College Football Playoffs – Blow it all up

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?

New Conference Alignment

Northwest Cali-waii Western Southwest
Boise St. California Air Force Arizona
Idaho Fresno St. BYU Arizona St.
Montana Hawaii Colorado New Mexico
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
Wyoming UCLA Utah St. UTEP
Texas Louisippi Low Plains High Plains
Baylor LSU Arkansas Illinois
Houston Louisiana Lafayette Arkansas State Iowa
North Texas Louisiana Monroe Kansas Iowa State
Rice Louisiana Tech Kansas State Minnesota
SMU Mississippi State Missouri Nebraska
TCU Ole Miss Oklahoma Northern Illinois
Texas Southern Mississippi Oklahoma State Northwestern
Texas A&M Tulane Tulsa Wisconsin
Michiana Ohio Bluegrass Southern
Central   Michigan Akron Ball State Alabama
Eastern   Michigan Bowling Green Kentucky Alabama Birmingham
Indiana Cincinnati Louisville Auburn
Michigan Kent Marshall Georgia
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
Florida Carolina East Coast Northeast
Central   Florida Appalachian State Delaware Army
Florida Clemson Maryland Boston College
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:

And feel free to let me know how right (or wrong) I am in the comments.


I think your system is ok but not reasonable. Get rid of the stupid computer rankings and dumb polls. Instead, take the 11 conference champions we have with the current conferences and 5 at large teams. Just don’t do this dumb computer stuff. We don’t need any more stupid BCS remnants hanging on to a playoff.

Why non conference games?
Have them ply 14 conference games that way every game counts.

    I like having non-conference games as it

    a) helps schools expand their recruiting base (i.e. a team from Kansas playing in Florida),
    b) gives fans who travel to away games some variety (going to Ames, Iowa every two years can get a little boring, but playing at Washington or Pittsburgh is new and exciting
    c) hopefully creates some interesting match-ups.

You don’t know much about Front Range football if you’re going to split Wyoming and Colorado State. We’ve played 104 times. The Border War is one of the best rivalries in football. Also, taking away close games from Wyoming against CU and AFA and replacing them with games 400-600 miles away against Utah and Idaho teams? I don’t know how you can claim this is based on geography with a straight face.

    You are really going to compare Colorado-Colorado st as a rivalry to OSU-Michigan/Texas-Oklahoma? Ohio St and Michigan will NEVER play in a different conference ever. Ever. Ever. Plus, the champs of some of these conferences, like the western, southwest, bluegrass, carolina, and the northeast have no business in a playoff over second place teams from the texas, low and high plains, michigan, southern, and florida. If you want the best 16 teams in the playoff, which is what I want, this doesn’t do it. Also, you can’t have teams that go 0-5 in the non-conference and 7-0 in the conference go to the playoffs over a team that goes 11-1 but loses a conference game. That’s silly. Don’t even play non-conference games then.

      I’ll be curious to see how you feel in 5-10 years about OSU and Michigan being in separate divisions in the B1G. Yes, they are still in the same conference, and that game will (likely) always be the focal point of the conference schedule, but I wonder if being in different divisions will eventually start to feel like different conferences, due to how a loss may not necessarily keep a team from winning the conference and getting to the Rose Bowl.

      Who said anything about Colorado-CSU?

    While I do have some good friends who are Cowboys, I’ll freely admit that my first exposure to the Wyo-CSU rivalry was this past season. As I mention above, this rivalry could easily continue as a non-conference game.

    And I do apologize – Wyoming is one of the few schools that gets screwed in my attempts to keep the conferences regional. If it helps, my Nebraska Cornhuskers are one of the other teams who would have to travel farther than necessary.

      I like your concept…
      To answer John Morgan’s concern, switch Nevada with Wyoming 🙂

        Ya, that’d be good. Cause then Wyo-CSU keep their rivalry and so does Boise-Nevada. The only downfall is that you now breakup the in-state rivalry between UNR-UNLV and i’m a huge fan of keeping in-state rivals in the same conference (ie: Oregon-OregonState, UW-WSU, Alabama-Auburn, etc…). With a few exceptions (Oklahoma-Texas, Michigan-OhioSt, and so on..), in-state rvalries are by far the best games in college football when it comes to emotion and effort on the field.

there are some notable discrepancies between your conference members on this wordpress version vs. the UFR version of this story. Fresno, BYU, and Ariz St. are some of the differences. You might want to correct those before angry anti-realigners start trying to get you fired.

