How to Create the College Football Playoff

Bobby Yu@bobbyhyuContributor IDecember 15, 2008

With a majority of college football fans clamoring for a college football playoff over the last several years to replace the current BCS system, many proposals have been brought forth. As such, they have ranged from a simple "plus-one" game to a 16-team playoff involving automatic bids from all 11 Division I conferences.

BCS proponents claim the need for the integrity of the regular season. In contrast, playoff proponents cite the need for fairness in determining a champion. Instead, why not have both? In fact, an eight-team playoff can involve the BCS bowls and produce a format that will take both into account and make it a practical change for the NCAA and its BCS bowls to make. In this case, the complaints about who gets left out of the championship picture, with such a playoff, become substantially less legitimate, as well.

Firstly, we'll keep the bowl season intact as it is.


Bowl Season

Bowl games will take place, with continued corporate sponsorship, in late December, with a few in early January. Since college football has had a long tradition of bowl games, there is no such recommendation to do away with this change. In brief, a 8-team playoff won't take away importance from the other bowls. Currently, BCS bowls are classified as bigger games and it has not taken away attention from the other bowls. A 16-team playoff could potentially cause problems in this regard, but 8 is similar to the current system.


The Eight-Team Playoff Selection

The eight-team playoff will incorporate the four current BCS bowls as sponsors, and give them two more games to host. Accordingly, it will remove two teams from competing in BCS games. In effect, this change involves 8 teams rather than 10, while increasing the number of games hosted by the BCS bowls from 5 to 7. As such, this is the only real change with the bowl system.

We will take the six BCS conferences' champions, to be determined by those respective conferences however way they wish, to take six of the eight automatic bowl bids. Incidentally, a single loss could have grave effects on winning the conference championship for a team; currently, a team with no losses in the BCS system could still have no chance to play for a national title. Currently, there is already an automatic bid for one team in every BCS conference, and there's no need to change this. Therefore, it is unlikely that we can take away the automatic bid to a BCS bowl game for a Big Six conference (and is not desired), and this would likely result in controversy (in this year's case: the ACC and Big East).

Then, an automatic bid will be awarded to the highest-ranked team in the BCS rankings that is part of a mid-major conference, or is an independent such as Notre Dame. This way, a mid-major is guaranteed a playoff spot even when they would ordinarily be snubbed by the BCS (Miami-Ohio in 2003). Finally, the last bid is an at-large bid, given to the highest-ranked team in the BCS rankings that did not win their conference or get the automatic mid-major bid, such as #1 Oklahoma in 2003 or #3 Texas in 2008.

While politicking remains for those two non-automatic bid playoff spots, it is now much less likely to result in a school getting snubbed, which is what most college football fans want. Consequently, the best mid-major in the country will now have a chance to play for a championship. In this year's case, the teams would be: No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 2 Florida, No. 3 Texas, No. 5 USC, No. 6 Utah, No. 8 Penn State, No. 12 Cincinnati, and No. 19 Virginia Tech.

While simply taking the top eight teams may seem more fair than simply taking automatic bids from weaker conferences, that proposal faces serious difficulty in being accepted because it does not allow BCS bowls to keep their matchups, and BCS proponents believe it is necessary to keep the regular season intact.


Playoffs, First Round

The first round will be held on the same dates as the current BCS bowl matchups—at the very beginning of January. The BCS bowls can continue to choose their matchups in their usual order, provided they choose within those eight teams previously mentioned. This addresses the concerns of the Rose Bowl, who has always been steadfast in keeping the Big 10 and Pac 10 matchup. There's no need to change this.


Playoffs, Later Rounds

The second round will take place in the second week of January, a week later, and there will be a reseeding of teams, based on rankings prior to the playoffs. This is usually when the BCS national championship game is played. Hence, teams that are higher-ranked after having a better regular season still benefit. The best team will play the worst, in terms of rankings, with the other two winners will playing each other in the other game.

