8 Reasons Why an 8-Team College Football Playoff Would Be Better
Unless you have been living in a cave somewhere, you're probably fully aware that the college football world is hurtling at terminal velocity towards a playoff system of sorts.
And while the minutia of the playoff system is still evolving, it's pretty well set that we'll have a four-team system in place in just a couple short seasons.
You may not love the idea of a four-team playoff or a selection committee, or even some of the newly floated ideas such as media monitoring of the selection process, but we've come to one inescapable conclusion: If a four-team system is good, an eight-team system is better.
Hold on. We'll explain.
Additional Access, Additional Fairness
One of the big strikes against the current BCS system is that it isn't really fair to the "little guys."
Come on, admit it—you'd like to see an undefeated Boise State take on Alabama or LSU or USC or Michigan or Florida State in a BCS National Championship Game just once, wouldn't you?
Win or lose, it should be quite a spectacle.
If Boise State loses, that would pretty much end the debate for the time being. If the Broncos won, well, that just proves the point that they belong, doesn't it?
With only four teams earning access to the new playoff system, and a selection committee of college football's elite making the cuts, you can rest assured that the Boise States of the college football world will continue to be the victims of college football elitism.
6 Percent Is Still Small
With 124 FBS programs slated to play this fall, there will be just three percent of programs qualifying for the playoff.
The NFL currently qualifies 37.5 percent.
The NHL and NBA currently qualify 53.3 percent.
Major League Baseball currently qualifies 26.6 percent.
So the college football playoff for the FBS is minuscule compared to the big leagues.
But what about the other divisions of college football? You know, the ones that actually have a decent playoff system that works—and has worked for decades?
The FCS currently qualifies 20 teams, or 16.4 percent for 2012 (20 out of 122).
Division II currently qualifies 24 teams, or 14.5 percent for 2012 (24 out of 166).
Division III currently qualifies 36 teams, or 15.1 percent for 2012 (36 out of 239).
So doubling the FBS playoff contingent to eight teams—or just over six percent—wouldn't be totally out of line. In fact, it would still rank the FBS at the bottom of the playoff barrel.
If Money Is the Problem...
One of the things that drives any FBS postseason is money.
Heck, it's the reason we've had the crazy proliferation of bowl games over the past few decades, and why those bowls now have so much control over the process.
It's also why universities are so reluctant to give up that bowl system; it's a major cash cow.
But like the new four-team playoff system, we're in no way advocating the elimination of the bowl system.
If Western Michigan University and Florida International University want to go on pretending that their mediocre-at-best record in a mediocre-at-best conference is cause of celebration and reward, who are we to stop them? Sure, we'll all continue to laugh at them, but we won't stop them.
So there will still be hundreds of thousands of dollars to throw at the Broncos and the Panthers and every other team that cracked .500, just to show them we care.
And the big payouts will still be there for the Auburns and Michigan States of the world.
The only thing an eight-team system would actually do is add two more postseason games.
That means two more "money games" for the networks and conferences, and another week of teams hawking their wares to fans and building excitement—not to mention bottom lines—in a college football season that's now seven days longer.
And speaking of a longer season, we won't even dignify the argument of "academic concerns" with a rebuttal here, other than to say, "are you serious?"
Put the Whiners in Their Place
Over the past several weeks, there have been some complaints publicized about some potential changes.
Apparently, Nick Saban, who incidentally spent several years in snowy East Lansing at Michigan State, doesn't think playing in the snow is worthy of football.
We wonder what Knute Rockne or Vince Lombardi would say about that?
If your team is truly great, it shouldn't matter what opponent you face or where the game is played.
Similarly, if there's expanded access—say to a few more conference champions—you take away the biggest hissy-fit mantra of conferences like the Big Ten or the Mountain West. Give those teams an "in" with the new system and see what happens.
It's sink or swim time. And then it's time to shut up.
If the Big Ten or ACC or Big East or Boise State can't cut it year in and year out with the SEC in a playoff system, then that's how it will be.
The problem is we'll never know unless we actually get to see it.
Make the Regular Season Really Mean Something
It's supremely important to avoid what happened to college basketball when the playoffs expanded.
In fact, in an ever-increasing search for more money and more access, the playoff field in Division I has expanded 10 times since 1950 when the bracket contained just eight programs.
Remember the "good old days" when the first round was the first round? Now we have to actually check our brackets to try and figure out what everyone is talking about with these first- and second-round games (the "second round" actually being the "round of 64 teams").
Currently, 68 teams make the basketball tournament—more than any other sport at any level.
Does anyone seriously expect a team like Western Kentucky (who was 15-18 last season) to be competitive in the tournament? Didn't think so.
The Hilltoppers still got in, though.
