Answering Joe Posnanski On Playoffs Comment Count

Brian January 8th, 2010 at 5:14 PM

College football has either concluded its regular season or concluded its bowl season or announced matchups or failed to exist for eight months out of the year so it's time for another go-around about whether a playoff is a good idea or not. There are a thousand arguments too dumb to warrant a response—see the head of the BCS's post defending the system he's paid to defend. "Every game counts," he says, which is true as long as you're not Boise State or Cincinnati or TCU or Auburn in 2004 or LSU a couple years ago or… you get the idea.

Those advanced by Joe Posnanski are not among them, however. one playoff proponent's answers to a third party's skepticism follow.

Many of these answers are rehashes of the my previous thoughts on the matter, but that post is aged and I've learned that most of the people reading are relatively new. Forgive me, old-timers.

The Primary Challenge

So, I’ll open up this forum to you, the brilliant readers. But this is no place for screeching. This is your challenge: Tell me WHY there should be a playoff. I don’t want to hear why the current system fails. I don’t want to see your brackets — we have become a bracket nation, everyone can do brackets.

Let's go back to first principles. What is the point of a playoff? Most soccer leagues across the globe play a balanced schedule and eschew the playoffs entirely. The season determines the champion. To them, the American way of doing things is stupid. And when you've set up your league such that everyone plays everyone else home and away, it is. Around here, however, there are very big leagues where balanced schedules are impossible and at the end of the regular season you're not quite sure who the best team is. So it makes sense to have the teams that you think might be the best team play each other.

And then there is "off."

Playoffs are assets when both of the following criteria are met:

  1. The regular season is insufficient to determine a best team.
  2. The winner of the playoff can reasonably claim to be the best team.

If you don't have #1, then the only thing you can do with a playoff is hand the trophy to the wrong team. If you don't have #2, your playoff is too large and can be counterproductive.

The problem is that how well your league meets these criteria changes every year. Sometimes the top 12 teams in the NFL are all relatively even. Sometimes you could skip right to a conference championship game or a Super Bowl. You can either have your championship structure oscillate wildly on a year-to-year basis or live with some years where your structure is a little broken.

Sometimes playoffs are lame, like when the Cardinals on the World Series or any number of years when one particular NBA team was obviously dominant. Other times—almost every NFL season, literally every college basketball season—a playoff is the only reasonable way to distinguish between a set of nearly identical teams. Every playoff will have hits and misses. The important thing is to maximize the hits and minmize the misses.

Baseball misses a lot.  It's a statistical fact borne out by (relatively) recent history that throwing eight baseball teams in a playoff blender is tantamount to playing plinko with your championship trophy. Elsewhere, an under .500 MLS team won it all* this year. On the other hand, March Madness almost never misses. Might not ever, actually. That's why there was outcry when baseball added teams. It was a dumb money-grab that compromised #2. And that's why there was an outcry when the NCAA floated expanding the basketball tournament.

Here's the thing about college football: #1 above is almost always true. There has been one season in the history of the BCS in which it was not (2005). It is more true than it is for any other American sport. Teams play twelve games, eight or nine of which are against an tiny interlocked subsection of of available teams. Two or three are against I-AA teams or total tomato cans. Maybe one or two are games between conferences. By the end of the year you have a variety of teams with virtually no common opponents, wildly varying (and largely unknown) strengths of schedule, and identical, or close to identical, records.

You have a good idea who the best teams in each conference are, but you have almost no idea how the conferences are relative to each other. Before the bowl games, the Big Ten played this many games against the SEC: zero. They played one against the ACC (Virginia housed Indiana). They played four against the Big East, three of which were against Syracuse, two against the Big 12, and four against the Pac-10. Intersectional information hardly exists. As a result, half the time you pick a BCS title game it's an ugly, uncompetitive blowout. This is because college football is the sport with the least information and smallest playoff field.

As far as #2 goes, the short season, large number of available teams, and numerous cupcakes work in favor of a playoff. It would be impossible for a 9-7 Arizona Cardinals team to get to a championship game. The equivalent of Real Salt Lake—this year's sub-.500 MLS champs—or your 80-some-win world champion St. Louis Cardinals would be in a December bowl game. No matter how you construct a playoff field for college football, the winner of that playoff will be coming off of three (or possibly four) consecutive wins against elite competition. The rest of that elite competition will have lost. In college football, the winner of the playoff has the best resume by default.

