How to Make the College Football Playoff Great Again

The Committee chose wisely this year, but there's still two better ways to select a champion.

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.

Comments
No. 1-8
cjmcd
cjmcd

I would love to see Clemson, Notre Dame and Oklahoma play an South East Conference schedule. I think only Oklahoma would possibly survive.

Wayne_Peterkin
Wayne_Peterkin

Conor's right. The college playoffs are a joke and always will be until the subjectivity is replaced with greater objectivity. For any "playoff" to be respectable, a few rules need established. First, no team that cannot win it's own conference championship should be in a playoff for the mythical "National Championship" no matter how good that team is perceived to be. Win your conference or your out. Period. Last year, Alabama should not have been in that playoff because they didn't even qualify for their conference championship game, yet UCF was ignored while beating Auburn in their bowl game, the team that beat Alabama during the season. In my world, UCF won the title last year regardless of Alabama's perceived strength. 'Bama should not have even been there. Second, every major conference must be respected with a slot and "independents" should either be required to join a conference (best choice) or as an alternative one or two slots could be reserved for the top independents (which sadly allows subjectivity back into the equation which is not good). Conor's suggestion is okay. If that makes too many games, then go back to the olden days which were better than what we have today which is phony. Today, the "National Championship" picture is a farce. Better to have the old system of conferences represented in bowl games and no "National Championship" foolishness at all.

etbass
etbass

"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."

This just isn't true. UCF could actually schedule and play decent teams to start with. Don't give me the "no one with schedule us" crap. They want home and home games with Florida and Clemson and Mississippi State. You aren't getting that. You have to play on the road when you are the little guy. Florida State did it and built theirs into a power program. TCU and Utah did it and eventually they got an invite to the big leagues (or back to them in TCU's case). You can't act entitled while you are trying to earn a seat at the table. UCF doesn't play anyone. Going undefeated is impressive, but it doesn't say anything about how good you are when you don't play a single ranked team on the schedule. Get invited to the Kickoff classic games. Make it happen.

TCU and Boise State would have both been invited to at least 1 four team playoff, if not more than one each, both as non-Power 5 (6 at the time) members. To say it can't happen is wrong. They played good schools and beat them and they developed programs that competed every year. Utah was close and would have made it with the 2008 team most years.

UCF needs to go out and beat LSU and they will get even more respect next year. They need to get at least three power 5 games, with at least one of them being a good team.

etbass
etbass

The "Power 4" idea is terrible. Thankfully, it will never happen. It would destroy rivalries in order to try and come up with some system to get a "one true champion". The problem is that one bad day, at the wrong school or in the wrong game would end a season. College basketball has 68 teams and the best team doesn't always win, might not even win most of the time. It gets you a tournament champion.

This idea makes the non-conference games completely meaningless. You might have good matchups, but they don't mean anything. Some will schedule cupcakes to keep rested and prevent injury. You have geographical problems trying to force conferences into existence. Arbitrary ups and downs create new schools with no connections and it destroys rivalries.

etbass
etbass

The 8 team playoff isn't a bad idea, but it won't solve the issue. As soon as 3 SEC teams get in (which they might have in 2017), everyone will complain that some conference has a 1 loss non champion sitting out and a 4 loss champion in. If Pitt beats Clemson, you want to see them play Alabama? Yawn. Or Utah or Washington? Northwestern? We had that scenario with the old Big East that kept sending crappy champions that got their doors blown off after Miami and VT left. No thanks. No automatic bids for anyone, even with 8 teams. Win enough games to be in the Top 8 or get left out. Automatic bids are just being lazy and end up with bad matchups. If you can't get a conference champion in the top 8, you don't deserve to be in the playoff. Period. As soon as we have 8, the drumbeat will begin to have 12 or 16 because some Group of 5 is undefeated and left out because their is a higher ranked undefeated Group of 5.

When we had none, we only needed to guarantee #1 v. #2 to solve all the problems. When we had 2, we only needed 4 to solve the problems because #3 and/or #4 was being unfairly left out. Now 4 isn't good enough. The ghost that you people are chasing will never be caught until you destroy the regular season and it becomes like college basketball or the NFL.