The four teams will each play at a BCS bowl venue again, with the choices being of those BCS bowls that do not host the title game. In this year's case, two of the following three BCS bowls will host a second BCS game: Fiesta Bowl, the Rose Bowl, and the Sugar Bowl. They will get to pick the de facto 1 vs. 4 matchup, or the 2 vs. 3 matchup. In this case, the Orange Bowl would host the championship game this year.

While one BCS bowl only hosts one game, this will alternate every year so every three of four years, the BCS bowls get more than their share of revenue that they get now. The championship game will be held one week after the second round, which is only a week past when the current title game is.

This completes an eight-team playoff that is more fair and will generate more revenue for college football than ever before, yet is a plan the BCS bowls can accept.

Here are examples of how the first rounds would be set up, given previous seasons. The games are presented as if they are already in a bracket; for example, the 2008 Fiesta Bowl winner plays the 2008 Rose Bowl winner in the second round, and the 2008 Sugar Bowl winner plays the 2008 Orange Bowl winner in the second round.


Fiesta Bowl: #1 Oklahoma (Big 10 champion) vs. #6 Utah (Mid-major at-large)

Rose Bowl: #5 USC (Pac 10 champion) vs. #8 Penn State (Big Ten champion)

Sugar Bowl: #2 Florida (SEC champion) vs. #3 Texas (At-large)

Orange Bowl: #12 Cincinnati (Big East champion) vs. #19 Virginia Tech (ACC champion)

No playoffs: #4 Alabama, #9 Boise State, #10 Ohio State



Rose Bowl: #1 Ohio State (Big 10 champion) vs. #7 USC (Pac 10 champion)

Sugar Bowl: #2 LSU (SEC champion) vs. #10 Hawaii (Mid-major at-large)

Orange Bowl: #3 Virginia Tech (ACC champion) vs. #9 West Virginia (Big East champion)

Fiesta Bowl: #4 Oklahoma (Big 12 champion) vs. #5 Georgia (At-large)

No playoffs: #7 Missouri, #8 Kansas



Rose Bowl: #1 Ohio State (Big 10 champion) vs. #8 USC (Pac 10 champion)

Fiesta Bowl: #7 Oklahoma (Big 12 champion) vs. #9 Boise State (Mid-major at-large)

Orange Bowl: #5 Louisville (Big East champion) vs. #15 Wake Forest (ACC champion)

Sugar Bowl: #2 Florida (SEC champion) vs. #3 Michigan (At-large)

No playoffs: #4 LSU, #6 Wisconsin



Rose Bowl: #1 USC (Pac 10 champion) vs. #3 Penn State (Big 10 champion)

Sugar Bowl: #7 Georgia (SEC champion) vs. #11 West Virginia (Big East champion)

Orange Bowl: #4 Ohio State (At-large) vs. #22 Florida State (ACC champion)

Fiesta Bowl: #2 Texas (Big 12 champion) vs. #6 Notre Dame (Mid-major at-large)

No playoffs: #5 Oregon, #8 Miami, #9 Auburn, #10 Virginia Tech



Rose Bowl: #1 USC (Pac 10 champion) vs. #13 Michigan (Big 10 champion)

Orange Bowl: #8 Virginia Tech (ACC champion) vs. #21 Pittsburgh (Big East champion)

Sugar Bowl: # Auburn (SEC champion) vs. #4 Texas (At-large)

Fiesta Bowl: #2 Oklahoma (Big 12 champion) vs. #6 Utah (Mid-major at-large)

No playoffs: #5 California, #7 Georgia, #9 Boise State



Sugar Bowl: #1 Oklahoma (At-large) vs. #2 LSU (SEC champion)

Fiesta Bowl: #11 Miami-Ohio (Mid-major at-large) vs. #12 Kansas State (Big 12 champion)

Orange Bowl: #7 Florida State (ACC champion) vs. #9 Miami (Big East champion)

Rose Bowl: #3 USC (Pac 10 champion) vs. #4 Michigan (Big 10 champion)

No playoffs: #5 Ohio State, #6 Texas



Orange Bowl: #4 USC (At-large) vs. #14 Florida State (ACC champion)

Fiesta Bowl: #1 Miami (Big East champion) vs. #7 Oklahoma (Big 12 champion)

Sugar Bowl: #3 Georgia (SEC champion) vs. #9 Notre Dame (Mid-major at-large)

Rose Bowl: #2 Ohio State (Big 10 champion) vs. #6 Washington State (Pac 10 champion)

No playoffs: #5 Iowa, #8 Kansas State



The BCS preserves the excitement and intensity of the college football season.

