I am not a proponent of a playoff in college football.
I feel this way for a number of different reasons, but my key reason is this: Playoff proponents hate the BCS and the bowls because they are “unfair”, yet there has never been a playoff proposal that is “fair”. They are subjective on who gets in and who gets left out, they do not always reward conference championships, providing equal footing for all teams.
So I decided to find a fair way to do a playoff – one that addresses some of the core feelings of the playoff and anti-playoff crowds. Namely:
- The regular season and results on the field, need to matter
- You cannot play for the championship if you do not win your conference.
- All teams need to have a clear path to a championship – no haves and have-nots
Accomplishing these goals is not an easy task. But I have done it. That is the good news.
The bad news? Well, that really depends on your point of view. Let’s just say that creating a “fair” system meant blowing up almost everything that is in place today. And I mean everything. Quite frankly, that is both good and bad.
First off – I got rid all of the existing conferences. The so-called “BCS Conferences” (SEC, ACC, B1G, Big XII, Pac 12, Big East)? Gone. The “mid-majors” (Mountain West, MAC, WAC, and Sun Belt)? Gone too. The “independent” status of Notre Dame, Navy and others? Gone as well. We are going to wipe the slate clean and start over with new conferences.
Super Conferences, you say? Nope. We’re going old-school. Conferences will have eight teams and eight teams only. This provides two key benefits: 1) It ensures that you cannot win your conference by benefit of a scheduling fluke that allows you to duck the good teams while you beat up the weaker members, and 2) It returns geographic sanity to conference affiliation. San Diego State in the Big East? Sorry, son. Not anymore.
The new conferences are going to be great for college football. Why? They are all based on geography, which plays up the regional, braggin’ rights rivalries that makes the college game so wonderful for fans. You want to win the conference? You gotta beat the other teams in your state/region. Plus, it means the days of the 1,200 mile trip for a conference game are gone for most schools*.
*It looks as if the longest conference road trip is 1,188 miles from Laramie, WY to Seattle, WA. Obviously, that doesn’t include the schools in the same conference as Hawaii. But most of the schools are very close together, I promise.
Some of you have probably already done the math, but here is the other amazing benefit of 8 team conferences: There are currently 120 schools playing the highest level of football (FBS, or Division I if you prefer). Four more teams are scheduled to make the jump to FBS in 2012 (Texas-San Antonio, Texas State, Massachusetts, and Southern Alabama). Promote four more schools* and you have 128 D1 teams. Why does that matter? 128 teams divided by 8 teams per conference means we end up with 16 conferences.
*For the purposes of drawing this up, I have promoted the following four schools from FCS to the big time: Georgia Southern, Appalachian State, Montana, and Delaware. These schools have had strong success in the FCS playoffs in the last 10-15 years, and could likely hold their own on the big stage. Congrats and good luck!
Things are starting to come into focus now: Your team plays a 12 game regular season schedule. Seven of those games are against the other members of your conference (again – the other schools in your state or in your region that you probably already have a rivalry with). The other five games are non-conference games – we’ll come back to the scheduling of non-con games in a bit.
If you win your conference, you are in the playoffs. If you do not win your conference, you can watch the playoffs on TV like everybody else (or you can play in a bowl game – more on that in a minute too).
Say you win all of your non-conference games, and finish 6-1 in conference. Meanwhile, your rival loses all of their non-conference games, but goes 7-0 in conference. They’re going to the playoff (likely as a very low seed), and you’re left to lament why you lost the head-to-head matchup. The regular season – especially the conference season – matters. Earn it on the field.
At the end of the season, we take our 16 conference champs and put them into a bracket. How are they seeded? There will be no NCAA committee, no mysterious RPI, no seeding tilted to create interesting matchups or keep teams close to home.
I’m proposing something similar to the current BCS formula, using the AP Poll, the ESPN Coaches Poll, and an average of six different computer polls. I would make sure the formula is tweaked to include a) strength of schedule and b) margin of victory. I think the fairest seeding method balances human bias (polls) with subjective data (multiple computer rankings).
The first and second rounds are played on-campus at the higher seed team’s stadium. That means a 9 seed Michigan (stadium capacity 110,000) could travel to 8 seed Southern Miss (capacity 36,000). Want to host a first round game? Being a traditional power won’t cut it. You’d better take care of it on the field during the regular season.
The “Final Four” and Championship games will all be played at neutral sites on a rotating basis. I’m torn between rotating these games between the top bowls (Rose, Fiesta, Orange, Sugar, Cotton) or opening it up to bids like the NCAA basketball does. Quite frankly, I have no problem with a national semi-final game being played in an NFL stadium, even one in a “cold weather” city.
Remember that team who won all of their non-conference games, but missed out on the playoffs because they lost one game in the conference? I am all in favor of keeping the bowl game tradition alive for the 2nd and 3rd place teams in each conference. This means there are 16 bowl games, which is a healthy reduction from the current 35. Instead of having the conferences tied into specific bowls, set up a rotation amongst the 16 bowl games to let them draft the teams they want.
