Monday, August 29, 2005

College football playoff

There needs to be a college football playoff. There are some people out there that claim that a playoff would ruin the regular season. That argument is tired and stale. The playoffs haven’t ruined the NFL regular season. The NCAA tournament hasn’t ruined the college basketball season. A college football playoff would make college football the most exciting sport in the world. I can’t even begin to describe how jacked I’d be if this were to happen. Everyone would be clawing tooth and nail just to get into the playoffs. If you thought the NCAA basketball bubble was a big deal, just wait for the college football bubble. As it stands now, the end of the college football season is so anti-climactic. A college football playoff would trump all sporting events. There is so much potential with this that I can’t believe it hasn’t happened yet.

The Proposal

How many teams?

I propose that 10, 12 or 16 teams make the college football playoff. I’d prefer 16 but as long as there’s at least ten, I don’t have a problem. The six major conference champions would get an automatic bid; ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac 10, SEC, and Big East. I’m not married to the idea of the Big East getting an automatic bid. If someone had an argument there, I wouldn’t necessarily have a problem. After the conference champions there would be four at-large teams selected. This would finally give teams like Louisville ‘04 and Utah ‘04 a chance to win the National Championship. It would also allow for conferences that are particularly strong to get more than one team in. I know that some conferences have a conference championship game but that rarely proves the best team in the conference. Many times the conference championship is just a rematch of a game that already took place in the regular season. If two superior teams play each other twice and finish with a 1-1 record, that doesn’t prove anything other than that both teams are capable of winning. Also, it’s not a guarantee that the best team in the conference will even make the conference championship game. Let’s say Tennessee beats Georgia. Georgia then beats Florida and Florida beats Tennessee and they all end with the same conference record; one of those teams has to make the championship games through tiebreakers but that hardly proves who the best team is. In every other sport, it’s OK to lose in the regular season. College football should be no different. In every other sport, the team that wins the championship suffers a loss 99.99% of the time. College football should be no different. If a playoff were adopted, the idea of not being able to lose gets thrown out the window. This would encourage teams to play harder schedules since they won’t have to worry about the polls. Teams would be selected based on their resume. If a three loss team beat enough good teams, it could easily make the tournament. Big time D-1 schools are doing their best to soften the schedule to avoid losses at all costs. The reason being that a loss all but eliminates a chance to play for the National Championship. A playoff would bring back the marquee non-conference matchups. Seasons wouldn't be ruined because of one loss.

Selecting the teams

The six conference champions would receive automatic bids but the seeding and the remaining four teams would be chosen by a committee in exactly the same way the college basketball field is selected. The committee would choose the four at-large teams based on their body of work. They would also seed the teams 1-10 (or however many teams there are). Like college basketball, they would make sure that there are no conference match-ups in the first round.

Why a playoff?

There are 119 division-1 teams. Each team plays 12 games. There is no way that playing 12 teams will prove the best team in college football. Schedules vary from really easy to extremely hard. 11-1 records are not all created equally. The regular season can give you an idea of which teams are the best but it’s far from long enough and diverse enough to crown one or two teams the best. Last season was the exception since USC seemed to clearly be the number one team but who did they play in the regular season? They beat California and Va. Tech. There were other schools, like Auburn, who had a much more impressive resume. USC inevitably proved their worth against Oklahoma. Auburn didn’t get to prove their worth because only two teams can make the championship game. We can guess at who the best team is all we want but the fact of the matter is that most teams only play three or four difficult games per year. Supporters of the BCS love to claim how wonderful their system is when two teams end up undefeated at the end of the season. The problem is that just because only two teams make it through teh season undefeated doesn't mean those are the two best teams. This would be similar to taking the two college basketball teams with the best record at the end of the regular season and having a championship game. There are so many questions at the end of the season that remain unanswered. What if Michigan played in the SEC? What if Florida St. played Kansas St.’s non-conference schedule? If everyone played the same schedule or, at the very least, a similar schedule like the NFL, then the regular season would be more indicative of the better teams. The fact of the matter is that Michigan plays three or four games per year that they could lose. That’s 1/3 of their games. The rest of the games are just blowouts waiting to happen. So you have 119 teams and you’re basically giving the best teams three or four good games per year to judge them on. That’s ludicrous.