This new BCS playoff system keeps it without teams getting snubbed. True, there are arguments about who should be in March Madness even with 65 teams, but no one really believes the 65th team will win a championship and thus is not a controversy regarding a championship. Conference regular season games matter more than ever, and out-of-conference games become important tests in preparation for conference play. Since only eight teams make the playoffs, every regular season game still counts. The BCS rankings still matter in determining two playoff spots as well as seeding in the playoffs, so style points still matter.


The out-of-conference games during the regular season become less important as conference championships are emphasized.

There will be more early season out-of-conference games between top mid-major and major teams, as the race for the playoffs heats up in mid-major conferences from the get-go.

Since there are two at-large spots, every regular season game for teams that barely fall short of a conference championship in a major conference still matter, as BCS pollsters will determine who gets in. Pollsters get to keep their jobs, even if they have somewhat less power than they do now.

In the case of the Big 12 South, pollsters can still affect the outcome of the automatic bid, as the champion is selected through BCS ranking. Additionally, the good teams who just want to win their major conference's automatic bid can schedule good out-of-conference teams to be adequately prepared for conference play, as all they have to do is win their conference.

Additionally, the TV networks will have more high-profile games to show, due to early non-conference showdowns and the end-of-the year playoffs.


The college football season now extends two more weeks, and now more teams end the season with losses.

Yes, but this only applies to four other teams. Only three more teams will lose in the postseason—those who lose in the second round and the championship game. The best Texas high school teams play 15 games a year, so a top college football team from the SEC, Big 12, or ACC playing up to 16 games would only play one more game than a team of talented high schoolers from Texas.


I represent Ohio State or Alabama, and we deserve to be part of these BCS playoffs.

To preserve the regular season, we can't have either team in the BCS playoffs. Win your conference, or be the best at-large team in the country. Alabama has a good gripe, but winning your major conference will always get you into the BCS playoffs under this system.


The BCS bowls and conference presidents won't agree to this system.

I find it hard to believe they won't be persuaded to agree to this. Sure, the first round games lose a bit of importance. However, the BCS bowls will generate more revenue with an additional game most years than their usual one game a year.

Plus, they can still choose their favored matchups—the Rose Bowl can retain their Pac-10 versus Big Ten matchup if they want to, provided they are the champions of both conferences. The Big Six conferences will therefore get more revenue going to their conferences. These six conferences are still free to select their conference winners no matter how they want, so this should not be a huge factor.


Why not a plus-one, 4, 12, or 16-team playoff?

Plus-one matchups inherit the problem of deciding the best team when there are multiple teams that look like champions. Four-team playoffs snub some major conferences, which means it won't pass. An "and-one" system does not solve the problem of fairness. Meanwhile, a 12 or 16-team playoff opens up questions about the loss of excitement in the college football regular season, and the extended week of play makes it difficult for college administrators and presidents to accept.

It would also be difficult to get the BCS bowls to agree to giving up so much power for such a playoff, as other bowls would be involved. We also need to keep the bowls intact.



This plan is ultimately about pragmatism, and this idea actually has a good chance of being accepted by most parts of the college football community. This is not a radical change of the system—it's one that is a reform of the current system. The people in charge appear to be conservative, and it took them many long years to even establish a championship game in the first place which put in place the BCS system in the 1990's. BCS bowls and the NCAA receive more revenue, and TV networks will have more exciting matchups.

The college football season remains as exciting as it ever was because only eight teams get in. Eight teams, rather than two teams, get to play for the national championship. Mid-majors now have a legit shot at a national title.

Also, most importantly, fans like you and me can finally enjoy a playoff that we have always wanted in college football.

Constructive criticism (and praise) towards this system is welcome. I may have neglected to consider various arguments that would make this system less than satisfactory, but I do believe that this is an effective playoff.


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