Here is the perfect solution to conference realignments
by Charles Biggs

The NCAA needs to step in and straighten out the mess in college football and the constant turmoil with conference realignments.
Here is my plan. Everyone is divided into eight-team groups. This is based solely on football concerns. At the end of the season, the winner of the top ranked conference gets a first round bye with the other 14 winners play each other. Those seven winners advance with the top seed to the second round and you keep going until the championship game.
1. The New Big 8
Oklahoma State
Arkansas State
Iowa State
This looks a lot like the Old Big 8 without Nebraska, Kansas, Kansas State and Colorado. OU, OSU, Arkansas and Iowa would make this one of the top conferences.
2. Deep South Conference
Georgia Tech
Texas A&M
Texas A&M is here because they hate Texas so much. The Aggies would have serious problems with Alabama, Auburn and Georgia every year. This would be a top conference.
3. The Great Southwest Conference
Arizona State
New Mexico
New Mexico State
Texas Tech
You would sure see a lot of offense in this conference. It would also set a record for hottest temperatures at kickoff.
4. The Pacific Coast Conference
San Diego State
Fresno State
San Jose State
I think the California dudes would groove on a yearly trip to the islands, man.
5. The Western 8 Conference
Kansas State
Air Force
Colorado State
Utah State
The Kansas schools would be the only ones near sea level in this bunch.
6. The Sunshine Conference
Florida State
South Florida
Central Florida
Florida Atlantic
Florida International
A few years ago, you would think Florida, FSU and Miami would dominate this bunch. But South Florida beat Notre Dame, so anything is possible.
7. The Northwest Conference
Boise State
Oregon State
Washington State
The Cornhuskers get punished for bolting from the Big 12 by being put in this group. Nebraska, Boise State and Oregon make this a top group.
8. The Great Lakes Conference
Northern Illinois
Michigan State
Central Michigan
Eastern Michigan
Western Michigan
Unless Michigan gets a whole lot better, don’t expect much from this bunch. Even if the Wolverines don’t come back, this looks like Michigan and the Seven Dwarfs.
9. The North Central Conference
Ball State
Penn State
Todd Graham versus Joe Paterno every year? At least for the next 10 years before Graham retires.
10. The Great South Conference
Western Kentucky
Middle Tennessee State
Notre Dame
Vanderbilt would have a shot at winning with this crew.
11. The Cajun Conference
Louisiana Lafayette
Louisiana Monroe
Louisiana Tech
Mississippi State
Southern Mississippi
Could you get fried catfish at the concession stands of one of these games? How about fried alligator? LSU would dominate.
12. The Atlantic Conference
Boston College
North Carolina
North Carolina State
Wake Forrest
East Carolina
South Carolina
Nothing would be finer thatnto see the Carolinas on the balllllll field. This would be better for basketball than football.
13. The Eastern Conference
Virginia Tech
West Virginia
Buffalo would have to schedule all its home games in September and early October or get a domed stadium.
14. The American Conference
Ohio State
Bowling Green
This would be the Buckeyes versus the Badgers for the league title every year.
15. The Cowboy Conference
Texas Tech
North Texas
The Longhorns deserve to be in a lesser conference because they are ones who started all the realignment mess when they signed a TV deal for the Longhorn Network. Lots of luck trying to recruit Texas players when they may never play outside the state.

This entry was posted on Thursday, September 29th, 2011 and is filed under Columns.

I would like to see UNLV and Nevada exchanged for Boise St and Wyoming in your Western Conference and then if you are up for it put UNLV in with the California schools in exchange for Hawaii. you would be splitting the state of Idaho and Nevada but the schools are pretty far apart from each other in those state. yes Hawaii would have to travel a little father but they are already used to going to most of those spots already.

    Interesting suggestion. I wish I knew if UNLV-Nevada and Boise-Idaho were strong enough in-state rivalries to maintain in a conference setting.

    One of the things I like is the idea of in-state rivalries deciding who goes to the playoffs.

      Glad you asked as I come from MWC and WAC country, well whats left of the WAC. UNLV and Nevada have not even been in the same conference for a while and with the distance between the schools I don’t think a good in state rivalry will be to interesting. As for Boise St and Idaho they also have some distance between them. plus they are on such opposite ends of the spectrum with Idaho having to struggle to even stay in the FBS and they are probably going to be downgraded to the FCS and then you have Boise St which has been on a steady rise for a while. I wouldn’t think there would be to many hurt feeling if those rivals didn’t happen, and I would much rather see the Wyoming, Colorado St rivalry game then either one if those in state rivalry . Plus they always have the option of scheduling those in state rivals in non conference games.

I thought your plan was interesting and pretty well balanced until I got to the “Ohio” conference. Some conferences have 3 or 4 perennial powerhouses and then we get to Ohio. Which has one. Ohio State. Followed by a group of teams that might field a competitive team every decade or so (with the possible exception of Cincinnati which has had some VERY recent consistent success).

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