An Argument For a NCAA Football Playoff System

Anthony CagleCorrespondent IMay 6, 2009

One of the most often debated issues in college football is the need for a playoff system in the Football Bowl Subdivision (formally D1-A). There are those that are on both sides of the fence on this topic. 

With the recent attention that has been generated by Congress urging for a playoff, I decided to tackle the issue by arguing against the Bowl Championship Series format. This article will attack common arguments against playoffs.

First we shall look at a little history of the national championship. From 1936 to present day is often referred to as the Poll Era.  The BCS took over in 1998. Ninety percent of the years between 1936 and 1997 ended with more than one team that was named by a major selector as the number one team. 

Seventy one percent of these years ended with more than one team having the same number of losses. Obviously the poll system did not work. Yet it was the dominate way to decide a national champion of over sixty years.


If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

The premise behind this argument is that the BCS has flaws; however it is the best choice we have at this time. This is silly. If science and medicine were to use this logic then we would never have new inventions, technologies or procedures. 

Aside from this the current method is very broken and needs to be fixed!  Since the introduction of the BCS forty five percent of the years have ended with two or more teams being awarded the title of national champion by major selectors.  While this is a decrease we need to look at some other information. The following are years of controversy since the introduction of the BCS:

2000-2001 – Florida State (12-1) is chosen to play undefeated Oklahoma in the national championship game.  FSU’s only loss is to Miami (11-1) who lost to Washington (another one loss team). FSU loses to Oklahoma. Miami and Washington win their bowl games.

2001-2002 – One loss Nebraska is chosen to play Miami in the national championship game.  Nebraska is chosen ahead of Colorado (2 losses) and Oregon (1 loss) despite losing 62-36 to Colorado in the last game of the season. Nebraska also was ranked lower than both teams in both polls. Nebraska is defeated badly in the national championship game and Oregon destroys Colorado.

2003-2004 - LSU, Oklahoma, and USC all end the season with only one loss.  LSU and Oklahoma are chosen to play for the national championship. LSU defeats Oklahoma.  USC defeats Michigan.

2004-2005 – Five teams ended the regular season undefeated: USC, Oklahoma, Auburn, Utah and Boise State. USC and Oklahoma are chosen to play for the national championship. Auburn and Utah both win their bowl games leaving three undefeated teams at the end of the season.

2006-2007 – This is the year of the famous Fiesta Bowl. Florida is given the nod to play Ohio State for the national championship. There are three other one loss teams.  Boise State is undefeated. Florida routs Ohio State, but Boise State is the only undefeated team by doing what many say was impossible and beating Oklahoma.

2007-2008 – LSU with two losses gets the bid over several other two loss teams that include Georgia, West Virginia, and USC.  LSU wins the national championship and becomes the first team to be named national champions with two losses.

2008-2009 – Seven teams end the season with only one loss. Utah and Boise State both end the season undefeated. Oklahoma is locked in a three way tie for the Big 12 Championship, but gets the nod to play Florida.  Oklahoma loses. Utah defeats Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and ends the season as the only undefeated team.


Seven out of eleven years there has been some sort of controversy for the national championship game.  The above examples do not include other controversies on what teams were chosen to play in different bowl games.  If this is the best system we have, then perhaps we should try to discover a new one.


A loss of intensity

The idea behind this train of thought is that the regular season would be meaningless and that rivalry games will lose their intensity. Defenders say that under the current system one loss can destroy your chances of a national championship. 

As the above examples show, the regular season is already meaningless. Anytime that an undefeated team is not given a chance to play for the national championship there is a flaw.  However the more important focus should be on one loss teams. 

Under the BCS system a team that loses a game early in the season has an advantage over a team that loses later in the season. The 2008 season is a perfect example of this. Florida losses to Ole Miss early, however has time to recover its ranking. 

Texas defeats Oklahoma only to lose to Texas Tech a few weeks later. Under a playoff these teams would have been able to avoid this controversy. The regular season is more meaningless under the BCS system than a playoff. 

Along with this argument is the idea that the rivalry games would lose intensity. This is absurd. The intensity of rivalry games have nothing to do with the post season. The vast majority of rivalry games now do not have an effect on the post season. 

Those games that do effect the post season add to the intensity. With a playoff system the chance for rivalry games to influence the post season increase.  Can you imagine the Iron Bowl being played where both teams have one loss? 

Further imagine that in this proposed season a two loss team would not make the playoffs.  Better yet imagine that both teams meet again in the playoffs.  The importance of this game just rose exponentially and so did the rivalry afterwards.


It’s just too long

Defenders say that a playoff would make the season too lengthy. More football is a bad thing?  An eight team playoff would extend the season three weeks. Twelve and sixteen team playoffs would extend the season four weeks. 

A twenty four team play off would extend the season five weeks. The simple answer is to shorten the season to ten games. This slims the season by cutting out fluff games.