College football meets criteria #1 over 90% of the time and criteria 2 100% of the time. That's why a playoff is a good idea.

*(Sort of. MLS does award a regular-season trophy that may be more important to soccer fans than the President's Trophy—more of a laughable curse than something to achieve—is to hockey fans.)

Questions du Posnanski

Joe has a lot of logistical issues to be worked out. Let's do so:

1. Are you willing to tell unpaid college football players they now have to play an extra three or four games for free and for our amusement? Are you willing to tell NFL prospects that for the same price of education they have to put their knees and brains and shoulders at greater risk so that we can feel better about our champion? Or will some of the money go to the players? And are you willing to get into that mess?

Yes, I am willing to get into the mess of paying players, whether it's directly or (far more likely) by providing post-eligibility scholarships so more of them can actually get useful degrees once the dream of playing pro ball has passed.

For what it's worth, when ESPN surveyed 85 players in August, 75% of them wanted a playoff. Most of them look at it as an opportunity, not a burden, I'm guessing.

2. Would a playoff more definitively give us the best team in the country? Has the wildcard given us more legitimate World Series and Super Bowl champions?

This was discussed above, and the answer is yes. College football's structure means that every champion of a hypothetical playoff is satisfying. Especially if it has home games and byes, as my pet plan does.

3. Montana is one of the true powers in Division I-AA (I guess they call it the Football Subdivision now or something). Missoula has one of the great football experiences — the Grizzlies sold out every game during the season. Every one. OK, so Montana went to the Division I-AA championship game — which meant Montana had three home playoff games.

Not one of those playoff games sold out. Not one.

But even that doesn’t tell the whole story. Montana was the only school to draw more than 13,000 people to a playoff game. The Villanova-William & Mary semifinal drew 4,171 people (in a 12,500 seat stadium). So, you tell me: Why do you believe that a college football playoff would draw big crowds? I mean, it might the first year, and the second, and for a while after that. But after the novelty wears off, what makes you think that people at Alabama and Florida and Texas and USC and Ohio State and Penn State and all these places have the money and time and interest in going to two or three more games every year.

And those people who think these games should be played at neutral sites — how many people do you think are going to travel to THOSE games?

No offense, but that's like trying to argue against the NBA playoffs because the D-league doesn't sell out. A home playoff game in college football would be an incredibly tough ticket. I'm with him that multiple neutral site matchups are a bad idea, but just because bad playoff systems exist does not mean they have to be adopted.

(I'm pretty sure on review that Joe will find this objection silly, right?)

4. Who would a playoff be for? The college presidents absolutely do not want it. You might disagree with them, but they don’t have any interest in making the seasons even longer and more demanding and more disruptive for their students. The athletic directors and coaches are split — some probably want it for more money or potential glory, but I would bet that most are against it because it just adds strain and pressure to the must-win atmosphere. How about the players? You think they want to make their seasons longer and more demanding? Plus, from what I can tell, those guys LIKE the bowls. They get to spend a week in place, get treated like kings. Why not?

So it would be for the fans. But what fans? Most school-specific fans in college football probably like it just the way it is. Iowa State fans seem to enjoy going to their bowl game every year. A playoff would not affect them … unless the playoff eliminated bowls like it could. That’s how it would be almost every year for 80 or 90 of the 120 or so schools. So it seems to me it would be more for the GENERAL college football fan who likes to watch games on TV. Is that who this is all for?

As noted above, the players want a playoff. And a playoff would no more end the bowl system than the NCAA tournament ended the NIT. Iowa State fans could enjoy their Insight Bowl all the same.

Take it from a guy who spends much of his life reading and reacting to hard-core school specific (how many college football fans aren't school specific? 5%?) college football fans: almost all of them hate the BCS. Pick a number, any number: 90% "disapprove" of the thing, or 63 percent hate and 26 percent support it. Literally every survey that's ever asked about the BCS has come back with huge negative numbers no matter the questioned population.

5. College football is more popular now than it has ever been. There are big games throughout the season — huge, playoff-atmosphere type games. People point to March Madness as a reason for football to go to a playoff, and March Madness is special. But it is also true that the college basketball season is pretty close to meaningless. Texas played North Carolina earlier this year in what seemed like a BIG GAME. But it meant nothing, and nobody cared, and Texas and North Carolina will both be in the tournament with high seeds so … big deal.