It's no wonder no one pays attention to the college basketball regular season anymore. It's a one-month sport. Play well enough to win your conference tournament in March and you're into the Big Dance. Who cares about November through February?
College football has long held that it has the most important regular season in sports.
We don't disagree. Expanding access to the national championship from two to four isn't changing that, and neither will expanding it from four to eight.
As long as the FBS doesn't expand to something like 24 or 36 teams, the importance of the regular season will remain.
Truly Secure the Future of the Bowl System
With the playoff system beginning at just four teams, you can rest assured that it won't be long before a cacophony of voices begin to scream for expansion.
With the system we're likely to see, the four current BCS games are tied into the playoff system on a rotating basis, shirking their traditional tie-ins. As the system expands incrementally, you'll see more bowl games tied into the playoff, eliminating their traditional role as season finales for the participants—lessening their individual importance.
When the talk of the playoff system got underway in earnest after last season's BCS debacle, one of the biggest points of contention was the status of the Rose Bowl Game and how the Big Ten and Pac-12 champions would figure into a playoff system that might not include the Rose Bowl Game.
Both conferences and the Tournament of Roses made it pretty clear that their biggest priority was fitting the "Grandaddy of Them All" into the new playoff system while still maintaining its traditional Pac-12/Big Ten ties.
The end result won't give everybody everything they want, but the fact that the announcement of the television contract extension between ESPN and the Rose Bowl Game was made jointly with the Big Ten and Pac-12, it seems certain that these partners will continue to play a major role in Pasadena on January 1.
The problem is that we can no longer view the Rose Bowl Game as the "Grandaddy of Them All"—at least in any terms other than chronologically.
Moving forward, the only way the Rose Bowl Game will feature the champions of the Pac-12 and Big Ten is if neither of those two teams are selected for the four-team playoff and the Rose Bowl Game is not serving as a national semifinal—or conversely, both the Pac-12 and Big Ten champions would have to make the four-team cut and the Rose Bowl Game would have to serve as one of the two semifinal games.
Our guess is that more often than not we'll see one, but not both of the two champions in Pasadena on January 1.
Which leads us to our very next point.
Ease the Concerns of the Pac-12 and Big Ten
Both the Big Ten and Pac-12 have a long-standing love affair with the Rose Bowl Game. And love 'em or hate 'em, these two conferences are worth more than their collective weight in platinum to the people who control college football television rights.
From the moment preseason polls and rankings are announced, talk out west and in the Great Lakes region surrounds "favorites for the Rose Bowl," not thoughts of a BCS Championship run or the like.
It's not that these two conferences don't care about the BCS, it's just that the Rose Bowl Game is a much more traditional destination for the champions. If the BCS Championship Game comes calling, so much the better.
In particular, the Big Ten seems obsessed with the annual date in Pasadena.
And when the new system takes over, the Big Ten may be left without a girl to take to prom.
Instead of squeezing the Big Ten and Pac-12 out of the bowl game that they not only love but to which they have endlessly been loyal, why not tie them back in with an eight-team system?
With eight playoff spots available, let's play the first round on or around January 1 with the current slate of BCS bowls serving as our opening round.
In the vast majority of scenarios, the Pac-12 and Big Ten will almost certainly have their champions selected for an eight-team system.
Poof! Instant Rose Bowl Game that doesn't upset anyone.
The SEC, Big 12 and ACC champions will slide into their traditional bowls (Sugar, Fiesta and Orange, respectively), and face three other conference champions or power conference runners-up.
Actually, It's a 16-Team System (Sort Of)
Finally, one of the biggest complaints about last season's inclusion of Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game was the fact that the Crimson Tide failed to win their conference championship. In fact, the Tide failed to even qualify to play in their conference championship game, finishing in second place in their division.
The new system, while not explicitly denying access to conference non-champions, does place a sense of importance on winning a conference championship (the weight of that importance has yet to be determined).
Since we're all interested in maintaining a quality, meaningful regular season, why not make it such?
With an eight-team playoff, starting at the current BCS bowls, we'll select the top eight conference champions (within reason, meaning they should be ranked champions, as no one really wants to see a MAC vs. Sun Belt matchup in the Fiesta Bowl).
With the proliferation of conference championship games, the various games on the first Saturday of December will in essence be play-in games; win your conference championship game, play in the playoffs.
That not only maintains the importance of the regular season, but it might even add importance. No longer would teams like Michigan be able to back into the BCS.
Regular season losses like Michigan losing to Michigan State or Alabama losing to LSU hurt more if there's some actual pain attached.
Anyone really want to argue that Michigan suffered for that loss to MSU? How badly was Alabama punished for coming up short (at home, no less) against LSU?
If we're going to create a playoff system for the most popular of sports, it's important that we get it right.
A four-team system just doesn't do justice to a sport that is as grand as college football in America.
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