Let College Football’s Champion Be Decided On the Field: the comprehensive proposal for a 24 team CFB playoff

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The great Steve Spurrier always knew how to put it best, and his thoughts on college football’s postseason nearly 30 years ago remain as relevant today as ever.

“Division I-A football is the only NCAA sport that doesn’t have a playoff to determine its champion,” Spurrier fumed. “Everybody else can’t be wrong.”

And as usual, Spurrier is right.

Every sport, at every level, has its champion crowned as the culmination of a tournament. From high school girls’ volleyball to the NFL, from college basketball to rec soccer, from intramural flag football to the World Cup and everything in between, there’s always a way for every team with a legitimate argument that they’re the best to rise up and prove it by beating their competitors one at a time en route to a trophy.

Every sport, at every level, that is, except for Division I-A college football, more recently known as the the FBS- the postseason of which could simply be described by losing the first of those initials.

The four team “playoff” system in place now is certainly an improvement over the BCS, a convoluted mess that resulted in multiple teams claiming national championships not once but twice during its ill-fated existence, but by no means does the fact that it’s better than what it was mean it’s good. As we’re well aware, last year’s four team system left Ohio State and Central Florida fans screaming bloody murder over being disregarded in the national championship picture, and though there were legitimate arguments against both teams’ championship claims- Ohio State’s 55-24 loss to a mediocre Iowa team and UCF’s out of conference schedule of FIU, Maryland, Maine* and Austin Peay- there were also legitimate arguments for them having a shot at playing for the title.

Since FBS college football is the only sport with this problem, it was time to come up with a proposal to fix it. The first step to doing so is figuring out what a real playoff would provide that the current “playoff” does not. Once identified, those provisions- listed below- become the criteria for any playoff to work, and must be kept in mind at all times while crafting the solution.

An extended college football playoff must do three things:

-Be substantially more lucrative than the current four team system in every way.

-Give every team who would have a chance to play for a national championship in any other sport, i.e. conference winners, the opportunity to participate.

-Prevent the collapse of, if not increase the importance of, the regular season and existing bowl games.

I will circle back toward those criteria at the end of the proposal to bring it full circle. But for now, just keep them in mind as you read everything. And now that we’ve identified those three key criteria, let’s get to it.

This is what a real college football playoff looks like.


24 teams. 10 conference champions. 14 at large bids. All with a chance to settle it on the field.

The playoff.

-The teams and bids: 24 teams will participate in this playoff. Ten automatic slots will go to the conference champions of the SEC, ACC, Big 12, Big 10, Pac 12, American, Conference USA, Sun Belt, Mountain West and Mid-American. Fourteen other at large slots will be awarded. Notre Dame, BYU and other independents can gain access via the at large slots.

-The selection process: A committee will rank the top 25 teams in college football, as is done now. All ten conference champions are guaranteed access to the playoff, so once all ten are accounted for, the remaining slots are filled with teams based on the rankings. In other words, if all ten conference champions conclude the regular season ranked in the top 24, the top 24 teams in the committee’s rankings will be in the playoff, and that’s the end of it. However, if only four conference champions are ranked in the top 24, the top 18 teams in the rankings will participate in the playoff as six other slots are needed for the conference champions. The committee will then rank the worst conference champions to fill out its top 24 teams; this is critical if there are five or more of them outside the top 24, as this will determine which of them receives a #5 seed and a weaker first round opponent.

-The selection criteria: The rankings, i.e. at large teams, will be ordered by the following criteria: head to head (if applicable), overall strength of schedule, average margin of victory (capped at 25 points, i.e. four possessions, so a team winning 28-3 has no motivation to run up the score) and win-loss record. Additional factors, such as injuries, suspensions and off-field tragedies may be taken into consideration if deemed to have caused or could potentially cause a deviation in the team’s performance.