Cutting the season down to ten games easily allows for the extra weeks of a playoff.  The three weeks of an eight team playoff would correspond to a twelve week season plus bowl game. Twelve and sixteen team playoffs only add one week. 

While a twenty four team play off adds only two weeks. Division II has a twenty four team playoff. The championship game is played in the second week of December. This is before many of the bowl games.

The argument that often compliments the above is that the playoffs would impede the student athlete. Defenders want everyone to think that they are concerned about the student athletes and their studies. 

This is easily taken care of by doing away with athletics and allowing the students to focus on studies. Do I hear crickets? The entire regular season impedes the student athlete. Practices take away from study time. 

Away games force the athlete to take exams early or late, not to mention miss class time. If a few extra weeks of playoffs is obstructing the student athlete, then so is a twelve week regular season.

As shown above, an eight team playoff is no more disruptive than a twelve week season plus bowl game. Other playoff actions add minimal weeks to the season. Bowl games are played through December and into January. 

This means more practices and more travel. Depending on when the bowl game the student athlete may still miss class time due to travels, however the practices would most certainly interfere with studies. 

Athletics interfere with the studies of the student athletes. A playoff is no more encumbering than the current system. In fact, it may even be less encumbering.


That costs way too much

Another argument is that playoffs would be too costly for schools due to travel time. In the section above it was pointed out that an eight team playoff system (with a ten week season) is the same number of weeks as a twelve week season plus bowl game.  Let us take five away games plus one bowl game to get six away games total. 

In an eight team playoff the lowest seed team would travel five away games plus three weeks of playoffs. This equals to eight weeks of travel. But this is only for the lowest seed. 

Top seeds would not travel anymore than they would during a regular twelve week season. And mid ranked seeds could potentially travel the same or only one week more than a regular twelve week season. This is assuming five away games in a twelve week season. 

Many teams play six away games. Those teams would actually travel less if they were a top ranked seed.

As mentioned before D2 football has a twenty four team playoff. This translates to a five week playoff. Somehow D2 schools do on a smaller budget what D1 schools claim they cannot do on their much larger budget. 

Actually FCS teams do the same thing. They have a sixteen team playoff. If smaller schools can make the travel arrangements, then why can the larger FBS schools do the same?


There he is, “The National Champion”

One of the most common arguments is that a playoff would take away from the pageantry of the bowl system.  Now pageantry conjures up images of swimsuits, talent contests, and answers about world peace. 

That is just something I don’t want to picture about college football. The debate is that a playoff system would destroy the current traditions of the bowl system. In point of fact, this is possibly the only argument that is correct.

The playoff system would mean that we would have to give up the traditions of the past bowl games.  Many playoff proponents suggest keeping the bowl games intact and incorporating them in to the playoffs. I say that would give credence to many of the above arguments. 

There is a popular saying, “Out with the old and in with the new.”  For there to be a playoff we would have to say goodbye to the bowl games.  But new traditions would form. And a new sense of pageantry would arise.

Many say that we could keep some of the bowl games as consolation games for those that did not make the playoffs. This leads to another argument. That argument is that the bowl games would then mean nothing and would be pointless. 

One article I read even stated compared them to the NIT in NCAA Basketball saying that who cares about the NIT? Somebody cares or we would not keep having the tournament. 

Frankly, many could say the same thing about the lesser bowl games of today. Can anyone tell me who played in the Humanitarian Bowl last year? What about the Bowl? 

The current bowl games mean nothing. The Poinsettia Bowl had no real effect on NCAA Football last year.  Even the larger bowls mean nothing. Utah’s defeat of Alabama was great.  But did it land Utah a national championship?  Nope. The only “bowl game” that truly means anything is the one that hosts the national championship. 

All the other bowls are meaningless in the context of the season and the national championship. Yes they mean something to the players, but so would bowl games in a playoff system.

Defenders of the current BCS system offer many arguments that simply do not hold water. The system is clearly broken and is not the best possible system.  We need a new one. That new system should be a playoff. 

Under the current system undefeated teams getting passed over for a chance at the national championship. Multiple teams with the same number of losses do also. This illustrates that under the current system the regular season is not anymore meaningful than a regular season under the playoffs. 

Rivalry games can only benefit from a playoff system. All athletics disrupt the student athlete from school work. However a playoff system would be no more disruptive than the current twelve week season. 

A playoff system would be less intrusive if the regular season was shortened to ten weeks. In addition, shortening the season would lessen the potential costs of playoff travels. 

Small schools still manage to travel on small budgets. I personally find it funny that those arguing that a playoff system makes the season to long are the same ones that defend a system with over thirty bowl games. 

There would be some loss of the current tradition; however this does not mean that we have to eliminate all bowl games. New traditions would form to take the place of old traditions.  You have to ask yourself whether or not it is worth it. 

Is it worth doing away with an outdated system to put in place a better system? To me it is. 


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