Almost anyone can agree that college football’s switch from the biased, boring, confusing BCS system to the 4-team playoff was a huge improvement.
But 3 years in, the controversies haven’t stopped, and more and more fanbases are feeling that for this reason or that, their team was left out unjustly. In year 1 there was the TCU/Ohio State fiasco when Ohio State leapfrogged TCU into the 4th position. In year 2 the Pac-12 claimed that they were penalized for having the deepest conference after they beat up on each other during the season and were then left out completely. This year it’s possible that 3 of the 4 best teams will be left out, since they all play for the Big 10.
Things are still a bit of a mess. My proposed solution won’t sound very new or novel, since it’s been clamoured for since the day after the 4-team playoff was announced and because it makes such darn sense. This needs to happen.
The proposed solution:
1. Expand the playoff to 8 teams
High school, most lower divisions of college football, and the NFL all have playoff brackets with more than 8 teams. The arguments of extending the season an extra week really has nothing to stand on. What’s so different about FBS Division 1 football that should limit it to a 4-team playoff?
2. Keep the Committee
These guys are doing a good job. We’d keep the committee, but we’d greatly diminish their role. During the season, the College Football Playoff committee would act similar to the way they currently do, ranking teams based on win/loss record, strength of schedule, strength of victory, FPI, the “eye test”, etc. On the day after the completion of the regular season, the committee would release their “Final Ranking”, listing the top 25 teams in order.
3. 6 Conference Champions would get automatic berths into the Playoff
The weekend after the Final Ranking is released, each of the 10 FBS conferences would play their conference championship game. The winners of each of the power 5 conferences, as well as the highest-ranked champion from the less-prestigious “Group of 5” conferences would receive automatic berths into the playoff.
4. The 2 highest-ranked non-champions from the “Final Ranking” would receive the final 2 spots in the Playoff
Once the first 6 spots were claimed, we’d look back at the “Final Ranking” released by the committee the week before. The 2 highest-ranked teams from the regular season that did not earn an automatic berth would claim the final 2 positions in the playoff.
5. The “Final Ranking” would determine the Playoff seedings
At this point we’d already know the 8 teams that made the Playoff. We’d just need to look at the Final Ranking order to find the final seedings. Highest ranked team plays the lowest ranked team, etc. No politics or pre-meditated pairings about it. The final chips would fall during the conference championship weekend, and we’d know the pairings from there.
I recognize that I’m biased, but here’s why I love this system.
More teams are in the mix all the way til the end
20 teams will play in their conference championship game. Perhaps 20 or 30 more will be in the mix to play in those games up until the final week of the season. Think of how much excitement would exist with that many fanbases knowing that their team had a legit chance to make the playoff that late into the season!
6 of the playoff berths would be determined completely without politics
There is nothing political about winning your conference. If you win the most games in your division, you go to the conference finals. If you win your conference final, you’re in. There’s nothing to debate about.
The “best” 2 remaining teams are guaranteed a spot as well
If at the end of a season a committee of experts thinks that you are one of the best teams in the country, you deserve to be in the playoffs even if you lost a game and didn’t make your conference championship game (looking at you, Ohio State), or if you just happen to be in the same division as another really great team (looking at you, Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State – or in another year, Auburn and LSU and Alabama). This system guarantees that at least the “best” 2 teams in the country will be in the playoffs, although it’s highly likely that most of the conference champions will already be ranked in the top 10 in the first place.
After the Final Ranking is released the week before conference championship games, all there is left to do is play!
Remember, the Final Ranking is released before the championship games are played. At that point, teams know if they have to win the game to get in, or they’ll know how many teams above them need to win their conference championship games for them to receive one of the 2 “wildcard” spots. I also like that there wouldn’t be the odd scenario where teams that lost their championship game would be punished for playing an extra game. Once they get to the conference championship game, the committee is already done, having judged all teams on an equal number of games from the regular season. Teams that ended up reaching, but then losing, their conference championship game wouldn’t be penalized for losing that extra game that they had to play.
Finally, the “Group of 5” questions would end
I love that a Group of 5 champion would get in. Sure, most years they’d be placed in the 8th seed and get crushed by the 1 seed…but what if they didn’t? Can you imagine the uproar and excitement? 99% of the country would be cheering against the 1-seed team anyways. Surely the 8th seed Group of 5 team would be underestimated one year and win the game. They’d probably make a movie about it. Finally, these under-appreciated, lesser-known teams could prove on the field that they belong with the big boys. Who knows how far a Boise State team, or Urban Meyer’s undefeated Utah team would have made it back in the day. Now we’ll know. And if forcing half of the FBS teams to claw for one guaranteed spot still seems like too much to give them, just tell yourself that this system is really a 7-team playoff with a free warm-up cake game for the #1 seed.
Conference dynamics would thrive
At the beginning of the season, every major conference would know for a fact that at least 1 of them would end up in the playoffs. Every conference game would be critical. And the non-conference games would be huge in determining the Final Ranking from the committee. If your conference whips up on others during the non-conference games, then your conference may end up with 3 teams in the playoff when all is said and done. Teams would be much more willing to schedule hard non-conference games, since even if they lost some of them they could still get in the playoff by winning their own conference. Inter-conference rivalries would thrive as well, since a strong conference could potentially earn 3 of the 8 spots and have a better chance to win the title.
This system can easily adjust to the times
As we’ve seen from the major conference realignments from the last couple of years, circumstances change. If one conference became too small (looking at you, Big 12) or too weak (looking at you, Big 12), the Playoff Committee could deem that another conference be treated as a power 5 conference (looking at you, AAC) with the automatic berth. The power conference that became too small or weak would become one of the “Group of 5” conferences, still with a chance to prove they belong by yielding the highest-ranked Group of 5 champion.
With the playoffs currently sitting at 4 teams, a power 5 conference is guaranteed to get left out every year, and the smaller 5 conferences have virtually zero shot of ever playing for a national championship. Sure, the teams sitting just outside the top 4 get to play in a “New Years 6” bowl game…but really, who honestly cares about playing in a “New Years 6”? In terms of purpose and meaning, a “New Years 6” bowl might as well be the Kraft Fight Hunger bowl.
Bring on the 8-team playoff! It’s not too big and it’s not too small. It’s just right.