-The bracket: the 24 teams will be divided into four Regional brackets of six teams. The #1 and #2 seeds in each Region will get first round byes. The Region of the #1 overall seed will be paired on the same half of the bracket as the #4 overall seed, i.e. the fourth #1 Regional seed, while the Regions of the #2 and #3 overall seed will be paired on the other half. Beyond the #1 Regional seeds, the four six team brackets will be constructed based on geography while doing all to avoid placing two teams from the same conference together in the same bracket that faced off in the regular season or in a conference title game. This is to avoid placing Alabama and LSU in the same bracket, but under this rule, Georgia and LSU could theoretically be paired together as a Round of 16 matchup as they did not play in the regular season. Additionally, rematches of non-conference regular season games are acceptable in the Regional finals (i.e. the Elite Eight) or later if chalk holds and higher seeds all win out. So under this rule, top two Regional seeds Clemson and Auburn could square off again in the Regional final.

-The location: All playoff games will be played as bowl games, in the same stadiums the bowl games are usually played in (with a couple of exceptions, as I’ll note momentarily). Bowl games must be able to host at least 65,000 fans to host a playoff game, which means the Sun Bowl Stadium in El Paso (51,500) and Liberty Bowl in Memphis (58,502) are not eligible. The Regional Finals, i.e. Elite Eight, will be held at four of the six current New Year’s Six Bowl sites- the Cotton, Rose, Sugar, Fiesta, Orange and Peach. The national semifinals will be held at the other two of those six sites, which will rotate so that each bowl game hosts a national semifinal once every three years and hosts Regional Finals the other two years. The championship game will be held at a neutral site, bid upon by the cities as is done now for the current CFP Championship Game and for the Super Bowl.

-Bowls: The following bowls will host the preliminary round and the round of 16, selectable in order by the teams who finished ranked highest:

  • Military- Fedex Field, Landover, MD. Capacity: 82,000
  • Belk- Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC. Capacity: 75,525
  • Music City- Nissan Stadium, Nashville, TN. Capacity: 67,700
  • Liberty*- Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN. Capacity: 71,500
  • Motor City- Ford Field, Detroit, MI. Capacity: 70,000
  • Quick Lane*- USA Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, MN. Capacity: 73,000
  • Gator- EverBank Field, Jacksonville, FL. Capacity: 82,000
  • Citrus- Camping World Stadium, Orlando, FL. Capacity: 65,147
  • Outback- Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL. Capacity: 75,000
  • Birmingham- Legion Field, Birmingham, AL. Capacity: 71,610
  • Alamo- AlamoDome, San Antonio, TX. Capacity: 65,150
  • Heart of Dallas- Cotton Bowl Stadium, Dallas, TX. Capacity: 92,100
  • Texas- NRG Stadium, Houston, TX. Capacity: 71,855
  • Holiday- SD County Credit Union Stadium, San Diego, CA. Capacity: 70,561
  • Sun*- Los Angeles Coliseum, Los Angeles, CA. Capacity: 78,500
  • Foster Farm- Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, CA. Capacity: 75,000

Note: *denotes that bowl game was moved to a location that could host 65,000+ fans.

The Regional Finals and national semifinals will be held at these six locations:

  • Orange- Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, FL. Capacity: 80,120
  • Peach- Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, GA. Capacity: 83,000
  • Sugar- Mercedes-Benz SuperDome, New Orleans, LA. Capacity: 76,500
  • Cotton- AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX. Capacity: 105,121
  • Fiesta- University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, AZ. Capacity: 78,650
  • Rose- Rose Bowl Stadium, Pasadena, CA. Capacity: 107,000

As is done for the Super Bowl, cities will bid to host the national championship game. There are two main criteria for a city to host: it has to be easily accessible, and it has to have a seating capacity of 75,000+.

Home field advantage: Here is where the rankings- 1-24, anyway- really come into play. As you’re about to see, the higher you finish ranked, the more advantages you get.