I’m not suggesting, as some do, that a playoff would make Ohio State coaches rest players against Michigan like they do in the NFL. But it certainly could make Ohio State-Michigan mean a lot less … and also Georgia-Auburn, Alabama-Tennessee, Penn State-Iowa, USC-Notre Dame, Texas-Oklahoma, Kansas-Missouri, Mississippi-Mississippi State, Washington-UCLA, Kansas State-Nebraska and on and on and on and on and on. Is that worth the price of a playoff?

First: football is more popular now than it's ever been. The NFL grows every year as fast or faster than college football. Playoff or no, it's football that's surging.

Second: This is a completely subjective argument that's hard to refute because of that. But let me just say that the idea that a college football playoff would have any impact on the Egg Bowl or most of the other games on that list is preposterous. Meanwhile, saying Texas and North Carolina "meant nothing and nobody cared" is over the top. It drew 3 million viewers.

The primary thing that makes college football so intense is its scarcity. College basketball teams play three times as many games. Every other sport except the NFL more than doubles those numbers, and even NFL teams get two cracks a year at their division rivals. In college football you play once per year, or less frequently than that, even, and as a result serious college football fans can tell you all about the high and low points of any particular series off the top of their heads. I can say "Mario Manningham" and cause hundreds of Penn State fans to spontaneously throw up. That scarcity is the thing that drives the feelings of horror and joy in the big rivalry games, not some crazy aspiration to make the BCS title game. Exactly two of the games above had any impact on that game. In fact, wouldn't the Michigan-Ohio State game meant more if Ohio State was still battling for a shot in a playoff game?

It's inescapable that a playoff would reduce the intensity of certain games, like this year's SEC championship game. But what it takes away it also provides by giving a dozen more teams aspirations at the end of the season. And a properly constructed playoff with byes and home games could inject much of the lost drama back into the games between teams assured of making the tournament. If Alabama and Florida were playing to avoid a first-round game in Columbus, that would be a prize (other than, you know, the conference championship) worth fighting for.

6. How many teams would a playoff need to be “fair.” I know it’s easy to say that if you take 16 teams, who cares about the 17th? But does anyone really believe that the 16th best team in the country — this year, that would be 8-5 Oregon State — deserves to play for the national title?

OK, so you make it eight teams. Well, there are 11 conferences and Notre Dame so now you are leaving out conference champs which I thought was the point, to give everyone a chance.

So, you make it four teams — a little three game tournament at the end of the year. That’s OK — like a plus-one game — but there were five undefeated teams this year, and a Florida team that we now know was about about 12 touchdowns better than one of those undefeated teams. How do you fairly choose? And, larger point, how does this add more legitimacy to the system than just taking the two who seem to have had the best season?

The perfect is the enemy of the good. As discussed above, unless you want to change your playoff system every year it cannot be utterly fair. The real question is "can we construct a system that is more fair than the current one?" Since a tougher question is "can you manage to construct a more ridiculous system?" I submit that a playoff is probably a good idea.

I don't think the #16 team in the country deserves to be in a playoff but I also don't think that managing to construct a playoff that is a bad idea means that all playoffs are bad ideas. The point is not to "give everyone a chance." It's to construct a fairer, more satisfying system. I'm fine leaving Troy and Central Michigan and Oregon and Ohio State out.

You fairly choose by picking the teams that have assembled the most impressive resumes to date—the ones who "seem to have had the best season," as suggested. This adds more legitimacy to the season by making the winner of the playoff play a selection of elite competition that includes, say, a 13-0 team that shut out the Pac-10 champ and a 12-0 team that had more wins over top 20 teams than Texas.

No system can be perfectly fair. But even generic eight-team playoffs are self-evidently more fair and satisfying than the current mess.

Here is where the recap of my ideal system goes:

A six team playoff with no automatic bids chosen by a committee similar to the March Madness committee. Byes for the top two. Home games in the first two rounds, with the first round a week after the conference championship games and the second on or slightly after January 1st. The final is at the Rose Bowl a week later.

The byes and home games simultaneously make the regular season more important—finishing 1 or 2 is a major leg up—and give the teams at the back end more legitimate should they win since they slogged through extra opponents and road games. The number of teams includes all legitimate claimaints to #1 without allowing mediocrities like this year's Oregon State in. Leaving out autobids sidesteps uncomfortable questions about Notre Dame and the Sun Belt.

