While there is much (justified) excitement about the first ever college football playoff, 4 teams is not enough.
This proposal is for a 16 team tournament. While this may seem large, every other division of college football can do it, often with harder academic burdens on the players. The FCS and Division 2 finish with a 24 team tournament, while division 3 finishes with a 32 team tournament.
The benefits: (1) Harder out of conference scheduling is encouraged, because no out of conference defeat will spell the end of playoff hopes. (2) Every team will have a legitimate chance to be champion. There will be no undefeated teams left without a chance.
The basics of the system:
Each conference consists of 10 teams. All teams will play 9 conference games. Each conference must declare a conference champion (via a declared method of their choosing), and there are no conference championship games (to enhance the importance of regular season games).
Each conference champion gets a conditional automatic bid.*
The remaining, at large bids are decided by a committee (much like the one in current use).
The top independent team receives an automatic bid by finishing in the top 10 of the committee rankings. Otherwise, they are eligible for at large bids (the distinction is small and will almost always be moot).
The 4 quarterfinal, 2 semifinal games, and 1 championship game will rotate among traditional bowls (with the “most” traditional rotating among the final 3 games). The first round games are hosted by the better seed. The semifinals will take place on New Year’s day, with the Rose Bowl being the first semifinal.
Outside of the 16 teams in the tournament, the remainder of the bowl games will exist as they always have.
Easy enough, right? Not exactly.
There will need to be massive restructuring of conferences. This seems straightforward at first glance, but there are currently 128 FBS teams. To have the minimum number of independent teams, this would mean 12 conferences of 10 teams. This would mean 12 automatic bids, and only 4 at large bids. I believe that the ideal number would be 11 conferences with 5 auto bids. In order to make the system work, it would be wise for the NCAA to limit the number of teams reaching the FBS level, create a promotion/relegation system, or other ideas that are not the topic for this post. In the meantime, the lack of at large bids convinced me to propose one more key – and controversial – provision:
*To guarantee an auto bid, a team must win at least 9 games. This provision is to guard against the (most likely mid major) conference champion who does not belong in the field. 9 wins and 3 losses ensures that the team is good. Every team in the country can lose every non-conference game on their schedule, and still guarantee a playoff berth with a perfect conference record. What we don’t want is a team who loses 2 or 3 non-conference games, loses a couple of games in conference, and still wins the conference championship. Take 2014 Louisiana Tech. With my conference realignment, they would have won the Big West championship with an 8-4 record. They lost 1 game in conference, 2 games to ranked opponents in non-conference, but also lost to FCS Northwestern State. A team that loses to an FCS school – or which loses to all 3 non-conference opponents, plus a conference loss, or various other combinations – does not deserve to be in a 16 team playoff.
The downside to this provision is that it would discourage mid majors from scheduling difficult out of conference opponents. I believe, however, that the benefit of creating an extra at large bid for a more deserving team outweighs this detriment. The burden of proof, so to speak, would still be in favor of allowing the team to join the tournament. The committee would be required to give express reasoning as to why the team was left out of the field. If, say, the SEC champion lost twice out of conference and twice in conference, the committee could still include them in the field. In this case, the committee would have no trouble pointing to the FCS loss as a reason why Louisiana Tech should be excluded from the field.
Now, on to the conference realignments. The teams are not placed in order, aside from the teams receiving bids to the tournament. I attempted to reorganize the 10 team conferences for historical and/or geographic reasons, reinserting teams to old conferences or ones that make sense, and resurrecting old conferences. It wasn’t always easy, and was sometimes arbitrary. I included notes where I felt necessary.
Florida State – auto bid 12-0
Georgia Tech – 10-2
North Carolina State
Louisville – auto bid 9-3
Penn State (an independent until 1992, this time Penn State joins the Big East, rather than being the 11th big 10 team).
Missouri – auto bid 10-2 (Missouri gets the nod over 10-2 Colorado State due to a superior conference record)
Colorado State (makes geographic sense)
Cincinnati (willing to travel, this would be Cincinnati’s 7th conference)
Ohio State – auto bid 11-1
Michigan State – 10-2
Southwest Conference (it feels good to revive the legendary SWC, bringing back Arkansas, and adding newcomer UT San Antonio, a geographic, but mostly arbitrary choice over other “new” Texas schools…)
Baylor – auto bid 11-1 (wins tie breaker due to head-to-head victory over TCU)
TCU – 11-1
Alabama – auto bid 11-1
Mississippi State – 10-2
Oregon – auto bid 11-1
Arizona – 10-2
Boise State – auto bid 10-2
San Diego State
Big West Conference
Louisiana Tech (continuing an odd tradition of joining a western conference) – auto bid 8-4, but is excluded from the tournament by virtue of not reaching 9 wins.