  • The number one overall seed will get to select where it will play its national semifinal, gets first overall pick of where it would like to play its Regional Final and Round of 16 game, and a first round bye. Clemson, as the #1 seed, would select Charlotte’s Belk Bowl for its Sweet 16 game, Atlanta’s Peach Bowl for its Elite Eight game and New Orleans’ Sugar Bowl for its Final Four game.
  • The number two overall seed, i.e. the second Regional one seed, will get to select where it will play its Regional Final and Round of 16 game after the number one overall team has made its selections, and a first round bye. Oklahoma earned that distinction, and would opt to play its Sweet 16 game in Dallas and its Regional final in Arlington, TX, but with Clemson taking the Sugar Bowl, they’re stuck with the Rose Bowl as their semifinal location.
  • The number three overall seed, i.e. the third Regional one seed, will get to select which of the two remaining possible Regional Final sites it will play in, as well as the which of the fourteen remaining possible Round of 16 sites it will play in, and a first round bye. That would be Georgia, who if given the choice would probably pick Charlotte for its first round game but cannot since Clemson got first pick and blocked that possibility. Jacksonville is a pretty close second choice for the Bulldogs, so they’d be fine with that, but they would love to play their Regional final in Atlanta- which is also occupied by Clemson. Miami is the next closest location (as their selection pool is down to either there or Glendale, AZ) and is a ten hour drive from Athens.
  • The number four overall seed, i.e. the fourth and final Regional one seed, is stuck with whichever Regional Final site is left. However, this team gets the fourth pick of the sixteen possible bowl sites to play its Round of 16 game in, and a first round bye. Alabama, as the last #1 team remaining, likely would not care one bit about Jacksonville, Dallas or Charlotte being taken and would be more than happy to play its Sweet 16 in Birmingham, but now they’re stuck with Glendale’s Fiesta Bowl for its Regional final with closer options Arlington, Miami and Atlanta being taken off the table.
  • The Regional two seeds, i.e. teams ranked 5-8 overall, will get fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth picks, respectively, of where they would like to play their Round of 16 game, and a first round bye.
  • The Regional three seeds, i.e. teams ranked 9-12, will get ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth picks, respectively, of where they would like to play their preliminary round game. They will also be playing what the committee deems the four worst teams to participate in the tournament, which will usually be the four worst (often mid major) conference champions.
  • The top three Regional four seeds, i.e. teams ranked 13-15, will get the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth picks, respectively, of where they will play their preliminary round game. The 16 overall seed, i.e. the last four seed, is stuck with whatever is left.
  • The Regional five seeds don’t get an advantage other than playing slightly worse teams in their preliminary round game than six seeds.
  • Teams are allowed to play games in their home stadiums and home cities only if they are #1 Regional seeds. For example, if UCLA or Miami were #1 overall seed, they could play Regional finals on their home fields of the Rose or Orange Bowl. Beyond that, though, while teams would be kept close to home whenever possible, putting games in the higher team’s home cities defeats the purpose of a neutral site playoff. This was why UCF was sent to Tampa and Miami to Orlando instead of vice versa.

The schedule: The start of the season will be pushed one week earlier, to the last weekend in August. Teams will get two bye weeks per year, and the conference championships will be played on the first Saturday in December as usual. On years where the first Saturday of December is the 5th, 6th or 7th, each team will only get one bye week for the year; this is to put two weeks’ time between the conference championships and the preliminary round of the playoffs while putting seven days or more between the Round of 16 and the Regional Finals (see below).

March Madness is known for its first two days being 12 hours straight of nonstop basketball. With that sort of in mind, the preliminary round and the Round of 16 were slated for back to back Saturdays on the third and fourth weekends of December, the former coming two weeks after conference championships and one week after the Heisman Trophy presentation to sort of mirror that. This means that aside from Army and Navy, every potential playoff team will get at least two weeks of rest, with the top eight teams getting three.

The preliminary round games and Round of 16 games would be played in 70 minute intervals starting at noon, airing on ESPN, ESPN2, and ABC so that every three hours and thirty minutes, another game kicks off. This would have the eight games on both weekends kicking off at 12:00n on ESPN, 1:10pm on ABC, 2:20pm on ESPN2, 3:30pm on ESPN, 4:40pm on ABC, 5:50pm on ESPN2, 7:00pm on ESPN and 8:10pm on ABC. Twelve hours of nonstop college football playoff action, on back to back Saturdays. And the best part: you wouldn’t have to take off work to watch. Can you imagine?

