A playoff is something most fans have wanted for years in some way, shape or form to decide the national championship in college football!! While there was four-team playoff in 2014 and will be in 2015, is four teams really sufficient for a playoff?
A four-team playoff finally arrived in 2014, but such has its roots going back a number of years. There is considerable evidence that suggests you could actually need more than that, however:
2009 presented what at the time was the most compelling argument as to why a playoff in college football was needed. That season, were five unbeaten schools (Alabama, Texas, TCU, Cincinatti and Boise State) at the end of the regular season, along with a sixth (Florida) that as the #1 ranked school in the BCS going into its conference title game had to in that game play the school that was ranked #2 in the BCS (Alabama) going in, losing that game and finishing with one loss (the only school that didn’t finish unbeaten to do so). The problem is, of course is that back then, there was not a playoff. Although there were two unbeaten schools that did play for the national championship on January 7, 2010 at the Rose Bowl, will Alabama ever be truly considered the national champion for 2009 (and for that matter, did Texas have a legitimate claim on the #2 spot that season)? What about the other schools that finished 2009 unbeaten and perhaps even Florida, who was #1 for much of the 2009 season before suffering their only loss against Alabama in the SEC Championship game. Didn’t they deserve a shot at proving they should be the national champion?
Even if you had a four-team playoff in 2009, it almost certainly would not have been enough to quell matters. One, if not two of Boise State, Cincinnati and TCU would have been likely left out of the playoff and a one-loss Florida team also might have not made it.
While 2010 didn’t have the controversy of 2009, there still was one big question left unanswered: Did TCU deserve a shot at playing for the national championship, even with unbeaten Auburn and Oregon squads? Then there were the one-loss schools like Stanford (only loss was at Oregon), Boise State (only loss was in overtime via two missed field goals to a Nevada squad that would have finished unbeaten themselves and would have been in the argument that they deserved to go to the Rose Bowl over TCU were it not for a loss at Hawaii), or the three Big 10 co-champions in Wisconsin (only loss was at Michigan State), Ohio State (only loss was at Wisconsin) and Michigan State (only loss was at Iowa), especially since Ohio State and Michigan State did not play each other in the regular season.
While TCU would have almost certainly been in a four-team playoff in 2010, who would have joined them? Stanford would have been the most likely based on the fact their ONLY loss was at Oregon, however, there serveral other compelling arguments. Even with an eight-team playoff in that scenario, one of Boise State, Ohio State, Michigan State, Nevada and Wisconsin would NOT have made the field of eight. That by itself makes the argument for a field of at least 16.
2011 had the argument of whether Alabama should have been allowed to play in the BCS Title Game against fellow SEC West member LSU, whom they lost to at home in overtime by a 9-6 score on November 5. There are those who feel Alabama should never have been allowed to play against LSU in the title game, especially as Oklahoma State finished third because Oklahoma State’s only loss (at Iowa State on November 19) came on the day the team found out about the death of the Women’s Basketball coach and an assistant in a plane crash and because LSU had to play an extra game, the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta where they defeated Georgia that December 3. A four-team playoff probably would have settled that as LSU and Oklahoma State would have played each other in one of two semi-finals.
2012 did leave us with one eligible unbeaten in Notre Dame, plus an Ohio State squad that also finished unbeaten but was on probation and not eligible for postseason play. Georgia, however, took a one-loss Alabama squad to the wire in the SEC Championship Game and you also had a one-loss Florida squad in the SEC East that some feel is just as good as both Alabama and Georgia. Meanwhile, out west, the argument could be made that Pac-12 champion Stanford (whose only losses were on the road to Washington and in overtime to Notre Dame) and Pac-12 North runner-up Oregon (whose only loss was to Stanford, also in overtime) also deserve a chance to prove they are champions. There, you would have needed at least an eight team playoff.