New Mexico State
San Jose State
Northern Illinois – auto bid 10-2
Marshall – auto bid 11-1
American Athletic Conference
Georgia Southern – auto 9-3 (perfect 8-0 conference record gives them the nod over Memphis and UCF)
Memphis – 9-3 7-1
UCF – 9-3 7-1
The tournament would look like this:
- Florida State 12-0 (ACC)
- Alabama 11-1 (SEC)
- Oregon 11-1 (Pac 10)
- Ohio State 11-1 (Big 10)
- Baylor 11-1 (SWC)
- TCU* 11-1 (SWC at large)
- Mississippi State* 10-2 (SEC at large)
- Michigan State* 10-2 (Big 10 at large)
- Arizona* 10-2 (Pac 10 at large)
- Georgia Tech* 10-2 (ACC at large)
- Missouri 10-2 (Big 8)
- Louisville 9-3 (Big East)
- Boise State 10-2 (WAC)
- Marshall 11-1 (Conference USA)
- Northern Illinois 10-2 (MAC)
- Georgia Southern 9-3 (AAC)
Louisiana Tech 8-4 (Big West)
(1) Florida State v (16) Georgia Southern
(8) Michigan State v (9) Arizona
(5) Baylor v (12) Louisville
(4) Ohio State v (13) Boise State
(6) TCU v (11) Missouri
(3) Oregon v (14) Marshall
(7) Mississippi State v (10) Georgia Tech
(2) Alabama v (15) Northern Illinois
A few notes and observations:
Setting up this fictional 16 team tournament was more difficult than I imagined. The basic rules (9 game conference schedules, automatic bids for all conference champions) seem simple, but the 128 teams at the FBS level present a logistical challenge. Still, the 16 team tournament is superior to the 4 team product. This year, the biggest problem with the 4 team tournament was that a reasonable argument could be made that Baylor and TCU deserved to be in the final 4 just as much as the other one loss teams who made the field. In a 16 team tournament, they would get to prove their merit. And it provides justice for a team like Michigan State, who had the courage to travel to eventual #3 Oregon. Under the current 4 team playoff, if Michigan State had scheduled a patsy in place of Oregon (like Baylor or many of the teams from the SEC would have, for example), they would have been in the running for a playoff bid (their only other loss was to eventual #4 Ohio State). In the current system, they were punished for their bravery, despite the committee repeatedly saying that teams would be rewarded for scheduling (note: this isn’t the committee’s fault – 4 teams are simply not enough, and the 2 loss Spartans were rightfully not chosen ahead of the 1 loss teams). The 16 team tournament would have a much more realistic chance of making good on claims that scheduling matters.
Of course, there are (legitimate) arguments that this 16 team tournament is too watered down. True, teams the last 5 or 6 teams are probably not among the top 16 teams in the country. But I believe that it is a good balance, because in the future, one of those teams will be undefeated going into the tournament (Marshall was a two point conversion away from doing so), and there should be – at most – one undefeated champion at the end of each season. But note that I will also release a (shorter) 8 team playoff proposal in a future post (edit: see here for my 8 team playoff proposal).
Florida State is the defending national champion, scheduled well out of conference, has a 29 game winning streak, and is the only undefeated team in the country. They get the #1 seed. Arizona and Georgia Tech get the final at large bids by virtue of their 10 wins, narrowly beating out Wisconsin.
The matchups are intriguing. Florida State faces another option team (which they have struggled to stop this year) in Georgia Southern, a traditional lower division power. The Michigan State v Arizona 8 v 9 game is a battle between two power conference teams. The same goes for Baylor v Louisville and Mississippi State v Georgia Tech. Ohio State is a big favorite over Boise State, who is no stranger to achieving success as an underdog. Oregon is favored over Marshall, one of the few teams with as fast and as prolific on offense as Oregon has. Alabama v Northern Illinois doesn’t look good on paper…but giving Northern Illinois a chance is what the tournament is about.
The potential quarterfinal games would be epic: Florida State v Michigan State or Arizona. Baylor v Ohio State. TCU v Oregon. Mississippi State or Georgia Tech v Alabama.
And, of course, the semifinals would only get better.
What do you think?