Like many college football fans, I dream of the day when the bigwigs in the sport decide to abandon the joke that is known as the BCS system. And while I dream, I can't help but wonder—what is the perfect playoff system?
A sixteen-team system seems to be the most talked about, and with good reason, as it would provide the most exciting play-off system for fans. Could you imagine a December Madness? It would be glorious, and we would all sit around getting fat on the holidays watching teams duke it out.
The two most common visions of a 16-team playoff both have all of the conference champions, and a few at-large bids. This way, the top few teams are rewarded with what would likely be a cupcake first game, and just about every deserving team would be given a shot at the championship.
Another system would be to take the 16 highest-ranked teams. This would increase the likelihood of upsets in the first round, and in terms of crowning a national champion, it would make the most sense. Further, it would provide the most excitement for fans, as each match would have the potential to be an epic showdown. Cinderellas would be born, perfect seasons ruined. Oh, the carnage!
Still both 16-team playoffs, but both, especially the latter, have a major flaw. They would water down the regular season. At the moment the entire season essentially functions as an elimination playoff. Most years, if a team loses a game, they lose a chance to get in the national championship. Some years every good team loses a game, so one or two one-loss teams get a shot, but they are still the best team, and still made the fewest mistakes.
Another big criticism is that teams would have to play too many games, placing too much strain on the players. Four more games for the champion and runner-up would be a big strain, especially given that the later games would likely involve the biggest and most talented teams, and thus an increased likelihood of someone getting hurt.
A four-team playoff might be a good alternative. One could largely preserve the current BCS format, which would soothe the big wigs, and the crowning of a national champion would be much more sure. Further, this would avoid the problem of watering down the season, as only four teams would make it in and thus every game of the season would be important.
In determining the top four teams the whole season would have to be taken into account, which would preserve the season-as-a-playoff characteristic of the current system. Unlike the two-team system, which sometimes leaves deserving teams out, like Auburn in '04 and Utah in '07, a four-team playoff would almost always give the truly deserving teams a chance to win.
Still, this would leave many fans clamoring for a bigger and thus “truer” playoff system. The teams not selected could play for bowl games, and the lesser bowls would be nearly as important as they are under the current system.
Personally I feel the compromise, the top eight-team playoff, would be best. This would not put undue pressure on the players, as it would reduce the number of games played.
It would also ensure that the all deserving teams got a chance at the championship. Most seasons there is a clear distinction between the top six, seven, or eight teams and the rest of the field. By including these eight teams, most, if not all, teams that really, truly deserve a shot at the championship would have one.
Last year there was a clear distinction between the top six teams and the rest of the country, as the top six were either undefeated or one-loss AQ teams and undefeated non-AQ teams. Yes there would have been controversy over who got the last two spots, but that controversy affects individual teams, not who should be the national champion, as the most deserving teams got in anyway.
Further, the best of the rest could still play in bowl games, and they would still be worth watching. An Orange Bowl match-up between the number nine and number ten team would still receive high ratings, and would give fans entertainment in between the play-off rounds.
But despite whatever system we each feel is best, for the time being they will just remain dreams in the face of the harsh reality of an inept BCS system.