2013 had the controversy of whether or not a one-loss team in the SEC Champion deserved to jump over an Ohio State team that had not lost in two years for the right to play in the BCS Championship game prior to Michigan State beating the Buckeyes, and then the argument by some that Michigan State was “Golden Domed” in their only loss of the year at Notre Dame with questionable calls by the officials in the eyes of some. There also could have been the argument of whether or not Alabama would have deserved to play Florida State in the BCS Championship game if Missouri had defeated Auburn in the SEC Championship game because of what many still consider a freak play that did in the Crimson Tide against Auburn. Again, you would likely have needed an eight-team playoff.
2014 had the situation where The Big 12 named Baylor and TCU co-champions when both in all reality deserved to make the playoff. There not being a conference championship game in the Big 12 hurt them, especially in the eyes of many because the Big 12 in quite a few opinions was too scared to simply name Baylor the champion.
While we now have a four-team playoff, even that in many years likely is not enough to settle most, if not all of these arguments, especially if like in 2009 we wound up with five unbeatens and a sixth that for all intents and purposes could have been considered unbeaten.
This is why we need a 32-team playoff in college football!!
As most people who follow college football know, the college Presidents were in the way of there being any form of a real playoff in what is now the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS, formerly Division 1-A) for varying reasons, and until allowing a four-team playoff beginning in 2014 continued to be. While most believe it has been about money and the fear of dividing it up between schools that currently don’t get to take in the lions share of the Bowl revenue (other than the “BCS Busters” in the days before the top “non-power five” school was guaranteed a berth in a “New Year’s Six” bowl game), what is not often said is there is a very small, but in some cases extremely vocal group of professors who are completely anti-sports in some instances that the same Presidents may very well be concerned about making very angry if a playoff beyond the four-school playoff now in place ever happened in the FBS division of college football, and if so perhaps concerned that such in academia would attempt to stage protests with others who are not exactly fond of big-time college sports and have no understanding of the importance of such. This is why even getting a four-team playoff for now is very important, although it is far from perfect and will eventually need to be expanded.
Those in charge in late 2009 went as far as to launch a website called Playoff Problem (that site no longer exists), showing in their minds WHY a playoff would not work, ranging from scheduling to hurting what had been the existing bowl system. A 32-team playoff can easily be overcome with the existing bowl system only having some tweaking, the exact method of which will come up as this moves along.
There already was tweaking for a playoff this season in College Football that began in 2014. Most notably, this now has the “New Years Six” bowl games, the four former Bowl Championship Series games in the Fiesta, Orange, Rose and Sugar Bowls plus the Cotton Bowl and Peach (known for years as the Chick-Fil-A) Bowl, among what were long considered the top non-BCS Bowl games now added. Three of the games that are not part of the playoff in 2014-’15 (in this case the Fiesta, Rose and Orange Bowls) will be played on New Year’s Day while the Peach Bowl will be played on New Year’s Eve with the two playoff games (Cotton and Orange Bowls) also being played New Year’s Eve (even though such games could have been played on Saturday, January 2) because of the Rose Bowl’s likely refusal to either move off its traditional date or at least be pushed back to a night game (most likely a 6:00-6:30 PM local time kickoff) to accommodate the playoff games being played on New Year’s Day.
One noticible change that occurred with last year’s four-team playoff and was continuing this year was talk of strength of schedule playing into who deserves the four spots. While that may be good for college football right now, if we get a year like 2009 where we have multiple unbeatens, you could easily have one of more not make it, especially in years you have the SEC as strong as it is for example where multiple teams deserve to make it. And then there were schools like Houston, who were it not for a loss at Connecticuit on November 21 would have finished 2015 unbeaten but may not have had any chance to make a playoff because of a weak schedule. What do you have done if Houston had gone unbeaten?
It’s another reason why a playoff in college football involving 32 teams would be best. Such a playoff would require further tweaking with the schedule, with most notably the regular season for FBS schools would begin one week earlier than it currently does (meaning the season would begin in most years on the last full weekend in August) and in most years also end one week earlier than it usually does, with in those years that being Thanksgiving week. While in most years this would force some traditional Thanksgiving rivalry games to other parts of the season where the team(s) involved are in conferences that would have to move (in most years) their conference championship games up to Thanksgiving week, it is a trade-off that would be well worth it, especially since in those years it would also mean there would be an additional week of College Football at the beginning of the season where it only has to compete with NFL Preseason games and Baseball, and in most years the first weekend of college football also not having to compete with the US Open Tennis Championships. It should be noted that in years where Thanksgiving is not on the last Thursday in November, that would not be the case and the schedule would remain as it is now.