Home field advantage

One factor that I would demand be included would be home-field advantage. This would be unbelievable. In fact, I probably shouldn’t write anymore because it’ll just get my hopes up. But, can you imagine if Florida had to play @ Michigan in January? Can you imagine the excitement that would surround that game? That would just be one game in the playoff. You’d have eight other games just like it. The home-field advantage would be given to the team with a higher seed. This would make the regular season as important as ever since it’s so difficult to win on the road. If a lower seeded team is truly the best team, it’ll have to prove it.

A playoff example

In a ten team playoff there would be two play-in games:

Play in winner



Play in winner

Based on last year’s final BCS standings, the playoff would look like this:
Six conference champs:

Virginia Tech

The next four teams could be:

Iowa, Miami, and Boise St. probably would've been in the mix for an at large bid too.

The seeding would be determined by the committee and not by conference champion status. A conference champion could be ranked lower than an at-large team if the committee feels the at-large team is stronger. In the event of a tie, the conference tie-breaker would be used to decide the league’s representative.

Play-in games

7 Georgia @ Georgia
10 Michigan

8 Va. Tech @ Va. Tech
9 Louisville

Final 8

8/9 Va. Tech/Louisville

4 Texas @ Texas
5 California

3 Auburn @ Auburn
6 Utah

7/10 Georgia/Michigan @ Oklahoma
2. Oklahoma

These games would be so much bigger than anything anyone has ever seen on a college campus. Fans from Texas, Georgia, Oklahoma, USC, Va Tech and Auburn would be going crazy for a home playoff game in Janurary. You’d have Georgia or Michigan playing in the cold in Norman, Oklahoma. You’d have Utah and Auburn both undefeated playing each other. I’m a Michigan fan and I would be going crazy even without Michigan in the playoff.

Terrible rationale against a playoff

Some coaches have said that a playoff would be too hard on the kids. The main argument being that it keeps them away from school. Every other level of football has a playoff (High School, all divisions of college football except D-1, NFL). I guess D-1 college football athletes are of such a breed that they're the only ones that aren't capable of a playoff. Obviously these same arguments didn't convince the NCAA from increasing the maximum number of games that a team can play. Now, some teams will play 15 games when they used to play 11 or 12. Plus, college basketball lasts from November to April and those guys play 2/3 games per week and 35 or more games for the season. If coaches are really arguing that a longer season would hurt the kids in the classroom, then they’d also have to admit that the kids are being hurt in the classroom to begin with. So, it’s OK for them to suffer for one semester but not 1.2 semesters? That argument has so many holes that it’s ridiculous. The reality is that kids aren't hurt in the classroom. College athletes have a plethora of resources at their disposal. These kids are 18-22 years old. They aren't babies. I highly doubt that three extra weeks will signal their doom. Plus, out of 119 D-1 teams, only ten teams would make the playoff. The teams that play in the championship game would only have to play an extra three weeks. Only a very small amount of teams would even be affected by this and even still we’re only talking about an extra week or two, or three for the two final teams. As it is, college football is about 19 weeks long. So 19 weeks is acceptable for a student/athlete but 20, 21, or 22 weeks is a deal breaker? Come on now.

Another argument I’ve heard is that a playoff is unnecessary when you can just have the top two teams play each other at the end of the season. The top two teams according to who? A group of voters? Some funky mathematical system? Give me a break. Why don’t we just have voters pick the two best teams at the end of the college basketball regular season and have them play for the national championship? Why don’t we just skip the NFL playoffs and go right to the Super Bowl after week 17? I can’t believe anyone would actually argue that a two team playoff is better than a ten team playoff. Why stop at two teams when you can take virtually all of the controversy out by making it eight or ten? Having split national champions is ridiculous. LSU and USC both won it two years ago. What a joke! How can you have two champions? Can you imagine having two college basketball champions? It’s not possible. In fact, I couldn’t tell you any other sport where you could have two national champions. For that matter, I couldn’t tell you any other sport where there isn’t a playoff. I’ve heard the argument that the regular season is the playoff. The regular season is the regular season just like the NFL or any other sport. Some teams peak at the end of the season after starting off slowly. That is what the regular season is for. Over the course of the season, the cream rise to the top.

