I believe Dan Wetzel’s 16-team playoff format is the most fair. To be a truly “National Champion” every FBS team should begin the season with a legitimate chance to win. It’s noble, but I don’t see it happening. Any potential system must arise organically from what came before. It has to compel fans and advertisers. Those involved need to benefit from it and profit. I think the conferences will proceed cautiously. They will dip their toes in with a plus one in the next few years and, within a decade, expand to an eight-team playoff.
BCS conferences won’t cede their place at the gravy table. For them to agree the playoff would have to maintain the automatic bids for their champions. You could include a mechanism to reevaluate which conferences should have an automatic bid based on multiple years worth of data, but with the BCS conferences absorbing challengers such as TCU and Utah, that shouldn’t be an issue.
The playoff format would be the six conference champions with two at large bids based on a ranking system. I’m no statistician. I don’t know what the best formula would be. So, I will use an old Model United Nations cop out and propose an ad hoc committee of statistics experts to (a) decide which polls and parameters to use and (b) monitor and make changes accordingly. I would prefer a system that combined the human element (AP and Coaches) with results-based polling accounting for victory margins and performance based polling (FEI etc.). Everything would be open and transparent.
First Round: The rankings system would determine the two at large bids, as well as the seeding 1-8. The teams would play the first round at the higher ranked team’s stadium immediately following the end of the season. This home-away leg ensures there is a significant benefit to finishing higher than another team. The bracket, using the BCS rankings for argument’s sake for this season, would look like this.
(8) Connecticut at (1) Auburn
(7) Virginia Tech at (2) Oregon
(6) Oklahoma at (3) TCU
(5) Wisconsin at (4) Stanford
Yes, that Auburn vs. Connecticut matchup is a dud, but pretend West Virginia wins in overtime instead of the Huskies as would happen most years. A 10-2 West Virginia vs. Auburn as a 1 vs. 8 matchup is not terrible. If TCU was already in the Big East, Va Tech would be travelling to Auburn in the first round. Ohio State would be playing Oregon in Autzen. Compelling enough for you?
Second Round: Keep the bowl games. Eliminated playoff teams still get invited. It would essentially function as a +1 from here forward. Add another bowl game (for argument’s sake the Cotton) to keep the same number of BCS teams. Rotate which bowls are the playoff bowls. I’ll use the Rose and Sugar. The winners of the Rose and Sugar would meet in the National Title Game. The bowls could look like this.
Rose: (1) Auburn vs. (4) Stanford
Sugar: (2) Oregon vs. (3) TCU
Orange: Virginia Tech vs. Ohio State
Fiesta: Oklahoma vs. Connecticut
Cotton: Arkansas vs. Wisconsin*
You could argue this would make the Orange, Fiesta and Cotton bowls feel like lame consolation prizes for nationally irrelevant teams. I would ask you how that changes what they are now?
A Boise State-type team would still need to earn an at large bid to make a playoff, but the chances of them being one of the top two non-AQ conference winners are better than the chances of them finishing the season in the Top two overall under the current BCS.
It’s All About the Benjamins: Why would the conferences agree to this? It would make them an extraordinary amount of money, while preserving the traditional bowl experience and enhancing, rather than detracting from, the regular season.
Conferences would still have access to the title game money and the bowl money. They would also be able to sell television rights to the first round of the playoffs, which would be the greatest spectacle of the season. It would be like March Madness, but even more intense, because large numbers of fans are emotionally invested in college football. It’s more than Gus Johnson and gambling.
Teams that you never see face each other in a biased environment would do so. You could have SEC teams coming up to Columbus or Madison in December to play in the snow. It would be fantastic.
This would also enhance interest in the conference regular seasons. This year, Miami, Virginia Tech and Florida State were eliminated from the National Title discussion early. The ACC’s regular season was nationally irrelevant before it even started. The conference games were of little interest to anyone beyond the fans involved. The conference title game, with a dead rubber Orange Bowl bid as the carrot, wasn’t exactly scintillating.
If the carrot is instead a chance to play for the national title, the regular season games are still nationally relevant. The title game gets a jolt, enhancing the TV ratings and lagging attendance figures. Rather than being an afterthought, Virginia Tech’s turnaround is one of the biggest stories in college football.
The Big Ten and Pac 12’s new title games and the games leading up to them will be nationally relevant every season, rather than relying on one of their teams having a chance to finish in the top two in certain seasons. The Pac 12 might feel safe enough to schedule the game at a neutral site venue.
The Non-Conference Games: This would reduce the importance of the non-conference season, but most of the non-conference season sucks. Some Labor Day games are exciting as title-elimination games, but that excitement is debatably not worth the deflation of the loser’s subsequent 11 games and certainly is not worth the climate of paranoia and risk aversion it creates.
Most of these games are awful. Auburn schedules Arkansas State, Louisiana-Monroe and Chattanooga. Oregon schedules New Mexico and Portland State. Alabama schedules San Jose St., Duke and Georgia State. Ohio State schedules Marshall, Ohio U and Eastern Michigan. Wisconsin schedules UNLV, San Jose State and Austin effing Peay. Need I continue?
Under this playoff, elite teams would become less concerned with maintaining a spotless win-loss record. They would be more concerned with (a) providing an entertaining product they could profit the most from and (b) ensuring their strength of schedule can distinguish them if they need the at large rankings to enter the playoff. Even if it only encourages Alabama or Ohio State level teams to schedule two teams that could plausibly beat them instead of one, that’s twice as many good games as we’re getting now.
The Ultimate Benefit: We would still be discussing college football, but it would be the awesome games coming up this weekend, rather than the same asinine, circular arguments about how f—ked up the current BCS system is.
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