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What Would A College Football Playoff Look Like?

Last week, the ACC Commissioner and BCS Coordinator, John Swofford, testified before the House Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection Subcommittee. So, it would seem, the powers that be appear to be applying a bit more pressure on the BCS to change their ways soon.

There are many problems with instituting a playoff. For starters, the people on this congressional subcommittee don't even appear to understand the game of college football. Bobby Rush of Illinois referred to the ACC as the "Athletic Coast Conference". Another congressman suggested that they have a 64 team playoff as a solution.

Perhaps Congress isn't the way to get a playoff system in motion.

Whatever the case, Joe Barton from Texas made a not-so-veiled threat to the BCS representatives that showed up to the Congressional hearing:

"if we don't see some action in the next two months, on a voluntary switch to a playoff system, then you will see this bill move." ['this bill' referring to a bill that would prevent the NCAA from labeling a game the National Championship without a playoff]

Of course, the BCS still cannot explain how it is not unfair to distribute 90% of the lucrative BCS earnings to the 6 power conferences (ACC, Big East, Big 10, Big 12, SEC, Pac 10), and only 10% to the other 51 schools in Division I.

And the BCS must also be incredibly stubborn or deaf, as 73% of the players want a playoff system. Additionally, many fan surveys have been conducted, and I have yet to see one with less than 60% of the respondants wanting a college football playoff. Here's one from that said 68% were in favor of a playoff, 16% were undecided, and 16% did not want a playoff.

So, most people want a playoff, but right now we're stuck waiting for someone to enact a change. In the meantime, we can dream, so why don't we take a look at what a college football playoff might look like! (after the jump)

Obviously a playoff system will arise from great compromise. Among the biggest complaints about a playoff is that it would cause the season to drag on too long. I can certainly see why this would be a major concern. A 64 team playoff would most likely result in a 6-week long postseason (yikes!).

Compromise #1

As much as we'd all like March Madness College Football edition, the playoff can at most comprise 16 teams (4 week playoff), but more likely would comprise 8 teams (3 week playoff) or 4 teams (2 week playoff).

The Big 6 conferences would probably complain about not having an equal chance to play in a 4 team playoff, and non-BCS conference schools would have a difficult time climbing the rankings to be in the top 4. This most likely eliminates the 4 team playoff idea. In all honesty, I think a +1 game stands the best chance of being accepted by the BCS. This would involve seeding the 4 best teams into 2 of the BCS bowls and then letting the winners play a couple of weeks later in the BCS championship game. It keeps all the normal bowls in tact, but has a quasi-playoff embedded in it.

So, basically we're looking at an 8 team playoff. One of the other biggest complaints about the playoff system is that it would diminish the value of the regular season (which is absurd, but whatever, we'll assume that's true). The easiest compromise here is to make winning your conference a rule to be seeded into the playoff.

Compromise #2

The 8 highest ranked conference champions in the final BCS rankings will be seeded into the playoff bracket according to their BCS ranking.

This way, a champion of the Mountain West Conference would be able to get seeded into the tournament without being beaten out by an at large team who didn't take their conference schedule as seriously.

If we use this playoff system, last year the first round matchups would have been:

  • #1 Oklahoma (Big 12) vs. #8 Virginia Tech (ACC)
  • #2 Florida (SEC) vs. #7 Cincinnati (Big East)
  • #3 USC (Pac 10) vs. #6 Boise State (WAC)
  • #4 Utah (Mountain West) vs. #5 Penn State (Big 10)

This playoff system would continue to place an emphasis on strong performance in conference games and conference championship games. If you can't win your conference, you can't get into the playoff.

Now, diving a bit into logistics, the college football purists would want to keep the existing BCS bowl games in tact. A lot of people have proposed ideas on how to incorporate the bowl games into the playoff. In the playoff system I proposed above, there would be 7 games total. Right now, there are only 4 BCS bowl games. I would propose the following:

Compromise #3

Have 2 of the BCS bowl games host the semifinal games (2nd round), have one of the BCS bowl games host the championship game, and have the last BCS bowl game host a BCS Showcase game which would invite the top 2 non-playoff teams. The bowls would rotate who hosts what each year.

For instance, last year the Orange Bowl would have hosted the national championship game, the Sugar Bowl and Rose Bowl would have hosted the two semifinal games, and the Fiesta Bowl would have hosted Alabama (4th BCS) and Texas (3rd BCS). This ensures quality, marquee matchups for all of the BCS bowl games. In fact, their viewership and ratings should go up because the significance will be increased. This also avoids diluting the "BCS Bowls" with other bowls to reach the magic number of 7.

Personally, I would love to play the opening round games at the home site for each of the higher seeds. However, I could see that creating a lot of controversy. In any event, there's some reasonable way to figure out how to work the first round games, but I won't discuss all of them. Allow me to argue for the home games for a second...

I think this policy would be best as it would also reward playing a tough non-conference schedule in addition to winning your conference. It prevents teams from scheduling too many "cupcakes" to avoid getting penalized that precious BCS ranking. A bit of strength of schedule points could be all the difference between being a 4 seed or a 5 seed, and the difference between playing in front of home crowd support, or in a rabid unknown jungle.

This playoff system would find a way to reward tough non-conference schedules and good conference play. It would not diminish the value of the regular season. It would keep the BCS bowl games relevant and exciting, and furthermore, it wouldn't cause for the removal of any other "historic" bowl games like the Cotton Bowl, Gator Bowl, Alamo Bowl, etc. Besides, who wouldn't want to see Frank Beamer trotting out on to Owen Field, something that probably wouldn't happen during the regular season.

Finally, a few more logistics to wrap it all up:

  • The #1 seed's semifinal will be placed at the bowl game closest to that university. Since last year it was OU, this means OU would advance to the Rose Bowl if it won. Florida would then advance to the Sugar Bowl.
  • Start the playoff 2 weeks after the conclusion of the regular season, like the rest of the bowl games. Play the semi-final games 10 days after the initial games (extra 2-3 days for travel included from normal scheduling), and the same for the final game.

This would make my playoff system look like this using last year as an example:

#8 Virginia Tech at #1 Oklahoma - Norman, Oklahoma - Saturday December 20
#7 Cincinnati at #2 Florida - Gainesville, Florida - Saturday December 20
#6 Boise State at #3 USC - Los Angeles, CA - Saturday December 20
#5 Penn State at #4 Utah - Salt Lake City, UT - Saturday December 20

Assuming they all advance according to seed:

#1 Oklahoma vs. #4 Utah - Rose Bowl - Tuesday December 30
#2 Florida vs. #3 USC - Sugar Bowl - Tuesday December 30

#1 Oklahoma vs. #2 Florida - Orange Bowl - Friday January 9

That's all I've got for now. Remember, these are just my ideas. I think it creates a fair and equitable playoff system that is both respectful to the concept of a playoff and to the people that love the old bowl system.

Thoughts? Discuss.