The following are questions were originally asked in late 2009 on playoffproblem.com (again, the site no longer exists) concerning a playoff, with answers immediately following the questions:
1. Who would participate?
As proposed here, a field of 32 schools, mainly using then-existing BCS and now the College Football Playoff formula (with limited exceptions). In this proposal, the College Football Playoff Top 25 would be expanded to a College Football Playoff Top 40 to as best possible assure at least one school in all 10 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) conferences has a ranking.
The question you may ask is why a 32-team playoff, when many have suggested an eight or 16-team playoff? There is a simple reason that 32 looks to be the right number:
A 32-team playoff gives everyone who even remotely deserves a shot at the national championship the chance to play for it!!
That is the overriding factor of this proposal! While a 32-team field will allow some four-loss teams and sometimes even a five-loss team (that has played a very difficult schedule) into the field, it does give the top teams some early round tests that as long as they pass allow them to advance and play in what would be four regional finals, in this case rotated between what are now the “New Years Six” bowl games, while at the same time allow schools to may have had a key injury to their squads early on the chance to redeem themselves and earn their way up the ladder the hard way, by playing on the road in the first two rounds if they get that far.
- How many automatic qualifiers?
The 10 FBS conference champions would receive automatic bids. With those automatic bids also comes a guarantee of no lower than a #4 seed and with that, the guarantee of playing at least a first round game at home. With allowances for special circumstances (i.e.: an extremely strong conference or where conference co-champions did not play each other in the regular season), the top five conference champions (who would be seeded #1 or #2 in each of four regions, this was top six conference champions prior to 2014) would usually be guaranteed to play first and second round games at home (provided they advance to the second round). There would also be criteria that would guarantee any independents (Army, BYU, Navy, and Notre Dame) who, as long as they meet such critieria getting in with the treatment of a conference champion (that will be explained in greater detail in the next segment).
- What would be the criteria to qualify?
The criteria would be, as noted to win your conference and not only be guaranteed a berth in a 32-playoff, but the right to host at least a first round game if not a second round game (provided you win your first-round game) in addition. There would also be 22 at-large bids, however, the independent schools could turn an at-large bid into an automatic one by doing any of the following:
1. Win a minimum of nine games and have at least a .750 win percentage and not be in the final College Football Playoff Top 40. This simply guarantees a berth into the field, which can be the lowest overall seed and having to play at the overall #1 seed in the first round.
2. Win at least eight games, have at least a .650 win percentage and also be in the College Football Playoff Top 40. The same rules as #1 would apply otherwise, however.
3. Home field advantage for a first-round game for an independent would be given for winning at least 10 games, have at least an .800 win percentage and finish in the College Football Playoff Top 25.
4. Home field advantage for first and second-round games for an independent that wins at least 11 games, has at least a .900 win percentage and finishing in the College Football Playoff Top 12 OR finishing unbeaten (for at least an 11 game season) and in the College Football Playoff Top 20. If more than two independents meet this criteria, then the top two independents in the College Football Playoff standings would be guaranteed the second home game, should they advance past the first round.
Excluding independents who meet any of the above criteria, the at-large bids to fill out the field of 32 would solely be determined by the final College Football Playoff Standings, which would again be expanded to a Top 40 for that purpose.
- What would be the criteria for seedings?
The seedings would be determined in the following manner:
1. The top BCS ranked school would be the overall #1 seed, with the remaining three of four #1 seeds (as there would be four regions) then determined, with preference given to a conference champion in the College Football Playoff Top 10, although there would be limited exceptions to allow for a very strong conference, especially where teams in the College Football Playoff Top 5 have to play each other in a conference title game before any playoff began. The four #2 seeds would then be determined in a similar manner, usually set up to where if the #1 and #2 seeds meet in any of the four College Football Playoff games (that in this case would serve as quarterfinals/regional finals), again, now in a rotation of the new “New Years Six” Bowl games. It would be set up so the overall #1 seed would face the weakest of the four #2 seeds, the next strongest #1 seed faces the next weakest #2 seed, etc. (Note: In years where it is part of the playoff, the Rose Bowl when realistically possible would be set up so the Big 10 and Pac-12 Champions would play in the game should their respective champions win their first and second round games unless both conference champions are worthy of a #1 seed).