If anyone can give a single reason that would be worse than what we've got now, I'm listening.



January 8th, 2010 at 5:34 PM ^

1000000x better than the BCS system. Who wouldn't watch a college football playoff, that would be awesome. I have a hard time seeing the head of the BCS debate against this article. Great work Brian


January 8th, 2010 at 9:35 PM ^

Think you missed his very excellent point. Brian said:

Playoffs are assets when both of the following criteria are met:

#1. The regular season is insufficient to determine a best team.
#2. The winner of the playoff can reasonably claim to be the best team.

If you don't have #1, then the only thing you can do with a playoff is hand the trophy to the wrong team.

Within the conferences, in basketball and hockey especially, every team plays every team. Sometimes twice. In fact, the ACC (to use just one example) used to have every team play a home-and-home in the regular season with every other. In other words, exactly the soccer system that Brian says is sufficient to decide the best team. The regular season, in these cases, seems perfectly sufficient to determine a champion.

Therefore you don't have #1, and therefore the only thing you can do with a playoff is hand the trophy to the wrong team. By that logic, the conference tournaments are superfluous, and unnecessary to determine who gets the autobid. The tournaments exist anyway because $$$ $$$ $$$ $$$.

Isn't the risk of handing the trophy to the wrong team exactly the unfairness that has all the playoff proponents up in arms? If unfairness was really what it was all about, I'd think the same people would be equally up in arms about the existence of these conference tournaments; instead, it's really my opinion that the majority of people who want a playoff just want to play with brackets.


January 9th, 2010 at 9:04 PM ^

People care more about regular season championships. Maybe not in the one-bid leagues, where that's your only chance to make the tourney and get obliterated by a 2-seed, but I'd rather have a regular-season Big Ten or CCHA title than a conference tourney title.

Besides, European soccer doesn't do away with the "conference tournament"-type competition, they just make it an entirely separate event (the FA Cup and, to a lesser extent, the League Cup in England), often with random draw instead of seeding based on league position. Both affect eligibility for Europe-wide leagues (though it's the opposite of the basketball tourney - cup winners qualify for the NIT-equivalent Europa League unless they earned a Champions League spot via their league).


January 8th, 2010 at 5:49 PM ^

From a structural perspective, college basketball's playoffs are a travesty. It has effectively restricted college basketball's relevance to a month a year.

This playoff proposal is great, but there's no reason to believe the powers that be would be so wise as to adopt it over a basketball style system that would ruin the regular season.


January 8th, 2010 at 5:48 PM ^

This is the reason I read this blog so regularly.

Just adding on to the response to #1 (and ignoring for a second the compensation issue): College players' "knees and brains and shoulders" *are* one reason to prefer the current system to a playoff, but they *would also* be a reason to prefer a 6-game regular season (or 5 or 4 games) and no bowls to the current system. I am going to assume nobody--Posnanski included--would prefer a 6 game regular season and no bowls followed by a vote for national champion. Why not? Because he, along with the rest of us, want to "feel better about our champion" than that system would make us feel, and probably because it would "amuse[]" us less. See, the health and safety of the players is one factor to be balanced against others (like our "amusement" and confidence in the national champion); its not some sort of trump card. Posnanski's phrasing of this question is really disingenuous. So, my answer to the first part of #1 is a simple "yes--I am happy to."


January 8th, 2010 at 5:56 PM ^

i think it should be an 6 team playoff based on the top 6 teams in the final BCS standings.
the top two teams will have a bye week and play the winners of the matchup of 3 vs. 6 (which will play the #2 team), and the matchup of 4 vs. 5 (which would play the #1 team)
the bowls will still exist for the teams outside of the top 8, and the major bowls (Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta) will be the bowls in which the playoff games will be held, with the location for the national championship game rotated throughout the major bowls like it is today


January 8th, 2010 at 5:59 PM ^

If anyone can give a single reason that would be worse than what we've got now, I'm listening.

I've got nothing. But what's amazing about Brian's playoff proposal is that I've presented it to other people for their opinion (don't worry, I've always given credit to Brian) and nobody has ever had what I would consider a "good" critique on how the idea could be improved.

Thus, since reading the proposal the first time this has become my playoff system of choice. Now, maybe if we can get David Brandon to start reading this blog he can get the ball rolling...


