As I explained last Sunday, if all the favored teams took care of business in the Playoff-impacting conference championship games (and they did), then Bama, Clemson, and Notre Dame were in. The final spot did come down to Oklahoma and Ohio State, unless you listen to the pundits, who decided Georgia should also be in the mix because they had very good losses.
If the Committee had listened to the noise, they might have chose Georgia for spot number four, but instead they thought it through and picked the statistically best one-loss conference champion.
Yet this is the second year in a row that the Pac 12 and Big 10’s best teams have been denied a chance to compete for college football’s greatest prize. This is a fundamental flaw inherent in the Playoff itself: four spots, and five major conferences. At least one major conference’s champion will be left out.
This glaring issue devalues the importance of conference championships. It also means that the Playoff usually contains few stunning surprises or underdog upsets to delight the fan, even if its games are classics of high-level football play.
Moreover, due to overwhelming and arguably unfair prejudice, it’s near impossible for any team outside the so-called “Power 5” conferences to make it into the Playoff as it’s constructed now. This is true even though the American and Mountain West’s best teams frequently upset Power 5 teams in bowl games. Yet an arbitrary distinction prevents major and minor conference teams from having an equal shot at college football’s big trophy.
But what if I told you there are two ways to keep the same excellent level of championship competition while offering more teams a true chance at glory? One is easier; the other is more fun.
OPTION ONE: An Eight Team Playoff
This is the simple solution, the one every pundit and fan brings up. And it makes sense, especially with five automatic bids for Power 5 conference champions and three at-large teams selected by the existing Committee, who could also seed the teams however they wished.
I would add one more wrinkle, however: one of the Playoff teams MUST be from the minor Group of 5 conferences.
This would level the playing field dramatically across college football and give every conference championship race high stakes. It would also increase the chances of an upset or dramatic finish.
Some might protest that lengthening the season like this increases the risk of injury for players, and that is a real concern. To counter it, I would subtract a non-conference game from the regular season while keeping the six-win requirement for bowl eligibility. This would also have a positive impact on the overall college football postseason landscape, likely decreasing the amount of eligible teams (and thus bowl games) while making sure all such teams had winning records.
However, there’s another option that also solves our Playoff crisis. It would be big, and beautiful, and yuge. Literally.
OPTION TWO: The Power 4
Wanna get crazy? Let’s take one of the Power 5 conferences and redistribute the teams, creating four massive sixteen-team regional superconferences. I’d do the same with the Group of 5, creating four regional minor conferences to complement each superconference.
To promote high levels of competition and give everyone a shot at the title, every year the two worst teams from every superconference would be relegated to a minor conference, and the two minor conference best teams would be promoted to the superconference. The teams would just trade the following year’s schedules to make things simple.
But how are we going to create our superconferences? Easy. We blow up the Big 12. Here’s how I would allocate its teams.
The ACC would welcome Kansas State and Kansas and would undergo a name change due to their new regional footprint, becoming the Heartland Conference.
The Big 10, whose name already makes no sense, would become the Big North Conference. Iowa State and West Virginia would join up.
The SEC would keep their name because it works. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State would join the SEC West, moving Auburn to the SEC East. The Iron Bowl would continue as a yearly-cross divisional game.
That leaves the PAC-12, now called the Southwest Conference, to receive Texas, Texas Tech, Baylor, and TCU into their ranks.
The superconference champs would each receive automatic Playoff bids, making their championships de facto Playoff games.
I submit that either an eight-team Playoff or the incredible, glorious idea of superconferences is far better and would produce more exciting championship football than the system college football currently follows. The Committee got it right this year. Without a solution to the four-team Playoff’s problems, they might not do so again.