2. The four #1 and four #2 seeds would be guaranteed to host first and second-round playoff games, provided they win their first round games. Schools with a #3 seed would be guaranteed to host a first round playoff game, with the chance to host a second round game should either the #1 or #2 seed be upset in the first round, while schools with a #4 seed would also host a first round game with the opportunity to play at home in the second round should both the #1 and #2 OR one of the top two seeds and the #3 seed be upset in the first round.
3. Conference champions that finish in the College Football Playoff Standings between 16-25 would be guaranteed at worst a #3 seed and a first-round home game (unless multiple independents and at-large schools that meet criteria noted above make it in on such and would be seeded ahead of such a conference champion to where such a school would have to drop to a #4 seed, but still be guaranteed a home game).
4. Conference champions that finish between 26-32 would be guaranteed a higher #4 seed and a first-round home game, while such champions that finish outside the College Football Playoff Top 32 would only be guaranteed a #4 seed that can be the #16 overall seed and the first round home game that comes with it.
Note on seeding: Schools from the same conference would not be allowed to play each other before the second round except for where the overall #1 seed is playing the overall #32 seed AND then if two such instances are necessary, the overall #2 seed playing the overall #31 seed OR its a situation where the schools are in the same conference BUT DID NOT play each other in the regular season (whether they are in different divisions or otherwise) NOR did they play each other in the conference championship game OR it’s a situation where nine or more schools from the same conference have made the field of 32.
- Where would the games be played?
- When would the games be played?
These will be answered together:
In this format, the first two rounds would be played at home sites.
In most years, the first round would be played on the week after Thanksgiving, most likely with at least two games on Thursday, two on Friday and the others all on Saturday. The earliest starting date for the first round of the playoffs, however, would be where December 1 falls on a Thursday, meaning in years where Thanksgiving falls on November 22 or 23, the week after Thanksgiving would still be regular season and conference championship games with the following week (beginning with December 6 or 7) being the first round of the playoffs. This would be done to best assure there would not be playoff games during finals at most schools, or if there are, there would be minimal impact on finals at worst.
After in most years a one-week break (in part to account for finals and in part to allow for schools to more easily make arrangements) the second round would be played on the week after the Heisman Trophy presentation. This most likely would have at least one game on Thursday, two on Friday and the rest on Saturday. For the second round, the lowest remaining seed in a region would play the highest remaining seed, while the two other seeds would simply play each other (for example, if the #1, #3 and #4 seeds all win their first-round games in a region, but a #2 seed is upset by a #7 seed in the first round, for the second round the #1 seed would play the #7 seed while the #3 seed would host the #4 seed).
The existing bowls would still be played in this format, but as noted above with some tweaking:
First round losers along with schools that failed to make the 32-team playoff field would play in the lower tier bowls (provided they are eligible), with the higher-seeded first round losers getting the better of those bowl games. This would include the four of the six non-“New Years Six” Bowl Games listed as being in the rotation for “second round loser” games (below) when they are not hosting such games. These would usually get the highest eight overall seeds that lost first-round games (though adjusted to reflect true seedings since conference champions are guaranteed no worse than a #4 seed in the playoff). The other four games that would host the rest of the first round losers would usually be the Belk, Pinstripe, San Francisco and Sun Bowls.