January 8th, 2010 at 6:21 PM ^

Start with a standard 16-team bracket.

The winner plays the SEC Conference Champion for the title.

[/ESS EEE CEE SPEED mancrush sarcasm]


January 8th, 2010 at 6:06 PM ^


Many people believe, rightfully so, perhaps, that Florida was the 2nd or 3rd best team in the nation. My concern with your playoff system is that a committee will have a hard time NOT putting a team like Florida in (No doubt Florida would have a very nice resume if they won the playoff).

My concern is that a potential undefeated team, even if it's from the Sun Belt or MAC, will get bumped in favor of 2nd place schools in favored (read: richer) conferences.

In my opinion, ALL undefeated teams deserve a shot, because they couldn't have done better. If that means putting undefeated Troy in over a Florida team whose only loss was to the eventual national champ, so be it.

What say you, Mr. Cook?


January 8th, 2010 at 6:19 PM ^

ALL undefeated teams deserve a shot?

In that case, I propose Michigan drop out of the Big Ten, join the Sun Belt, and schedule four MAC tomato cans as OOC opponents. I see no reason why we can't go undefeated against that schedule most years. Then we will truly be deserving of a shot at the title.

After all, the basis of the argument for a playoff, and especially this post, is that the purpose of the season is to declare a national champion. Everything else is secondary - therefore, if undefeatedness is the #1 quality in determining deservingness, my suggestion really is the only logical path.


January 9th, 2010 at 9:11 PM ^

If you can go undefeated and be left out, what the hell was the point of playing the whole season? You didn't do anything to eliminate yourself from the title race, even if you didn't necessarily make an emphatic statement that you belong. Some sort of scheduling rule might be necessary to avoid the scenario you describe, but really if the BCS stays as-is, every conference other than the Big Ten, SEC, Big XII, and Pac-10 ought to break off and form a Division 1-and-a-half-A, because it's obvious that they'll never be allowed to play for a title no matter what they do on the field. (This is starting to loosen a bit, perhaps - had one of the little guys finished unbeaten and Cincy and Texas both lost, I think they might have actually gotten picked this year.)

January 8th, 2010 at 6:09 PM ^

With a playoff/bowl coexistence, I think the bowls would be seen as exhibitions before the real games begin, and attendance and fan support would diminish. It would kind of make all bowls seem like being in the NIT, versus now where teams would be happy to be in the Capital One Bowl, Alamo, etc.

st barth

January 8th, 2010 at 6:09 PM ^'re going to do a playoff then you need to do it correctly. the entire point of a playoff is fairness, right?

in other words, i'm talking about dismantling the entrie 120 team FBS division. Rearrange it into six 20 team divisions based on comparative strength & history (i.e., Div A is the M, osu, usc, alabama, etc and Div B is Wisc, Auburn, Tex AM, etc and so on down the list). Arrange those twenty team divisions in a way that nearly everyone plays everyone in a subdivison and the pick two (or maybe four) teams for your big and totally fair national playoff.

Regional conferences are now an anachronism of a time 100 years ago when travel & communications technology wasn't capable of allowing teams to criss-cross the country on account of games but, hey, we've come a long ways baby when now even high school teams can do this.

My suggestion is perfectly logical...and also perfectly boring (even more boring than the NFL) but at least we get a champion (actually 6 of them) that everyone can agree on, in a perfectly symmetrical & fair process with no complaints and nothing to talk about at the end.

Seriously, why to the writers keep pushing for a playoff so badly? would destroy their relevance.

st barth

January 9th, 2010 at 10:58 AM ^

...thanks for the link to the Forde article. I do remember reading that last year and thinking that he was on the same page as me with regards to a playoff.

For the record, I'm a traditionalist and would rather see a return to the old bowl matchups but I also believe that if we must do a playoff then we should do it correctly, no matter how brutal that might be. What I find so troubling is how many supposed "fans" of college football want a playoff as a more "fair" system without really understanding the implications of what a "fair" system would really look like.


January 8th, 2010 at 7:00 PM ^

WARNING: Long read. I just go through the parent post bit by bit and give my reasons for why I think it wouldn’t work. Why did I do this? Mostly because I got bored applying to jobs.

A friend and I once made up new conferences if we were granted supreme power over conferences such that all 6 BCS conferences had 12 members and were somewhat even in terms of competitiveness while still keeping location a priority. I think that we were more likely to get our wish than you.

in other words, i'm talking about dismantling the entrie 120 team FBS division. Rearrange it into six 20 team divisions...