So what about the rest of the regular season schedule? There are the seven games against the rest of the conference, leaving five non-conference slots per team to fill. At first, I considered having the NCAA (or whomever runs this whole thing) do the non-conference scheduling for each team as it would hopefully avoid some of the “cupcake binging” that some teams like to do. But I’ve decided against this.
For many schools, revenue from home football games pays for a lot of non-revenue and Olympic sports, so it is important to keep these revenue streams open. In addition, certain schools may want to schedule traditional rivals that are not in their conference (such as Michigan-Ohio State, Texas-Oklahoma, or Air Force with Army & Navy). Therefore, the schools can schedule whomever they like.
But there are risks that go along with filling your non-conference plate with cupcakes. Do you want a higher seed (and a first round home game)? Since strength of schedule is one of the criteria in the seeding process, a team that plays (and wins) a tough non-conference slate will be rewarded.
Now for the big question – what conference is your favorite team going to be in, and who do they need to beat to get to the playoffs?
|Boise St.||California||Air Force||Arizona|
|Idaho||Fresno St.||BYU||Arizona St.|
|Oregon||San Diego St.||Colorado St.||New Mexico St.|
|Oregon St.||San Jose St.||Nevada||Texas State|
|Washington||Southern California||UNLV||Texas Tech|
|Washington St.||Stanford||Utah||Texas-San Antonio|
|Texas||Louisippi||Low Plains||High Plains|
|Houston||Louisiana Lafayette||Arkansas State||Iowa|
|North Texas||Louisiana Monroe||Kansas||Iowa State|
|Rice||Louisiana Tech||Kansas State||Minnesota|
|TCU||Ole Miss||Oklahoma||Northern Illinois|
|Texas||Southern Mississippi||Oklahoma State||Northwestern|
|Central Michigan||Akron||Ball State||Alabama|
|Eastern Michigan||Bowling Green||Kentucky||Alabama Birmingham|
|Michigan State||Miami (OH)||Memphis||Georgia Southern|
|Notre Dame||Ohio||Tennessee||Georgia Tech|
|Purdue||Ohio State||Vanderbilt||Middle Tennessee State|
|Western Michigan||Toledo||Western Kentucky||Troy|
|Central Florida||Appalachian State||Delaware||Army|
|Florida Atlantic||Duke||Penn State||Buffalo|
|Florida International||East Carolina||Pitt||Connecticut|
|Florida State||North Carolina||Temple||Massachusetts|
|Miami (FL)||North Carolina State||Virginia||Navy|
|South Alabama||South Carolina||Virginia Tech||Rutgers|
|South Florida||Wake||West Virginia||Syracuse|
A couple of notes on the new conferences:
- For the most part, if there is more than one program in a state, those teams are in the same conference. The states divided between multiple conferences are: Maryland (I opted to put Navy in the same conference as Army), Georgia (somebody needed to round out the seven Florida schools, and new kid Georgia Southern gets the nod), and Texas (more than eight schools in the state). Indiana, Tennessee, and West Virginia are also divided, but these were mostly unavoidable consequences of the schools in the other states.
- Some long-running rivalries take a hit with the new conferences – notably Ohio State-Michigan, Texas-Oklahoma, and West Virginia-Pittsburgh. My apologies, but you are more than welcome to play each other in the non-conference (like any school that has been playing Notre Dame for decades). On the flip side, many existing rivalries will become even better with conference championships on the line (Georgia-Georgia Tech, Colorado-Colorado State, Miami or Florida State vs Florida.)
- Yes, some of the conferences are strong today (Southern and Low Plains come to mind) and some are weak (Northeast and Bluegrass). But here is the thing – football powers are more cyclical than ever. Teams will come into power (Boise State, Houston) and fall out of power (Miami, Notre Dame). Worst case scenario – a conference is perpetually weak and is always the 15th or 16th seed.
- The new conference structure only applies to football. Basketball, for example, would be silly with an 8 team conference. Potentially, the football conferences could pair up for basketball and other sports, making 16 team hoops conferences, but I’m not going to lose sleep over that.
What are the holes in the plan?
Frankly, I’m not sure what they are (but feel free to leave a comment and let me know). I believe this proposal gives the playoff proponents everything they want (a playoff, a chance for all teams, access only to conference champs, etc.) while still respecting the things non-playoff fans hold dear (maintaining the regular season, conference rivalries, bowl games, etc.)
Really, the biggest obstacle is obvious – getting anybody to agree to it.
* * *
This isn’t the first time I’ve discussed college football’s post-season….Read more about:
- Why a playoff is a very, very bad idea
- How the Bama-LSU rematch was an example of the BCS getting it right
- How the BCS could be tweaked to work even better
- How to build the perfect 4-team playoff
And feel free to let me know how right (or wrong) I am in the comments.