The Ideal FBS Playoff; Part 1

College football is saying good-bye to the BCS after the 2014 national championship game; and the process of transitioning to a four-team playoff begins. Many people suspect that the four-team playoff is just a stepping stone to an eight team — and then a 16-team — playoff. Hopefully this is true, and there will be a 16-team playoff sometime in the future; a 16-team playoff does create some challenges and a lot of those challenges are only going to be made worse if the selection committee system stays in place. So the question is; what are those issues and how do they get fixed?

In part one we will take a look at addressing the issues of conference representation; getting the tournament field to 16 teams; and the BCS bowls. Part two will take a look at the seeding of the tournament; where the playoff games will be played; and the timing of the tournament. The third and final part will be published after the college football season is over, and I will use Tim’s final computer rankings for the 2013 season to generate the tournament field.

Now on to part one:

Conference Representation 

All of these teams have a shot at getting into this tournament scenario.

There are 10 Football Bowl Subdivision conferences; the AAC, ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, Pac-12, SEC, and the Sun Belt. In the BCS there are six conferences — the ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Big East (the predecessor of the AAC), Pac-12, and SEC — that are guaranteed a spot in BCS bowl games (we will call these conferences the auto-qualifiers, AQs for short).

This system left the MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt, and Conference USA with a slim-to-none odds of having a representative in the national championship game; in fact NO teams from those four conferences have made it to the national championship game since the BCS was created in 1998.

This is a problem that is probably going to get worse once the transition from the BCS (which has computer rankings as a part of its formula) to the selection committee which is staffed by humans who naturally have their own biases. So how do we fix this?

We guarantee all conference champions a spot in the 16-team playoff, of course. This way all the conferences have at least one team in the tournament. Now that means that there are only ten guaranteed spots in the tournament, and the field is supposed to have 16 teams…we will get to that later, but first we have to deal with those pesky BCS bowl games.

The BCS Bowls

These guys have been a major pain in the a**

The Rose Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Sugar Bowl, and Orange Bowl are the biggest games at the end of the college football schedule; and they have accumulated a large amount of wealth and power within the world of the FBS. So the fact that there is a college football playoff that takes away some of the prestige from these games is somewhat surprising.

Now it is important to note that these bowls will rotate hosting the semifinal games that occur in the four-team playoffs; and they would continue to do the same in my ideal playoff. My playoff scenario has the Rose and the Fiesta Bowl rotating the semifinal game for the western half of the bracket and the Sugar and Orange Bowl rotating the semifinal for the eastern half of the bracket.

The western and eastern half of the brackets break down as such:

Rose/Fiesta Bowl (West Championship)

Sugar/Orange Bowl (East Championship)

Pac-12 Champion

SEC Champion

Mountain West Champion

ACC Champion

Big 12 Champion

ACC Champion

Big 10 Champion

Sun Belt Champion

MAC Champion

Conference USA Champion

No. 1 Wild Card

No. 2 Wild Card

No. 3 Wild Card

No. 4 Wild Card

No. 5 Wild Card

No. 6 Wild Card

I feel like this gives the tournament the greatest sense of balance, and it makes the most sense going forward. You’ll also notice that I gave away how the tournament field gets to 16-teams.

After the tournament field has been designated, the BCS bowls can still host their regular games. These bowls can also maintain their regular conference alignments as well. For example, the Rose Bowl could take the top Pac-12 and Big-10 team that did not qualify for the playoffs.

Determining the wild card teams

The wild card spots are a chance for the teams that didn’t win their conferences to prove how good they really are in the tournament. These spots would be determined by a computer generated top-25 — this way the human bias is taken out of the computation; only teams that are in that top-25 are eligible for the wild card spots. Another thing that is important to note is that conference champions are not eligible for wild card spots (no duh).

As a result of this set up, any conference can send multiple teams to the tournament. Another reason for using a top-25 to determine the wild card spots is so that we don’t completely eliminate those schools that stubbornly remain independent (I’m look at you Notre Dame); it is also important to note, that this tournament doesn’t guarantee a spot for those schools either (again, looking at you Notre Dame).

Click here for the second part of the playoff plan

  1. See, I don’t think we should automatically grant schools bids just for winning their conference, particularly the smaller ones. It’s why Major League Baseball created a wild card, because the second and sometimes even third best teams in one division might be better than the division leader in another. The same with college basketball. We award conference or tournament winners bids only to see them get smoked by better talent.

    1. That is also the primary reason I added SIX wild card spots to my tournament field. I don’t feel comfortable in leaving out teams that are in the smaller conferences and actually could have a chance at being a national champions (i.e., Boise State in 2010).

      If the SEC, Pac-12, and ACC are really the best conferences in the FBS; they still have a pretty good chance to prove that in this format by getting more teams into the tournament.

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