A Sensible College Football Playoff Plan Version 2.0

By Ty Duffy

Eight Teams: Dan Wetzel’s 16-team playoff is fair and equitable, a little too fair and equitable to ever happen. The four-team playoff would be an improvement and, with Jim Delany (and his eyebrows) on board, easier to approve, though it will not bring enough reform for a permanent solution. Controversies will still rage. The true financial value of a playoff won’t be realized. Eight feels like a happy medium.

An Objective Formula: Version 1.0 had a human component. Version 2.0 will not. Polls are fun discussion fodder, but we do not believe there is a human constituency with the requisite insight and objectivity to add value to a formula. The AP poll comes closest, though we are against writers making the news they cover and we cannot condone Craig James being involved.

Our formula will be clear and transparent, accounting for both schedule strength and margin of victory. The formula can be optimized to stay statistically valid, while minimizing the #beatemdown incentive. If man can split atoms and land on the moon, he can develop criteria to rank football teams accurately.

An objective formula is essential because it ends the fruitless debates. The criteria would be straightforward. The output would be numerical and, mostly, conclusive. There would be no one to blame.

Selection: We originally had the six BCS conferences receiving an automatic bid. We felt, in December 2010, as though that would be a necessary sacrifice to get the conferences on board. That hurdle has been overcome. In fact, having automatic bids at all would be undesirable and a potential legal liability. The Duffy Plan will not have automatic bids, but will still reward conference champions.

Conferences will stand on their own merits. The six highest ranked conference winners receive automatic bids, whatever conference they emerge from. That could be the original six BCS teams. That could mean one or two teams from the great unwashed. Two at large bids would go to the two highest ranked teams left unselected, regardless of conference.

For the sake of argument, we will use the Simple Rating System as our formula. Had our plan been in place in 2011, the teams selected would have been LSU (SEC), Oklahoma State (B12), Oregon (P12), Wisconsin (B1G), TCU (MWC), Clemson (ACC), Alabama (AL), Stanford (AL).

Selecting the teams in this manner offers two benefits. First, It enhances the regular season. Winning your conference becomes vital. Every conference title game is a potential playoff elimination. Most conference and division races would have a direct bearing on the national title. The season would build to a climax rather than peter.

It also offers a true national championship. Teams from lesser conferences that went undefeated almost undoubtedly would receive a chance to play for the national title. Every team would have to be beaten on the field. Nearly every year this would offer the de facto equality of opportunity from Wetzel’s plan, without bogging the field down with an initial round of rubber stamp games.

Format: The first round would occur the weekend following the end of the season. Teams would be seeded by their formula ranking. The top four would play home games. Losers would be eligible for bowl selection. This would turn a dead, “honey do” Saturday into one of the greatest sports spectacles of the year. Here is how it would have played out in 2011.

(1) LSU vs. (8) Clemson
(2) Oklahoma St. vs. (7) TCU
(3) Alabama vs. (6) Wisconsin
(4) Oregon vs. (5) Stanford

The final four would be played during bowl week. We are not tied to the bowl system, but it seems the easiest logistical solution would be to have two bowl games (present BCS + Cotton on rotation) serve as neutral semifinals during bowl week. That’s likely the solution that would best serve the players, who would still get to be toast of the town and a regulated amount of swag. College football’s championship game would be played a week later, bid out to a neutral site like the Super Bowl.

College football’s playoff has to be fair, has to be feasible and has to be profitable. It must augment rather than degrade the regular season. It must provide an entertaining and satisfying conclusion. We feel this playoff does the best job of balancing those concerns.

[Photo via Getty]