Mars Is On The Horizon: What About A Legitimate College Football Playoff System?

Chaz MattsonAnalyst IOctober 24, 2008

The first step to fixing any problem in life is admitting there is a problem no matter what it might be.  The USA is an amazing country, having landed people on the Moon with no cure for the common cold.  NASA lands highly technical and sophisticated sensory spacecraft on Mars with intent of sending people to the red planet.  Still, the NCAA can’t govern one of its own creations in such a way to create a legitimate undisputed national champion.  The answer the college football fan is left with is the only two letters NASA and the NCAA has in common, “NAA”.  That’s “NAA” as in no, nope, not today, not tomorrow, not any time soon. 

In this season of political change, it’s time the people express the importance of leaving a positive legacy more so than ones personal views.  It’s time for the powers that be to all come together to implement a vision now that can positively impact college football and the country forever.  Just as the economy is a fabric of the USA so is sport and college football is among the most popular.  So it’s time for seeking change not just politically, but also for finding that sacred stately dome decree, leaving a positive legacy for the present and the future, on the way to finding the undisputed national champion of college football. 

It might require some shake up.  It could even mean some form of intervention for positive change, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fixed.  It also does not mean the people that are currently involved can or can’t be involved.  Change is change.  It just requires that this fixable problem finally be addressed and be fixed once and for all.  For this generation of sports fans and the next. 

Currently the powers in college football fail to acknowledge the worst kept secret in sports, that there needs to be a legitimate college football playoff system.  This has always simply boiled down to being a question about money.  The NCAA stands on the sidelines as the bowl committees and the colleges work out the financial terms to play in their bowl game.  More often than not the College Football Association (CFA) has worked to put the best teams in the best bowls hoping for the best possible results.  This method eventually led to the creation of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) which now controls the top bowl games in the nation.  For all of the good the CFA and BCS have tried to accomplish over a period of many years, these organizations have failed to put what’s right before what’s needed or what should be.  In essence the worst kept secret in sports is the fact that college football at the Division I level needs a playoff. 

There are different models and solutions out there.  The solutions that seem to make the most sense can still satisfy all of the requirements for all political powers in the football world.  It’s important to consider these solutions as drafts open for interpretation as long as the end result is finding a true national champion instead of the mythical one that is now in place.  So as long as eliminating the mythical choice is the objective, a number of options become available.  Without further adieu, here are the best laid plans of mice and college football fans.


The Current BCS Model

While it’s painfully obvious this plan does not work since there are usually three or more legitimate contenders for the national crown.  It is however important to keep this model in mind moving forward.  There are five bowls that are part of the Bowl Championship Series, they are as follows:  Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, Allstate Sugar Bowl, Rose Bowl Game provided by citi, FedEx Orange Bowl, and the FedEx BCS National Championship Game held in Miami, FL. 

The BCS will lead you to believe as they attest on their own website that the system works through the resulting competition in these five bowl games.  Was there a previous mention about a worst kept secret?  If the system truly worked it would work every time until there would be an undisputed national champion.  So while these bowls are great events, they still don’t entirely or absolutely solve the problem.  Moving forward, all of the powers involved should demand that the alien shore of a better system be reached sooner than later.  Don’t knock the BCS; it’s been a methodical approach much in the way this is a methodical approach to get to where college football should be. 

The most positive key element to the BCS is that there is some balance in keeping the number of total games down while having a system to find the National Champion, so it can’t entirely be disregarded.  It does however bleed into what could be on the horizon for college football.


The BCS Playoff Model

The BCS Model currently uses four traditional bowls plus the designated BCS Championship game.  The BCS Playoff model would become a bracket football playoff within these bowls.  For instance the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl winner could face-off against the FedEx Orange Bowl winner in a BCS semi-final championship game.  The winner of both semi-finals would reach the BCS Championship game for all the marbles.  While still not entirely a fair system it could create more bowl revenue and produce a lesser disputed national champion.  The down fall is there are only eight teams that make the playoff.  The timing could be complicated by the holidays and academic scheduling headaches for student athletes over a rushed holiday season.

Some of the next playoff models are somewhat radical in nature.  These playoff models do alleviate a number of logistical issues around the holidays and still allow for a bowl system.


The 16 Team Playoff Systems

This is still a lesser perfect system that is a step in the right direction.  It would allow more conference champions into the mix while eliminating a larger portion of the controversy.  Only conference champions make the invite list and there are no conference championship games played ala the SEC and Big XII.  This opens up a window for eight earlier bowl games that work their way down to the BCS four who will then compete for the title.


The 32 and 64 Team Playoff Systems

These feeder systems work in much the same way March Madness works, with the exception that it is over a longer period of time.  These models make room for the regular season and a true playoff season.  The regular season would start in middle to late August and be over by Halloween weekend.  In a 32 team playoff, schools would play a maximum of 10 regular season games and probably without any byes.  The first round is a legitimate playoff game with the teams who own the better records landing the higher seeds.  Those teams would host home playoff games that would be held on their campus field.  There is a possibility of using minor bowl sites for appointed neutral site games in a way that could still appease the current bowl powers.  In the end this is still a pure playoff system.  While a 32 team playoff is probably the most sensible, the 64 team playoff would obviously create more national interest, school and conference revenues.


Key Implementations for the Future

The largest and most important innovation would be the creation of a College Football Commission as a true commissioning body.  It could be possible to morph the CFA into the CFC; however the rules would be different. The CFC would report directly to the NCAA, and it would be an entity created by the NCAA to oversee all football related issues as a governing body.  The CFC would operate in much the same way as the NFL commissioner’s office does.  This would eliminate the NCAA being perceived as being out of the loop and the commission would organize college football in a way that makes the most sense for creating a national champion.  It would be in charge of the integrity of the game on and off the field and leveling penalties as the NCAA has always done. 

The CFC would focus on keeping schools in traditional rivalries while reorganizing conference structure.  The CFC and not the school presidents would make the football schedules and new conference alignments.  This would be done to keep schools from padding their schedules.  The commission would probably keep three to five key rivals for schools and keep the rest of new conference formations regional.  The likes of Notre Dame might be placed in a conference of traditional independents like Penn State and other regional rivals.  They would however keep their rivalry with USC.  So it would be possible for Air Force, Army, and Navy to keep the rivalry weather they are in the same conference or not.  This is important for giving every school an opportunity to thrive and keep their identity. 

So it’s obvious that there might be roughly 16 to 32 conferences with up to ten teams each, assuming all schools are BCS eligible.  Currently schools are either BCS schools or they are not, but they might still be considered D-I football programs.  The Commission could create another division for those non-traditional BCS schools based on feedback from the school presidents.  So it’s possible to make all schools BCS schools, or create a relegation system, or create a lower division for some of these schools.  Lower tier schools could still implement the old bowl system as well.  A relegation system could have schools that fall to the bottom five to ten percent of BCS eligible programs be relegated every two seasons for a period of at least two seasons to the non-BCS division.

The reality is the more games that are played the more revenue generated.  A legitimate playoff system will aid the legitimacy of the NCAA as a true football national champion becomes apparent.  The CFC could also extend an olive branch in developing a true national network of qualified football professionals.  This could be a way to better serve coaches and sports management administrators in their development on all levels.  This could be done in a supportive main stream way that is better than anything that exist today.  For some this might be perceived as an unattainable alien shore.  That's probably only fear talking.  Change with a purpose can be a good legacy for the present and the future of sport.  The first step is admitting there’s a problem.