How a 16 team college football playoff could work

How a 16 team college football playoff could work

I am a proponent of a 16 team college football playoff system.  I’m sitting here watching some bowl games on New Years Day that are completely meaningless to me other than the fact that I enjoy watching college football.  A selection committee picked four teams to participate in a playoff and those games were not competitive for the most part.  New Years Day used to be the day of college football bowl games.  Most bowl games were played on New Years Day every year.  After all the games were played, AP writers would vote on who they thought the college football champion was and whoever received the most votes was declared the national champion.  It was an imperfect system, but at least a lot of the games meant something.  Sometimes a handful of teams were playing to win and receive votes as the top college football team that season.  What people didn’t like was that the champion wasn’t settled on the field.  Conferences had tie-ins with certain bowl games and sometimes those games did not provide competitive match-ups.  As a result the Bowl Coalition was formed in 1992.

The Bowl Coalition was formed through an agreement among Division I-A college football bowl games and conferences for the purpose of forcing a national championship game between the top two teams and to provide quality bowl game match-ups for the champions of its member conferences. It was established for the 1992 season after co-national champions in both 1990 and 1991. The agreement was in place for the 1992, 1993, and 1994 college football seasons. It was the predecessor of the Bowl Alliance, and later the Bowl Championship Series.

The Coalition was flawed in several respects. Most significantly, it did not include the champions of the Big Ten and Pac-10, both of whom were contractually obligated to play in the Rose Bowl. The Coalition’s founders tried to get the Tournament of Roses Association to release the Big Ten and Pac-10 champions to play in a title game if one of them was ranked #1 or #2 in the Bowl Poll, but it refused to do so due to concerns about this potentially violating its television contract with ABC.

The Bowl Alliance took over in 1995 and was an agreement among college football bowl games (specifically the Sugar, Orange, and Fiesta Bowls) for the same purpose as the Bowl Coalition. The agreement was in place for the 1995, 1996, and 1997 seasons.  It had obvious flaws as well, the primary one being the Rose Bowl still was contractually obligated to have the Big 10 and Pac-10 champions participate in its game.

From 1998 to 2013, the Bowl Championship Series took over from the Bowl Alliance.  It was also put in place to match the top two teams in a championship game. The difference was that an agreement was made with the Rose Bowl to allow the Big 10 or Pac 10 champion to participate in the championship game should they be chosen for it.  Unfortunately, there were many issues with this system as well. Almost every year there was controversy that the two best teams were being chosen to participate.  That controversy still exists even after adding two more teams to the mix and holding a four team playoff.

I do not think a four team playoff is a good system, although it is better than the BCS or any of the past bowl alliances.  I’ve thought about an eight team playoff, but I believe the best system would be a 16 team playoff.  Here’s how a 16 game playoff would work using this year as an example.  If the conferences still want their conference championship games, let them hold them.  This year the championship games were held on December 1st, which would allow for the first round of the playoffs on December 8th.  I will use the final AP football poll as seeding for my purposes here.

Saturday, December 8th

Alabama (1) vs. Kentucky (16), Tuscaloosa, Alabama, 12:00 EST
Clemson (2) vs. West Virginia (15), Clemson, South Carolina, 12:30 EST
Notre Dame (3) vs. Texas (14), South Bend, Indiana, 3:00 EST
Oklahoma (4) vs Penn State (13), Norman, Oklahoma, 3:30 EST
Ohio State (5) vs. Washington State (12), Columbus, Ohio, 6:00 EST
Georgia (6) vs. LSU (11), Athens, Georgia, 6:30 EST
UCF (7) vs Florida (10), Orlando, FL, 9:00 EST
Michigan (8) vs. Washington (9), Ann Arbor, Michigan, 9:30 EST

Notice all these games would be played on one day on campus sites of the higher seeded team.  No television exclusivity for the first round games which the powers that be and networks would hate, but they’d have to live with it.

Saturday, December 15th

Alabama (1) vs. Michigan (8), Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Oklahoma (4) vs Ohio State (5), Norman, Oklahoma
Clemson (2) vs. UCF (7), Clemson, South Carolina
Notre Dame (3) vs. Georgia (6), South Bend, Indiana

Only four games the second weekend.  All would have television exclusivity.  Still held on campus sites.

Saturday, December 22nd

Alabama (1) vs Oklahoma (4), Fiesta Bowl
Clemson (2) vs Notre Dame (3), Rose Bowl

For purposes of this example I just moved the higher seeded team forward, but I believe Georgia would most likely beat Notre Dame in the quarterfinals so we’d likely see a Clemson vs. Georgia game.  That would most likely be a great, compelling semifinal match-up.

January 1st

Alabama vs. Clemson, Sugar Bowl

I realize this leaves out the Orange Bowl and the Cotton Bowl, but I think a rotation of the major bowl games would be in order here.

Issues I see with this:

1)  Finals week.  This would only affect players on four teams and I’m sure they would find a way around it like they do at every other level of college football.
2)  Christmas.  Certain years the semifinal games would be held on Christmas.  This is something they’d just have to live with and, again, it just affects four of the teams.
3)  The NFL.  There would be inevitable conflicts with the NFL, but there already are, so I’m not sure it would be much of an issue.
4)  Too many games played.  This system would add four games to the schedule of the teams that make the finals.  This wouldn’t be an issue for the teams that don’t make it far in the playoff, however I do believe the conferences would do away with their conference championship games should a system such as this be implemented.  If conference championship games were eliminated, it might be possible to start the playoff a week earlier and take a two week break between the semifinals and final game, meaning finals week and the Christmas holiday wouldn’t be an issue.

Great things about this:

1)  The champion would be decided on the field instead of a selection committee.  I believe if you choose 16 teams, number 17 doesn’t have much of a claim to be the best team in college football.  Some would argue that an eight team playoff solves this issue as well, however a lot of times we see an undefeated team from a non-power 5 conference ranked right outside the top eight or top 10 and I think it would be compelling and interesting to include them in a playoff.  Case in point, UCF is giving LSU a heck of a game today.
2)  New Years Day could be about college football again.  The other bowl games could move their games to New Years Day and those games could be played as a prelude to an evening National Championship game.  The Gator Bowl, Citrus Bowl, etc. could still exist by pitting teams that didn’t make the playoffs against each other.
3)  A lot of the meaningless bowl games would slowly die out, which would be fine with me.

What are your thoughts about this?  Am I missing anything?  Agree or disagree?

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