Second round losers would play in ONE of the two “New Years Six” Bowl games NOT being used for playoff games in this incarnation OR in one of the top two non-College Football Playoff Bowl games. The other two games hosting second round losers would be rotated among what are considered to be the top six non-“New Years Six” Bowl games after the Cotton and Peach Bowl became part of the “New Years Six” Bowl games. The likely rotation of the non-CFB Playoff Bowl games that would be used for second-round losers:
Year 1: Citrus (formerly Capital One) Bowl and Alamo Bowl (with the Sugar and Rose Bowls the other “second round loser” Bowl Games)
Year 2: Liberty Bowl and Holiday Bowl (with the Cotton and Orange Bowls the other “second round loser” Bowl Games)
Year 3: Outback Bowl and Indepenence Bowl (with the Fiesta and Peach Bowls the other “second round loser” Bowl Games)
(Note: When the Rose Bowl is a “second round loser” Bowl game, that game whenever possible would pit a Big 10 against a Pac-12 school as long as both are in the top four ranked of the “second round losers”)
Meanwhile, the second round winners would move on to what are the current College Football Playoff/”New Years Six” Bowl games, which would be played as they are now over the New Year’s period. The only significant difference for the existing College Football Playoff Bowl games is that there would now be essentially be two four-team mini-tournaments (making up the first two rounds) that would determine each of the participants for what would now be considered regional finals, with the regions broken up as follows in the following rotation:
Year 1: East — Orange Bowl, South — Peach Bowl, Midwest — Cotton Bowl, West — Fiesta Bowl (Sites of Sugar and Rose Bowls host semifinal games)
Year 2: East — Peach Bowl, South — Sugar Bowl, Midwest — Fiesta Bowl, West — Rose Bowl (Sites of Cotton and Orange Bowls host semifinal games)
Year 3: East — Orange Bowl, South — Sugar Bowl, Midwest — Cotton Bowl, West — Rose Bowl (Sites of Fiesta and Peach Bowls host semifinal games)
The Championship Game would be rotated between the “New Years Six” sites, designed so each “New Years Six” site would host two semifinal games and one championship game in a six-year span. Years when “New Years Six” Bowl Games are for the top second round losers are when the sites of those games host the national semifinals.
Using what were the College Football Playoffs and adding in Conference Champions not in the final College Football Playoff Top 25, below is what the first-round games would look like if such were in effect following the final Top 25 being released:
Peach Bowl Region (East)
#8 Georgia (31) at #1 Clemson (1)
#7 Utah (26) at #2 Houston (8)
#6 LSU (24) at #3 Ohio State (9)
#5 Ole Miss (17) at #4 Arkansas State (16)
Sugar Bowl Region (South)
#8 BYU (31) at #1 Alabama (2)
#7 Tennessee (25) at #2 Notre Dame (7)
#6 Baylor (22) at #3 Florida State (10)
#5 Northwestern (18) at #4 San Diego State (15)
Rose Bowl Region (West)
#8 Wisconsin (29) at #1 Michigan State (3)
#7 Navy (25) at #2 Stanford (6)
#6 Oklahoma State (21) at #3 North Carolina (11)
#5 Michigan (19) at #4 Bowling Green (14)
Fiesta Bowl Region (Midwest)
#8 USC (29) at #1 Oklahoma (4)
#7 Temple (28) at #2 Iowa (5)
#6 Florida (23) at #3 Western Kentucky (12)
#5 Oregon (20) at #4 TCU (13)
(Note: Since the sites of the Cotton Bowl and Orange Bowl would serve as the sites of the national semifinal games, the actual bowl games would in this case play host between them the top four second round losers as noted in the rotation above)
Notes concerning the seedings and other things for 2015-’16:
1. After the College Football Playoff Top 25 is exhausted, in this case the rankings in the various polls (dipping into “others receiving votes” if necessary) are used to determine the remaining schools.
2. Houston is a #2 seed as the top “Group of Five” conference champion, taking into account their only loss at UConn was when they had key injuries and UConn needed that win to become bowl eligible.
3. Western Kentucky is the lowest of the #3 seeds based on being ranked #25 in the final AP poll, with TCU as a result dropped to a #4 seed. The other three “Group of Five” champions are the other #4 seeds as such are guaranteed a home game for winning their conference championships. Those overall seedings are based on their rankings (in order “others receiving votes”).
4. Florida is jumped ahead of Oklahoma State and Baylor in the seeding order because the latter two can not play TCU in the first round.