The four Regional Finals would be played on New Year’s Day, one week plus the remainder of December after the Round of 16, in two and a half hour intervals on ESPN and ABC. The games would kick off at 12:00n on ESPN, 2:30pm on ABC, 5:00pm on ESPN and 7:30pm on ABC. The national semifinals would take place on Saturday, January 13th, or one full week following New Year’s Day plus the remainder of that week’s weekdays, and would kick off at 3:30pm and 8:00pm on ESPN. On years where New Year’s Day falls on a Sunday, the Regional Finals would be played on January 2nd. The national championship would kick off two Monday nights after the semifinals, between seven and thirteen days later, on ESPN at 7:45pm.

For a larger sample size, here’s how the playoff would’ve looked in 2016. Note that Florida and Auburn did not play in the 2016 regular season, which is why they’re able to square off in the preliminary round. This was also done because the Florida bowl games were all that were left, and placing Florida in the same region as Western Michigan or Louisville would result in the Gators “hosting” a playoff game as a #5 seed in Tampa or Orlando. Auburn would absolutely hold their own in either city in a postseason environment.

Addressing criticisms of an extended college football playoff

There is no shortage of ideas from college football fans regarding how to install a playoff. Sadly, few of them are even feasible, and those who lay out the few that are feasible often encounter stumbling blocks they cannot overcome when pushed about the details. The deeper problem with all of them, though, is inherent: there’s an oversaturation of them. And the more overflowing and deviating the ideas on how to achieve a goal, the easier it is for critics of that goal to lump them all together and then dismiss them en masse as ignorant dronings from ignorant people.

But this is a playoff proposal unlike any other. And here, I take on the criticisms of all- and particularly this- playoff directly in a Q&A format.

Criticism: The season would be too long

Answer: The NCAA Football Division I-AA (FCS) has a 24 team playoff system that all but mirrors this one, with the lone deviation being that the higher seed hosts the games, yet the length of the season doesn’t seem to be an issue there. And FCS teams play eleven or twelve game regular seasons, meaning they could play 16 or even 17 games.

The absolute most an FBS team would play under this format is 18 games, and that would require a team to reach its conference championship game, earn a 3, 4, 5 or 6 seed, and then reach the national championship game. This scenario will unfold for a minuscule fraction of the teams, meaning most teams would face a maximum season of 17 games should they reach the national championship- just two more than under the current format. If the FCS can make it work, the FBS can, too.

And sure: more games increases the chance of players sustaining injury. That’s a fact, one that there’s no way around and one that I’m truly sympathetic to, particularly with brain injury and CTE awareness spiking recently. That said: there’s a risk of injury any time anybody plays competitive football. That includes the twelve regular season games plus potential conference championship games, not to mention the seven months of practice these players participate in when you factor in spring ball. So, to those who like nixing extended playoff ideas because of injury possibility: your concern is valid, but your idea of how to address your concern is not.

Criticism: It would dilute the regular season and reduce its importance.

Answer: lol. Because no it wouldn’t. It would enhance it. And I hate to be the bearer of bad news for all those who use this argument, but it’s way, way too late for that. The regular season is already diluted, unless you care to describe the relevance Auburn’s 40-17 thrashing of Georgia had on either of their seasons. Yeah, that happened. Most of you probably forgot about that, but it happened. You know what else happened? Auburn beat Alabama, which cost the Tide a shot at the SEC West crown and thus the SEC crown; yet Alabama still got its shot at SEC East winner Georgia with exponentially higher stakes attached, and beat the Dawgs in the national championship game. Speaking of meaningless wins over Alabama that win you the SEC West, try telling LSU fans their 9-6 win over the Tide in 2011 meant something.

More importantly, with the playoff chase expanded by 20 teams, the postseason allure will cause fans to pay attention to what’s going on across the country. While it may somewhat dull the importance of the final weeks of the regular season for the top teams (and this playoff is crafted to reward higher seeds to reduce that effect), it enhances it for literally dozens of teams who dream of either winning their smaller conference or quietly building their resume to snag an at large berth. Fans of bubble teams will tune in to games across the country that they would otherwise have no interest in watching to root for their fellow bubble teams to lose, and root like hell on conference championship weekend for the favored team to win so the underdog doesn’t wind up costing them a bid. Had this playoff been implemented last year, Mississippi State’s loss to Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl would have directly cost them a playoff berth. I say this with 100% confidence because Mississippi State was the first team left out of the field in my proposal. This slid Memphis into the field as the last team in.

And for the top teams, perhaps dropping a late season game won’t cost them a shot at the title, but it likely would drop them down a seed line- and as laid out above, that’s a big deal. Let’s use a real example from the bracket I’ve created above. The Miami Hurricanes went into their final regular season game of the season against an awful Pittsburgh team perched at #2 in the CFP rankings, but then they imploded, losing that game and dropping to #7. They followed that up by getting shelled 38-3 by Clemson the ensuing week in the ACC Championship Game. That plummeted the Canes down to #10, and thus out of the first round bye.

Those two weeks are the difference between #2 and #10, which is difference in playing an extra game and playing a #4 vs. a #2 Regional seed in your Sweet 16 game. And with Miami knocked off the #1 line, the #5 overall seed, everybody would slide up one spot in the rankings, meaning Ohio State would take the last #1 seed. So in this real life example, Miami’s road to the Final Four deviates quite drastically. As the #2 overall seed, their road would include the winner of #4 TCU and #5 Washington State, and the winner of #2 Ohio State and #3 UCF/#6 FAU at their choice of locations- either the Orlando or Tampa for the Sweet 16 and then their home turf in Miami Gardens for the Elite Eight. But with those two end of season losses, the Canes’ road to the Final Four not only includes an extra game, but the major geographical disadvantage of having to play #2 USC in San Diego’s Holiday Bowl in the Sweet 16, and then having to stay out west to face (likely) Alabama in the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale. Conversely, Alabama gets punished for its Iron Bowl loss to Auburn by dropping from #1 to #4 overall, not getting a choice in its Region and thus being stuck with Arizona for its Elite Eight game rather than getting first pick of its sites and thus selecting Atlanta and the Peach Bowl.

We don’t need to see Sun Belt and WAC teams playing for the same trophy as Alabama or Clemson.

Nobody is arguing that FAU is one of the top 24 teams in the country or even that they would run through this playoff and win it all, but their presence in it is of paramount importance. Including every team that would have a shot to play in the postseason with an identical resume in a different sport is an absolute necessity to facilitate the integrity of a true postseason tournament. This playoff gives Cinderellas a platform to live their dreams in the beginning while trimming the field and letting the heavyweights battle it out in the end.

Few if any teams would be in this playoff with records any worse than 9-3, and those that do slide in with 8-4 or even 7-5 records are conference champions- which, again, is good enough to earn teams passage to the postseason in any other sport. It’s worth noting, however, that the last time a team won its conference with less than nine wins was 2012. That was Wisconsin, winners of the Big 10, and only because their division’s top two teams, Penn State (Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal) and Ohio State (impermissible benefits under then-coach Jim Tressel) were ineligible for the championship did that happen. So it isn’t like expanding this playoff is going to suddenly have college football see a myriad of teams struggling to finish .500 being on the bubble for a chance to play for a national championship.

College basketball’s postseason works because of that same principle. If a committee just selected the Final Four teams, and now there are suddenly just two semifinal games and a championship to be played before a champion is crowned, the championship been effectively determined by a bunch of people in an office and people would riot. Nobody is saying college football should expand to a 64 team playoff, either, because that would be opening up championship aspirations for teams that barely finish .500. And they don’t deserve that. So expanding the playoff to 24 teams creates the perfect balance between the excitement and camaraderie of March Madness and over saturating the postseason with mediocre teams that have not objectively earned the right to be a part of it.

The 2015 version of the playoff.

Goals and solving the criteria

This proposal began by listing the three main criteria a playoff must meet in order to succeed. Here’s how this playoff would take care of each of them.

-Be substantially more lucrative than the current four team system for everyone.

How would it not be? This system increases both the quality and the quantity of its postseason, played in the biggest stadiums in the country, and on national television.

First: this system ups the number of games ESPN can run hundreds of ads throughout from three to twenty three. That’s 20 more and nearly eight times more playoff games than they can shove ads down your throats with the current system. I spent too long thinking about which mathematical method to express the difference between three and twenty three would better punctuate the point, so I included them both. And of course, the ad companies are always happy to foot the bill for ad space given that they directly profit from a percentage of the consumers buying their products as a result of seeing their ads, or else they wouldn’t do it. So obviously, they win too.

Second, other than having to pay travel reservations for their players and staff when they could just watch South Park and Family Guy at their houses for free during the holiday seasons, there’s literally zero financial drawback for schools. They’re going to make that money back and then some with their share of the ticket sales alone, not to mention the bowl payouts they receive- which we’ll assume doesn’t change just because the bowls go from meaningless to playoff games- or the playoff merchandise they’ll sell.

Third and finally: the bowl games themselves profit more than anyone from the increased attention they’ll get with their games all meaning something. And this doesn’t just go for the currently irrelevant bowls in Detroit or Birmingham, the former of which has seen attendance exceed 27,000 in its 70,000 seat stadium once since 2011 and the latter of which has managed to lure 40,000 fans or more to its 71,610 seat complex just five times in its twelve year existence. Even the current New Year’s Six games stand to gain financially with an increased interest in their games with them being playoff games every year as opposed to every third the way they are now. Bowl games are their own corrupt joke of a scheme anyway, but I’ll save the details of that for my description of the final criteria. Plus, this proposal can kill that bird with the same stone.

-Give every team who would have a chance to play for a national championship in any other sport, i.e. conference winners, the opportunity to participate.

The main goal of this proposal is to give every team with a legitimate argument that they should be in the national championship discussion a chance to play for it. Even though 9-3 teams may not be as dominant throughout the regular season as 12-0 teams, pretty much other postseason sports tournament includes teams with ~.750 winning percentages. Hell, March Madness frequently has teams with .600 winning percentages involved. We’re not dipping that low, but expanding the field to 24 will give everybody with a reasonable claim for the crown the opportunity to play for it.

-Prevent the collapse of, if not increase the importance of, the regular season and existing bowl games.

As explained earlier, this playoff system may somewhat dull the home stretch of the college football season for the top teams- although it certainly doesn’t entirely. And the excitement that’s lost for the top teams is more than made up for by the dozens of teams who are added to the late season drama and thus suddenly have real reasons to pay close attention to games around the country, not to mention now have significantly more incentive to finish their own seasons strong.

As for the bowls: there may not be a bigger scam in college sports than bowl games. It’s a story for another day due to its complexity, but for our purposes, you only need to know one thing: they’re fancily advertised bait-and-switch schemes that more often than not leave their participants deep in the red. They run under the guise of dishing out the two teams healthy paychecks in exchange for them coming to their city and taking a financial pounding.

What happens is bowls will pay the schools X amount of money for their appearance in the game. The schools then pay anywhere from 70-110% of that money right back to the bowls by buying their share of tickets at face value, because the bowl requires them to. Fans rarely buy the full allotment for obvious reasons, like that they don’t care enough to spend their New Year traveling to a bowl game that doesn’t ultimately matter. So right off the bat, the “payout” is either significantly reduced or lost completely. The financial situation is made worse since the bowls do not pay the teams’ flights, hotels, or most meals; if the ticket cost itself doesn’t make the bowl appearance a money-losing proposition, the travel expenses will, since the bowls won’t pay for that either.

If you think this effect is minimized in bigger bowl games, tell that to Virginia Tech, who might have been the worst bowl victim of all. The Hokies were forced to pay for 17,500 tickets to the 2009 Orange Bowl. They sold 3,342. I hope they really enjoyed beating Cincinnati that day, because when it was all said and done, that game cost their athletic department nearly $2 million in unsold tickets**. They fared little better sales-wise two Orange Bowls later, and this time got walloped by Stanford 40-12 as an added bonus.

That problem goes away with those games becoming part of a playoff. And there shouldn’t really be a need to explain why a bowl game in Birmingham or Detroit would go from welcoming in some 25,000 fans to exceeding capacity with its inclusion in a college football playoff, but in seven words, here: because people would actually care about it. Maybe it’s not super convenient for, say, Stanford to travel to Birmingham for a bowl game, as they would be in this proposal if they won their first round game, but by giving that bowl game the stage of a postseason tournament, fans would show up.


