How Division 1 College Football Playoffs Could (& Should) Work: Part One

Chip MinnichCorrespondent IAugust 12, 2008

I consider this time of the year prior to the start of college football season almost like Christmas Eve – the anticipation is virtually impossible to take. College football preview magazines have filled up the magazine racks, and several of them have high hopes for the Ohio State Buckeyes this coming season (so do I, but that will be the subject of another post for another time closer to season start…). With the preseason magazines, several have predicted how Ohio State will be playing for the BCS Championship this coming January 9th, 2009.

While I would love to see Ohio State play for the title again, I would even love more so to see Ohio State earn its national title shot in a college football playoff system. Nothing galls me more at the end of the regular season to hear the media, coaches, and fans all weep, whine, and wail about how some team is undeserving of a title shot, and how we need a playoff system, but how there is not a playoff system that could work. With some creativity, I believe I have a plan worthy of discussion and debate.

An 8 team playoff system, built around the four major bowl games: The Rose Bowl, The Orange Bowl, The Sugar Bowl, and The Fiesta Bowl – perhaps once the Dallas Cowboys’ new stadium is unveiled, The Cotton Bowl can be a part of it, and the national title game could rotate amongst the five sites. Four games would be played on January 1st. The college football version of The Final Four would take place on January 8th. The following week, on January 15th, the NCAA National Championship Game would take place in the same location.

Here is how it would work: The six major conference champions would earn an automatic berth (ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big XII, Pac 10, and SEC). Teams with the highest ranking would automatically go to the natural bowl destination of its conference.

There would be a berth for one of the remaining conferences (Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt, and WAC). There is also one wild card, or At-Large berth. How would these two remaining teams be determined, you ask? By strength of schedule – no coaches’ vote, no media vote. Strength of schedule would be the fairest and surest way to determine which remaining two teams would get invited to the eight team playoff, and strength of schedule would also be the key determinant on the seeding of the playoff system. Let us suggest that The Cotton Bowl was the national championship site for last season, just for how this could have looked and worked. We will look at this scenario with brackets that show how my proposed system would work.

I used Jeff Sagarin’s last rankings from last season as the basis of this hypothetical situation. Again, if a team won one of the six major conferences, they are in. And if a team played a tough schedule (as you will see in my example below), they also have a shot at the title.

Using the Sagarin strength of schedule rankings, the six major conference winners (LSU, Southern California, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Ohio State) all would have qualified. Brigham Young, by virtue of its strength of schedule, would earn a shot (schedule rank # 59, versus Hawaii’s schedule rank of # 132). And Florida, despite not winning the SEC, would even be ranked # 1 going into the tournament, based on its strength of schedule that was ranked # 3.

Growing up and living in Ohio, and being a football fanatic for all levels, I have always enjoyed and respected how Ohio high school football teams are selected for the postseason. High school football teams in Ohio are based exclusively on computer points, with no biases or voting involved. Does the local media have polls ranking area high school teams? Absolutely - but they have NO say in determining if a team will be in the state football playoffs. It is purely a strength of schedule type system that rewards teams that play demanding schedules, while potentially penalizing those teams that do not play any tough opponents. It is not uncommon for teams to have a 6-4 or 7-3 regular season record and be selected for the Ohio high school playoffs over a 10-0 team that played weaker teams.

Two of the biggest problems within the current system are that the BCS title participants are determined by voting (the coaches and media). What is wrong with that, you ask?

If you have not yet done so, please do yourself a favor and read Stewart Mandel’s Bowls, Polls, & Tattered Souls. There are so many quotes throughout the book detailing the idiocy of how college football determines its national champion, but here are two that I believe sum up why the current system is a sham:

Why not the coaches, you ask? Read what longtime playoff advocate Penn State head coach Joe Paterno said , after his Penn State team was defeated by undefeated Michigan in 1997 ~ “I have somebody who helps me with the voting, and we didn’t vote Michigan No.1…That bothered me.” (page 44 of the hardcover edition)

Why not the media, you ask? Read what Daily Oklahoman columnist Jenni Carlson wrote regarding the impact the media has on college football, in comparison to other sports ~ “In no other sport do media types have say or sway. Not basketball, not baseball, not softball, not anything.” (page 48 of the hardcover edition).

Tomorrow, we will look at the benefits to my system, while also reviewing the traditional arguments against a playoff system. We can even look at how this tournament would look like in an eight-team bracket. Until then, I hope I have piqued your curiosity and will inspire you to post either for or against this type of a playoff system.