Moving From 'Playoff' to 'Tournament'
Trying to nail down how a 16-team playoff would work led me to a few realizations.
16 teams is way different than eight.
With eight teams you can pick the cream of the crop. To do that with 16 teams would be redundant and add an extra week of playoff games that only muddle the picture.
No, in order to have a 16 teams you need to invite the 11 conference winners and five at large teams. This changes the postseason from a playoff to an all out tournament. Inviting teams from every conference has the propensity to throw the bowl season for a loop.
I will try my best to allow bowl games their traditional time and place. This best way I found this could be accomplished is not to play more than the semifinals while other bowl games are going on.
1) Who Plays Whom?
To seed the 16 teams straight you would have many teams playing away games where only their most die-hard of fans could travel. For example, it is difficult to say that Buffalo must go all the way to Oklahoma to lose a game when so many more fans could watch the game at Penn State.
Originally this led me to give home games to the top eight teams and to create four geographically close matchups like Troy at Alabama or Boise St at Utah; allowing the other four games to lie closer to traditional matchups.
However, this creates havoc when an eight seed (Penn State) plays a nearby 16 seed (Buffalo) while a 12 seed (Cincy) flies across the country to play a 5 seed (USC). While some smaller schools had a better chance of seeing the first-round game, any semblance of a proper bracket and seeding might as well be thrown out the window.
Pray for me, because I dreamed a solution the other night (there are more important things to dream about). In order to keep games regional while maintaining a functional seeding, teams are placed in geographical groupings (West, South, East, and North) of four teams each.
2) The Playoff Schedule
Teams are seeded one through four in each region and placed there by a committee. Conferences place all of their teams in the same region and send no more than three teams so as not to monopolize a region.
The placement of teams will often be obvious (USC plays in the West), but sometimes choice will present itself and the choice to put a mid-major champion in a No. 4 seed takes precedent so that a No. 1 seed can have an easy game.
The first two rounds will be played at the home of the higher seed, both giving an advantage to the higher ranked team and allowing students and local fans to attend these games en masse.
The first two rounds will be played the first two weeks of December. This will mean the shortening of the regular season OR replacing Conference Championship Games (CCGs) with the greater playoff.
This means that after regional play is concluded no bowl games will be missed and all 12 teams which have not won their region will be eligible for their conferences' traditional bowl games.
3) The Bracket
Replacing CCGs, here is the 16 team playoff bracket:
No 1. USC (11-1)
No 2. Utah (12-0)
No 3. Boise St (12-0)
No 4. TCU (10-2)
No 1. Oklahoma (11-1)
No 2. Texas (11-1)
No 3. Texas Tech (11-1)
No 4. Tulsa (10-2)
No 1. Alabama (12-0)
No 2. Florida (11-1)
No 3. Ga Tech (9-3) yeah, they actually win the conference tie-breakers
No 4. Troy (8-4)
No 1. Penn State (11-1)
No 2. Ohio State (10-2)
No 3. Cincy (11-2)
No 4. Ball St (12-0)
Which team is the best mid-major out west? We'll find out. What better way to break the three way tie for the Big 12 South! Troy gets a nearby game. Cincy and Ohio State engage in a battle for best in the state. This looks like roses all around.
As all other teams are pidgeonholed into their bowl games, the final four teams are given more than 2 weeks to prepare for the National Championship Semifinals.
To conserve on travel and enhance the bowl experience, the site of the National Championship will also be the site of one of the New Years Day semifinal games. For the time being that site will continue to rotate among the current four BCS sites.
The Rose Bowl will host annually the winner of the West and North regions (a compromise between being a marquee bowl and keeping ties to the Big Ten and Pac-10).
What will happen to the BCS? I'm not sure I care. For the sake of argument they will add a fifth bowl and maintain current automatic qualification and at large procedures. While the non-Semifinal BCS games may have the air of consolation games, the bowls are still vacation opportunities for tons of fans.
My guess is that eventually only one bowl site (of Orange, Sugar, Fiesta) will stick to the semifinal format (the others pursuing more traditional conference pairings). One anticipated result is the Sugar Bowl becoming the National Semifinal, the Orange Bowl hosting the top ACC and top Big East teams, and the Fiesta Bowl hosting two at larges with the Cotton Bowl hosting the top Big 12 and top SEC teams
The big conferences are getting what they want right now, one or two big money games with minimal risk. A large playoff would greatly cut into their share of the playoff pie and put their product at risk for market failure (they might get upset and lose both money and prestige).
This is exactly what the college football fan is looking for, however. The playoff will generate loads of wealth and, with less than a third of the spots at large, the wealth of the regular season will take only a nominal hit. In fact, we might start paying closer attention to races in the mid-major conferences, translating into more money.
The playoff format above is compelling. It does not stomp all over the existing bowls. It produces a champion in a timely manner (less than a week later than currently). It does not dilute the regular season with excessive at large bids. It rewards better teams with home field. It rewards fans with local games. All that is required for implementation is a force to redistribute the wealth so as to generate more.
I am personally (or 'currently') in favor of a four team playoff but anything more than eight teams is an entirely different animal, a tournament. This 16 team model is on all accounts the best tournament possible for college football.
Other Iterations of the FBS Playoff Series: