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A College Football Playoff Proposal

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Non-traditional teams with great seasons and little hope for a national championship cause fans and writers to holler for a playoff system in college football every year. The ruckus often starts mid-season, as one non-traditional team separates itself from the pack as that year’s great hope of the non-powerhouse football teams. This year the chatter started even earlier, as there are six or seven unexpectedly great teams in the top 25.

It’s hard to change anything in college football, because there’s so much money tied up in it for so many parties. That’s why adding a game (the BCS championship) to the season was the only way that anything got changed originally – no one wants to give up their piece of the pie.

The problem with a playoff system thus far is that in most proposed systems, the major bowls (Fiesta, Orange, Sugar, Rose) would lose their elite status. They wouldn’t be able to have the best teams playing in their games because they would already be playing in playoff games. The people in charge of these bowls would do everything in their power to squash a system that lost their games money and status.

If there was a system that minimized the amount of money lost, kept all the bowls intact (including the elites) and had legitimacy in the eyes of the people, that system would have a valid chance at being adopted. Here’s a way it could happen:

Since we can’t eliminate any post-season games and have the plan be accepted, we won’t. We’ll create more games in the form of a seven-game, eight-team playoff including the top eight BCS-ranked teams. First obstacle avoided: we won’t alienate the moneymakers up at the BCS.

The match-ups will be paired March Madness style, with 1 playing 8, 2 playing 7, 3 playing 6, and 4 playing 5. The playoff’s first four games will start December 15, after finals week at most colleges (knocks out the “a playoff places strain on student-athletes” argument). After the first four games are decided, the winners will move on to the next two games, to be played on December 22 (giving athletes and coaches time to be home for Christmas, knocking out the “anti-family” argument). The final game will be played at the same time as the current BCS championship.

The playoff system is purely a method to determine the contenders for the national championship game – it is completely unrelated to who goes to the Fiesta/Orange/Sugar/Rose bowls. Because the playoff system will be considered completely outside the realm of bowl games, those teams that lose in the early rounds of the playoff system fall right back into the BCS system to populate the four elite bowls. If the No. 7 and No. 8 BCS-ranked teams win the playoff and end up being in the national championship game, they’ll jump up to No. 1 and No. 2 for purposes of ranking, and the other teams will shift down from their end-of-season rankings. The playoff system will not create any extra weekly polls – again, this is outside the realms of the bowl system or anything else. That way the four big bowls get to keep their good games.

The six games a year that are currently not on the schedule is where this plan gains supporters (aka: this is where the money is). There are six games to be played, and there are 12 conferences in the Bowl Championship Division, including independents. One year, six conferences get to host a playoff game in one of their stadiums, and the next year the other six conferences get to host games.

There should be a minimum of 40,000 seats per stadium for the first round of games, with the minimum jumping up to 60,000 for the semifinal games. This will limit some of the smaller conferences to two or three eligible stadiums, as well as put the entire Sun Belt conference under the limit (no system’s perfect). But that’s what it’s going to take to have a national-caliber game played in a smaller conference’s stadium.

But even with the 40,000 seat-minimum, only one conference is left out – in fact, if we jumped the requirements to 50,000 we’d still cover all our bases but one. Temple could represent the MAC, Hawaii could represent the WAC, Notre Dame could represent the independents, three different teams could represent the Mountain West conference, and five different teams could represent Conference USA.

The method of choosing the stadium of representation can be up to the conference – rotation, conference champion, the team with the best record and an eligible stadium, or maybe some other method.

Fans will complain for more seats, but they’ll have to realize that with the four major bowls still featuring big conference match-ups, there will be alternatives for those
who don’t get tickets to the playoff. And there’s always next year.

It may sound a little far-fetched to have USC playing LSU in South Bend, but I know a lot of people who would make the trip. If OU ended up playing in UNLV’s Sam Boyd Stadium (max 40,000, the smallest possible stadium under this plan) I don’t see why I wouldn’t go see my team in a new stadium that we don’t often get to go to. We would take logic into account and not have Maryland playing Florida in USC’s Coliseum – a purely mechanical and illogical scheduling of games could be a major flaw in this system. If we try to keep teams near their region or at least close to splitting the difference of distance, it would make sense. But even if we did have teams playing in out-of-the-way places, it wouldn’t be much different than bowls now – and fans still make the occasionally cross-country trip.

That way the proponents of the BCS are happy, small conferences are happy, big conferences are unaffected except for the fact that we might get the national championship right, small bowl organizers are unaffected and therefore happy, big bowl organizers are unaffected and therefore very happy, writers are happy and fans are happy. It looks like a win-win-win-win-win-win-win situation.

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About Stephen Carradini

  • I’ve seen a lot of playoff proposals, not buying into any of them, but this one’s got some new elements.

    Some of them are curious, though. Having a BCS championship game in South Bend actually sounds cool, but in reality it’ll be cold. To have a championship game outdoors in January? That might not be too fun to watch, and it might disadvantage, say, an Ohio State/Florida rematch, or a goofy Boston College/LSU game.

    Same with Temple/Philadelphia, but the MAC’s championship game is played in Detroit’s domed Ford Field, and the NCAA’s home is Indianapolis. Hey, lookit that big plush RCA Dome they got there.