Conclusion

No sport, at any level, is fair without giving every single team who has even a half decent claim that they should play for the national championship a chance to do so. And no, the regular season in college football does not do so. Georgia got a second chance to beat Auburn, who pounded them in their first meeting, and the Bulldogs got into the playoff. UCF only needed one chance to beat Auburn, and the Knights got shafted.

That’s not fair. And that’s not how literally every other sport in America works.

It’s time to bring the highest level college football up to speed with high schools girls’ field hockey, professional tennis, competitive archery, and international rugby with an extensive tournament to let everybody with even a half decent claim fight for it on football fields with their play rather than on podiums with words. Too many teams with rightful claims of a national championship have been forgotten through the years, their dominance ignored that year and their chances of earning a national championship forgotten since then.

But that needs to end, and the only way it truly can is with a postseason format that includes all and excludes none who deserve it. For every team in America, there simply has to be a path to reach the playoff. Yes, even Troy and Toledo. If they’re as weak as the common perception of them is, then they’ll make for easy first round wins for the three seeds, a nice reward for the 9th and 10th best teams in the nation- but not as nice as the first round bye the top eight teams enjoy. And if they win a game? March Madness has shown us that they’ll become America’s darling, the favorite of everybody without their own team still in the playoff, and immortalized in the history books.

Which segways nicely into the whole point of this 24 team playoff proposal. Teams are incentivized to have stronger regular seasons to reap the rewards in the playoff. Cinderellas are fun and all, but this playoff is crafted in a way to make them really earn it- and make sure the regular season still matters. Each seed tier you climb unlocks more and more options, from getting to pick your bowl site (well, among what’s left) as a four seed, picking your bowl site among a slightly larger pool plus likely drawing a weak conference champ as a three seed, to getting a pretty good chance at picking the bowl location you want and getting a first round bye as a two seed to getting top pick of your first round bowl game plus the first round bye. And there’s incentive for those top spots, too, because the #1 overall seed gets to choose its location all the way up until the national championship game, while #2 and #3 overall at least have some say in where they play their Regional final.

All in all, this is the way to keep the regular season relevant, the bowl games in business, the small conference teams motivated, and the money flowing in every direction. And this is how college football, the greatest sport in America, could crown its king.

*The UCF-Maine game was actually canceled due to Hurricane Irma, but it was still originally on their schedule and a good indication of how challenging the Knights wanted their non conference slate to be.

**Source: Death to The BCS: Dan Wetzel, Josh Peter and Jeff Passan

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    Creator and founder of IAKOW 2.0

4 thoughts on “Let College Football’s Champion Be Decided On the Field: the comprehensive proposal for a 24 team CFB playoff

  1. Great stuff. I love that there is a similar model to this already out there. Would love to see this get serious consideration.

    The qualifier of including the cancelled Maine game for UCF, ignores the cancelled Georgia Tech game for UCF (also thanks to Hurricane Irma).

    The caveat of UCF’s non-conference slate also reflects “bigger*** schools” that do not want to take the risk of playing UCF. Like a few months ago Texas cancelled a game a game in 2023 with UCF.

    The post was great other than that asterisk 🙂

    ***UCF has the highest enrollment in the country.

  2. Agree with everything except bashing UCF for it’s non conference schedule. Good non power 5 schools have a difficult time getting legit Power 5 schools to play them. Memphis is experiencing this first hand. Arkansas still owes Memphis a home game from a previous contract after getting beat in Fayetteville. Tennessee “delays” the away portion of contracts regularly.

    UCLA signed up to play Memphis home and home. The result, a narrow win by a Top 10 UCLA in LA and a loss in Memphis last year. Memphis is 1-0 vs USC. You really think those schools or their Pac 12 brethren are signing a contract with lil ol Memphis anytime soon?

  3. Why 24? this is the question I kept asking myself? Why not 16 or 20 (if you have to let the top 4 have a bye)? 24 seems like an awfully specific number, and yet seems like too much as well. at 16 the 10 conference champs still get in with 6 at large bids.

    1. 16 would mean that nobody gets a bye, and thus a significantly reduced reward for the top teams. It would also mean that only six teams get at large bids, which kind of defeats the purpose of it. I’d be OK with 20 though.

      24 is how the FCS does it, too.

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