Bowl games

Every argument that I’ve ever heard about NOT having a playoff has been easy to fix. Everyone can have what they want. The bowl games do not have to die. There already is a 1 vs. 2 championship game that’s decided by the BCS. Yet, all the other bowl games still exist. Why does a playoff have to be any different? You’d have each game in the playoff be a bowl game. And then, you’d have the rest of the college football world play the normal bowl schedule. The two play-in games could be played on January 1st along with a couple other games. We’re talking about nine games here. The top nine bowl games could get in and be a part of the playoff. For instance, the play-in games could be the Citrus bowl and the Gator bowl. The first round of the final eight, the second round with the final four, and the championship game could all rotate each season between bowl games. That way everyone is happy. That’s pretty much how they do it now by rotating the national championship game. College presidents argue that they would lose money without the bowl games. I don’t understand why the bowl games need to die for a playoff to happen. There would be so much more interest in the Citrus Bowl if it were part of a college football playoff. Who really cares about the Citrus bowl right now? Caring=money.

The never ending excuse

There will always be an excuse to not have a playoff. No matter what anyone says, someone will say, “well what about this?” The bottom line is that a playoff would be easy to do. No problem is too much to overcome. Can you imagine how big of a task a 64 team basketball tournament over four weeks would look as a proposal back in the early 1900’s before the college basketball tourney started? It would look daunting to say the least. But, they did it. If they can do it, and college baseball, softball, hockey, lacrosse, and any other sport you want to list can do it, then college football can. Nobody wants to put the time and effort into it. It’s really sad. There would be so much fanfare over a playoff like this. You only live once and every year that goes by without a college football playoff is taking away joy that college football fans would otherwise experience. I am frustrated beyond belief because I know this likely never happen. Why? Just because..

If college football could just decide on a playoff, this is what you would be looking at in January in just a few months:

10 Louisville
7 Oklahoma @ Oklahoma

8 Va. Tech @ Va. Tech
9 Miami

8/9 Va. Tech/Miami

4 Michigan @ Michigan

3 Tennessee @ Tennessee
6 Ohio St.

10/7 Oklahoma/Louisville
2 Texas @ Texas


Anonymous said...

Never agreed with you more Jacob. I always thought that to end the debate over the bowls that if 16 teams were in a playoff (meaning 15 games) they could play at 15 bowl sites. I like your home field advantage idea until the semis. Then it would be always the Rose, with Orange, Sugar, Fiesta, and maybe even the Cotton bowls as rotating sites year to year.

So the Rose hosts one semi-final game, the orange the other, and the Sugar gets the championship. The year after it's the Cotton, Fiesta, and the Rose bowls. Whatever, I don't care if they played at Rough Rider Stadium in Saskatchewan as long as we had a playoff.

The arguments against a playoff are some of the absolute worst in argument history. Imagine if college football was your anniversary then the playoff would be a night-out, nice gifts, and several thank you’s/Love you’s. The BCS system would be you, your two best friends with strippers and lots of alcohol and a video camera. The second idea may look good on paper (well maybe the BCS can't even claim this) but it sure as hell is a bad idea.

I don’t even talk about this because I just get irate. 80 percent of college football fans, and 95 percent of the smart ones want the playoff. Commissioner Brand and the schools who have a great rake stake in how money is brought in see the playoff system as a way for some money to escape their little paws. College football will bring in more money with a playoff system and finally someone will stand up and say: “wait a minute, where is all this cash going when the athletes aren’t financially benefiting one iota?” The money trail already scares this mafia-like bunch and a playoff would make much worse.

The one and only argument against a playoff is student welfare and the time they need for their studies. In that case lets reduce the number of games to ten, play four extra weeks two of which will be during Christmas and New Year’s break, and actually give more schools and more students time to get their quality education. Since we will have fewer schools participating in the postseason won’t more student athletes be better off?

I don’t know but there are few subjects more sensitive to me in sports because to me it just doesn’t make any sense to not have a playoff. They could care less about student athletes so that argument is out, and it’s just shameful the greatest of all organized sports, lacks a playoff to crown the true champion.

Non-the-less thanks for bringing this up as we enter the season. I am hoping that within the next decade or so the NCAA is either overhauled, or dropped on its collective head so we can make some sense of this.

Anonymous said...

None the less? Nun the less? Sorry.


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