College Football Playoff: How the NCAA Would Put It Together Given the Chance
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First of all, let me preface this article by stating that a Division I Football Bowl Subdivision playoff is not likely in the near future, and not likely until the college presidents, directors of athletics and conference commissioners who have the power to change it decide a playoff is a better system.
This realization won't come any sooner because of this year's "success" of the BCS system, pairing two undefeated, power conference teams up in its National Championship Game.
We can argue BCS vs. playoff until we're blue in the face. For those who say the BCS system enhances the regular season, I say I haven't cared about a regular season game that didn't involve a BCS Top Five team for over six weeks.
The purpose of the article is to outline how the playoff might actually look if the NCAA as an entity ran the postseason instead of the conference commissioners.
Number of Teams
The NCAA generally uses a ratio to determine the number of teams that should qualify for its postseason championships. The ratio is usually in the 1:6 or 1:7 range. The easiest comparison to what the bracket size should be is to look at the Division I Football Championship Subdivision, which had almost the same number of teams (119) as did Division I-FBS (120).
Is it time for a playoff in Division I - FBS?
This year, Division I-FCS expanded its bracket to 20 teams from 16. Twenty teams might be a bit drastic to start with, considering the current lack of a playoff. But 16 teams is a nice even number.
Who to Invite
The easiest thing to do would be to invite the top 16 teams and be done with it. But that's not how NCAA championships usually work. NCAA championships are about being inclusive, with most championships having automatic qualifiers based on conferences or regions.
There are some NCAA championships that only give automatic bids to the top conferences based on RPI or other rankings. However, for a stage this big, I believe all 11 conferences that currently have seven football-playing members would be given an AQ berth into the championship.
Team Selection and Bracketing
Every NCAA championship has a selection committee made up of school administrators, conference commissioners and coaches that select the teams and make the brackets for NCAA championships. There is no reason a Division I-FBS playoff would be any different.
Those BCS rankings that we love to grumble about would be replaced by a committee. The committee could still use computer rankings (like an RPI) to determine the teams that should be included.
Most NCAA championships do not seed every team, instead seeding the top portion of the teams (25 to 50 percent) and then pairing the rest of the teams on a regional basis.
Certainly, this playoff would generate enough revenue that seeding the teams 1-16 like the basketball tournament would be feasible, but I'm going to say the top eight teams get seeded, with the teams being paired with someone in close proximity in the first round when available.
The reason for proximity is that in this playoff, the first round of games would be at the higher-seeded team's stadium. This would create more incentive to be a top eight seed and keep student-athletes and fans from having to travel so much. The remaining three rounds would be played at neutral sites.
Matchups between teams from the same conference would be avoided until the later rounds of the tournament, at least until the semifinals.
As far as a date formula, I would have first-round games in two weeks on the 18th. Quarterfinal games would be New Year's Day—a quadruple-header that started at 11 a.m. or so would make New Year's Day college football worth watching again.
The semifinals would be a week from the Saturday after New Year's Day (or next Saturday the 8th in this year's case). The national championship game would be Martin Luther King Jr. Day, this year Monday the 17th.
For the 2010 example tournament, these 11 teams would automatically qualify for the championship:
Virginia Tech: Atlantic Coast
Connecticut: Big East
Wisconsin: Big Ten
Oklahoma: Big 12
UCF: Conference USA
Miami (Ohio): Mid-American
TCU: Mountain West
Oregon: Pacific 10
Florida International: Sun Belt
Nevada: Western Athletic
Since there is no selection committee to pick the five at-large teams, I'll use the BCS rankings for lack of a better way.
Now that we have the 16 teams, we have to seed the top eight. I'll use the BCS standings again.
6. Ohio State
Now let the bracketing begin. First put the seeds in place.
1. Auburn vs. TBA
8. Arkansas vs. TBA
4. Stanford vs. TBA
5. Wisconsin vs. TBA
2. Oregon vs. TBA
7. Oklahoma vs. TBA
3. TCU vs. TBA
6. Ohio State vs. TBA
The one problem is that two SEC teams, Auburn and Arkansas, would meet in the second round. So we would need to flip Oklahoma and Arkansas to avoid that matchup.
Now, the remaining eight teams need to be paired up, with geographic proximity in mind. The NCAA uses 400 miles as the number where teams get to take the bus instead of fly, so that's the number I'll use to keep pairings geographic.
The committee would unofficially seed the remaining eight teams, but these will only be a guideline for suggested pairings.
9. Michigan State
11. Virginia Tech
15. Miami (Ohio)
16. Florida International
Three teams—Michigan State, Connecticut and Florida International—are not within 400 miles of any of the top eight seeds they could play (Michigan State couldn't play Wisconsin or Ohio State), so they become wild cards that can go anywhere.
How Many Teams Should Be in a Potential Playoff?
Auburn is within 400 miles of Orlando, so the Tigers will get a tougher first-round game with UCF.
Oregon is within 400 miles of Reno, Nevada, but so is Stanford. We'll fly Florida International out to Eugene to face the Ducks and let Nevada play Stanford.
TCU is within 400 miles of Baton Rouge, so TCU gets a real tough test in LSU.
Wisconsin is less than 400 miles from Oxford, Ohio. Since Wisconsin is higher-seeded than Ohio State, the Badgers get the break of the lower-seeded team.
Ohio State instead gets Virginia Tech since Blacksburg is within 400 miles of Columbus.
Since Oklahoma and Arkansas both did not have any of the lower eight seeds within 400 miles, they get the remaining two teams that get to fly. The tough question is, who gets to play Michigan State and who gets to play UConn?
The Sooners were higher-seeded but got flipped with Arkansas to avoid an SEC second-round game. This comes back to haunt the Sooners, as Oklahoma now gets the higher-seeded flying team in Michigan State while Arkansas catches a break with UConn.
That leaves us with our final bracket.
1. Auburn vs. UCF
8. Oklahoma vs. Michigan State
4. Stanford vs. Nevada
5. Wisconsin vs. Miami (Ohio)
2. Oregon vs. Florida International
7. Arkansas vs. Connecticut
3. TCU vs. LSU
6. Ohio State vs. Virginia Tech
Yes, there are some matchups that might leave a bit to be desired. However, there are some very interesting matchups as well. Could Nevada shock Stanford like they did Boise State? Could TCU hold off LSU? The Tyrod Taylor vs. Terrelle Pryor QB battle in Columbus would be a treat.
Until we get a playoff, we get one game that really matters and 34 bowl games that don't mean much except to the schools involved and gamblers. Pundits and fans will continue to offer their suggestions for a playoff, but this is probably the most realistic scenario if that day ever comes.
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