5. Navy is dropped two spots in the seeding order because they can not play Houston in the first round AND Navy already played at Notre Dame this season (such return trips in the first round are avoided whenever possible). As a result, Utah and Tennessee each move up one spot in the seeding order.
6. BYU is an automatic qualifier as an independent with nine wins and a .750 win percentage. They are actually the lowest overall seed in the field.
7. Georgia is the last school in the field of 32. The are playing the overall #1 seed in Clemson even though they are actually seeded ahead of BYU due to the fact Georgia can not play Alabama in the first round.
8. Navy’s spot is tentative as the Midshipmen still have to play Army on December 12. If they lose that game, they would fall out and Washington State would replace Navy in the field. Washington State would become the lowest seed in the field in that scenario and play Clemson in the first round (BYU would stay where they are as BYU is ranked overall ahead of Washington State) and other seeds would move up.
The breakdown of teams in the field by conference:
Big 10: 6 (Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Ohio State and Wisconsin)
SEC: 6 (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Ole Miss, and Tennessee)
Big 12: 4 (Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU)
Pac-12: 4 (Oregon, Stanford, USC and Utah)
ACC: 3 (Clemson, Florida State and North Carolina)
American Athletic Conference: 3 (Houston, Navy and Temple)
Independents: 2 (Notre Dame and BYU)
Mountain West: 1 (San Diego State)
Conference USA: 1 (Western Kentucky)
Mid-American: 1 (Bowling Green)
Sun Belt: 1 (Arkansas State)
The “New Years Six” Bowl (Regional Final) winners would advance to the national semifinals. The two national semifinal games would as noted be hosted by the “New Years Six” Bowl Games whose actual games in those years are “second round loser” Bowl Games. In most years, the two semifinal games would be in prime time during the week in between the NFL Wild Card and Divisional Playoffs (though in 2015 it would be the Monday and Tuesday between the Divisional Playoffs and NFL Conference Championship games), with exact dates depending on the calendar and when the BCS Bowls are actually played. One seminal would have the lowest remaining overall seed playing the highest remaining overall seed, with the other two schools remaining playing in the other semifinal (as will be the case in the actual playoff in January 2015). The exact dates of each game would be determined based on when the current BCS bowl games are played. For this purpose for January 2015, assuming the top seed in each region wins their respective BCS Bowl game, The first national semifinal would be played on Monday, January 12 with the second national semifinal played the next night, Tuesday, January 13.
The winners of the two national semifinal games would then play for the national championship, which in most years would be scheduled in this format for the Saturday night preceding the NFL conference championship games, however, because of how the calendar falls, in 2015 only the championship game would be played on the Sunday night between the NFL Conference Championship games and Super Bowl (in this case, on Sunday, January 25). As noted above, the national championship game (and possibly a third place game between the semifinal losers the night before) would be rotated between the sites of the “Big Six” Bowl Games to where each game hosts two semifinal and one championship game during a six-year period.
This is likely the most fair way to decide the national championship in college football. The fact that the “Power Five” conferences would be (in most years) guaranteed of at least their conference champions getting two extra home games (provided such win their first round game) would be enough of an incentive to overcome opposition from the college Presidents, especially since it would still be set up where in most years, the “Power Five” would get a massive percentage of what likely would be a much bigger revenue pie than even now with a four-team playoff in place. This would be especially since most, if not all of the existing bowl games would still be played as in this format, all 32 playoff participants would also be guaranteed a bowl game (and a “Big Six” Bowl if they win their first and second round matcups or even in some cases if they lose their second round game) in addition to at least one playoff game, with the chance to advance to play for the national title if they continue to win games.
While there would be the risk of a three or four-loss team winning the championship, they would still likely have to beat the overall #1 seed on the road in one of the first two rounds. That risk is well worth taking because any school that pulled that off would in all likelihood have to do the hard way in winning (in most years) first and second round games on the road before reaching a “New Years Six” Bowl game. Especially in a year like 2009 that saw the regular season end with five unbeaten schools (and a sixth with only one loss that came in a conference title game where the top two teams in the former Bowl Championship Series standings that were both undefeated going in met), a 32-team playoff would be the best way in all likelihood to give most fans what they really want:
A TRUE national champion!!