits a bowl or two from being able to host a game, then teams eliminated from the playoff can participate.
The weekend after New Years, the semi final games are played. Higher seeds still host the games. Winners advance and play each other for the championship at a neutral site. This can rotate between the big bowls: Rose, Fiesta, Sugar, Orange and maybe even Cotton. A true champion is crowned in exactly the same time frame a BCS champion is currently crowned. A few teams play some extra games. The most a team could play would be 17, and that would be 12 regular season games, a conference championship and 4 playoff games. Most teams would still play 13. Only 8 teams could possibly play more than that.
This preserves the importance of the regular season. Seeding is all important. Every conference game matters a whole lot more. Rivalries take on new meaning if a playoff berth is on the line. This gives everyone equal access to a fair postseason that lets the teams play it out on the field. If this system were in place today, our playoff would have been:
6. Ohio State
8. Michigan State
10. Boise State
11. Virginia Tech
15. Miami (OH)
16. Florida International
So let’s run a simulation. Auburn beats down Florida Internationa. Oregon cruises past Miami (OH). UCF is killed by TCU. Uconn gives Stanford a game but goes down. Nevada loses a shootout to Wisconsin. Virginia Tech upsets Ohio State. Oklahoma loses to Boise State. Arkansas slides past Michigan State. In the next round, Auburn loses the rematch with Arkansas in a shocking upset. Oregon loses to Boise State in another shocking upset. TCU handles Virginia Tech. Stanford goes down to the wire with Wisconsin and wins in OT.
Now the bowl games go on as before with no one caring. Semi-finals roll around and Stanford gets Arkansas at home and TCU gets Boise State at home. Stanford and TCU advance to the championship in two excellent games. The Fiesta Bowl hosts this years championship and Stanford edges TCU in 2OT. Wouldn’t that be something?
So tell me, is this the best college football playoff system ever or is there something you would change?