College Football Should Go To a Playoff, But Not an Eight-Team Format

Tom CannonContributor IJuly 15, 2009

MIAMI - JANUARY 08:  Juaquin Iglesias #9 of the Oklahoma Sooners carries the ball against Ahmed Black #35 and Will Hill #10 of the Florida Gators during the FedEx BCS National Championship Game at Dolphin Stadium on January 8, 2009 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

With all of the possible playoff talk, the majority of the proposals have come in the format of an eight-team playoff. Unfortunately, no one seems to be discussing the problems that go along with an eight-team playoff.

This size of playoff will not solve all of college football's postseason ills and it may even exacerbate some of the current problems. I'm going to list several of these problems and discuss each of them.

This article won't deal with all of the general problems against a playoff, just focusing on if a playoff was adopted, why an eight-team playoff would not be nearly as good as a 12-team or 16-team format.

Problem No. 1: Who Gets Invited?

Why this is a problem: The issue as to who gets invited is a serious problem that an eight-team playoff would face. There would be no clear agreement on the format. There are several options that have been discussed, and I'll show why they are problematic.

Option One: BCS-style selection. This is the most common option put forth by proponents of an eight-team playoff. Six AQ conferences put in one team, with two at-large positions.

Seems great, right? Not if you are in a really good conference, or if you are in a non-AQ conference. The SEC would really get hurt by this setup, and so would the Big 12. They would have great championship contenders get left in the cold. Not to mention that access to the big game would essentially be cut off from the non-Big Six conferences.

There could be a provision allowing a non-Big Six to get in if they are ranked high enough, but that team would be blasted because they got in over a supposed worthier opponent. Also, low -anked teams will get bids even though they may be out of the top 15 or possibly even the top 20.

It is a tough pill to swallow that some very unworthy teams would get bids, when several more worthy teams would be left in the cold. Last year, all but two of the following teams would have been left out: Texas, Utah, Alabama, Texas Tech, Boise State, TCU and Ohio State. Texas and Alabama would have been the most likely choices, barring a non-BCS provision that would have put Utah in ahead of Alabama or Texas.

Could you imagine the outcry if Alabama (BCS rank No. 4 after the season) or Texas (BCS rank No. 3 after the season) was left in the cold? Especially Texas, as they were seen as a team that could have won the NC last year, but they would probably still get in. Alabama would have been the real focus if they got dropped over Virginia Tech, Utah, and Cincinnati, though they had only one loss to the No. 2-ranked BCS team.

There could be the argument that Alabama and Texas had their chance, but lost their games. But then we are right back where we are now, because only two teams were undefeated before the postseason, which were Utah and Boise State. So an eight-team playoff wouldn't solve that problem.

If you are really trying to get the best out there to get a national champ, then leaving out one or even two of the top five or six teams is just plain ridiculous.

Option Two: Top eight teams only. I've seen this offered, but it is nuts even to suggest it. There is no way this gets passed because no conference wants to risk being left in the cold on a down year, while another conference gets multiple bids.

This last year the Big 12 would have gotten three bids, SEC two, Pac-10 one, MWC one, and the Big Ten one. The Big East and the ACC would have been left out and the Big Ten nearly left out. This will never be possible because not enough conferences would sign off on it.

Option Three: Auto bids for the Big Six, unless ranked too low. I could see the cutoff at 16 or so. I like this possibility, but it probably falls into the same problem as Option Two. Conferences don't want to be left out, and this could leave them out. Plus, this would risk cutting out teams that are ranked in the top four, like the first option, though the risk is lower.

So the three options all have serious flaws with teams that would be very unhappy one way or another.

Problem No. 2: An Eight-Team Format Reduces the Current Access to Top Games

This problem is sort of an extension from the previous problem. Right now, 10 teams get to play on the big stage. This allows for the majority of the top tier teams to get in. With a reduction of two teams, there will be a big increase of groups that are unhappy and left out.

Problem 3: Non-BCS Schools Will Continue To Be Limited in Opportunities

This may be a problem that many college football fans really don't care about. However, if you are a fan or member of one of the 54 institutions that do not have an AQ, it is a huge deal.

These schools will rarely reach the notoriety of many of the traditional national powerhouses even if they are put on a level playing field. However, if they are severely cut out of playoff possibilities, then none of them ever will be, unless they get invited to a Big Six conference.

Essentially, in an eight-team format, there would be 54 teams all vying for one slot that may or may not even be available to them.  Fans would either have to accept permanent mediocrity or give up the sport. Schools like Utah, BYU, TCU, and Boise State would struggle even more than they do now to compete with the big programs. 

While the BCS isn't perfect, it does provide some hope for access to the big stage.  The few times that one of these teams makes it to the playoff, they would likely get paired with a very strong conference champ as the lowest seed and lose far more often then win, which would further lower the perception of these conferences and teams.

I think that the conference commissioners and the university presidents of the non-BCS schools realize this, but are hoping that if they can get an eight-team playoff, that a larger playoff will just be around the corner. Maybe, but who knows?

So what would work for a playoff?

The only model that would truly solve the above problems is a 12- or 16-team playoff. The 16 team playoff in particular would solve all of the problems and the 12 would do fairly well.

In a 16 team playoff, all 11 conferences would get one auto bid, just like in NCAA basketball. Then the remaining five would go to at-large berths, with a selection committee or by BCS standings.

No team that does not have a legitimate NC chance would be left out. This last year, the highest team that would have been left out would have been Oklahoma State, which was 1-4 verses ranked teams last year (1-3 during the regular season) and in 2007, the first team left out would have been Illinois, which had three losses—two of which were to unranked teams—and got blasted by USC in the Rose Bowl. 

A 16-team playoff would almost always eliminate only teams that would be unlikely to compete for a championship.  It would also give the non-BCS conferences an opportunity to prove themselves and give college football a very exciting postseason.

If 16 teams is just too much to ask for, then a 12-team playoff would be a good alternative. With 12 teams, autobids would have to be narrowed. The Big Six still get them and I would say that at least two need to go to non-BCS teams as long as two are ranked in the top 20.

Then the rest would be at larges based on ranking. The top four teams get a first-round bye. In 2008, this proposal would have given the non-BCS teams two bids (Utah and Boise State), and TCU would have been the highest ranked team left outside looking in. TCU was a very good team, but went 1-2 verses top-25 teams and was not a likely championship contender. 

A 12-team playoff will leave out teams like TCU more often than a 16 team format—still acceptable to the non-BCS schools, and works great for the top four teams and top conferences.

Because either a 12-team or 16-team playoff would really work well for college football, they are the only ways to go, and if a playoff is started, I believe that eventually we'll end up there. This may be one of the reasons that the Big Six are fighting any playoff form so hard, because they don't want to end up here.


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