First off, when the WAC went to 16 teams that was already ridiculous; there were teams that wouldn't play for several years within their own conference, it was more akin to two eight team conferences that played each other in interconference games with regularity. Now, you want to go to 20 teams!?!

That would be beyond unwieldy, it just wouldn't work.

based on comparative strength & history (i.e., Div A is the M, osu, usc, alabama, etc and Div B is Wisc, Auburn, Tex AM, etc and so on down the list).

This is probably the worst part of the entire proposal.

First, it creates a superconference which will always have the best team in it because you're putting in the 20 best teams of all time. By the way, I like how you managed to sneak us in there by saying that you do it by history rather than the results of the past few years.* Based on that Boise State wouldn't make the cut since the first time they went to a bowl was 1999. And, based on that ND would be in the top conference even though they haven't been truly relevant in a very long time.

Besides all that, if you have a superconference like that and one team actually wins the whole conference, how could you possibly say that they aren't the national champion even if they lost in some future playoff? Doing that would violate the Brian's first criteria:

1. The regular season is insufficient to determine a best team.

I'm not saying that your idea is dumb because it goes against what Brian says, but because it goes against the logic of a playoff. If you create a superconference, then getting through that conference with a good record is sufficient to crown that team the national champion making the playoff pointless. No, I take that back, it would make a playoff a bad idea since the team that made it through the superconference could lose in the playoff and not become the national champion even though their resume is better than anyone's.

Then we get this jem:

Arrange those twenty team divisions in a way that nearly everyone plays everyone in a subdivison...

First, you can't have regular season where nearly everyone plays everyone when your conference is 20 teams. The most that you could play would be 12 teams from your conference meaning that then you'd miss 7 teams! Would it be easier to compare those 20 teams in a conference to each other since there would be so many games against common opponents, yes, you bet. But, that means that there would be no interconference games.

Why is that a bad thing since we have a superconference? Well, first it ensures that even if the conferences aren't set forever that it's extremely difficult for a new team to move up to a better conference since it never plays higher teams to beat them and prove its worth.

As a side note, if you think that the TCU-Boise BCS game was boring, bad, and went essentially unwatched, how many games in the lower tier conferences do you think would actually get watched. At least TCU-Boise was two legitimately good teams going at it, what happens when we it's UTEP v. Fresno? Answer, nobody watches them except for their own alumni. That lack of revenue from never being watched and never being able to schedule a "big boy" kills the program. It's possible that doing this could actually decrease the number of total teams playing D-I football. The DSUs of the world are able to continue to exist partially because they can go to the UMs of the world and get a big pay day

Continuing on:

…and the pick two (or maybe four) teams for your big and totally fair national playoff.

First, if you’re going to propose a playoff, I would strongly suggest at least knowing how many teams are going to be in it. Regardless, how would anybody not from the top superconference, or at best top two superconferences ever get picked for this!?! It seems that this would just create some intraconference and interconference games at the end of the season that somehow mean more and allows the ultimate winner to lay claim to being the national champion. But, if ‘Bama goes 12-0 in the superconference and then gets matched up against a team from the second best conference and lost, would it really mean that the other team was better or simply that they were injured and beat up from playing UT, UF, OSU, USC, Oregon, Oklahoma, LSU, PSU, etc.?

Doing this would mean that at the absolute most 40 teams would have a chance of winning the national championship (the two teams from the top two superconferences) which is a reduction of the number of teams that have a realistic shot at making it to the national championship under the current system.

Regional conferences are now an anachronism of a time 100 years ago when travel & communications technology wasn't capable of allowing teams to criss-cross the country on account of games…

It costs some serious money to move 60 kids (not all 85+ kids travel so I’m just estimating the average at 60) plus all of the staff and equipment across the country to play a football game. It’s not such a small cost that it can be handwaved away. Do you think DSU has the money to travel everywhere that they’d have to go? Especially if you start to consider that it would require leaving on Fridays with fair regularity which cuts out practice time and makes it even harder for athletes to go to class.

Besides, it’s hard to get into hating a conference rival when they’re on the other side of the country. Regional conferences evolved naturally partially because rival fans were forced to interact which made them want to be able to talk smack which required their teams to play every year.

Also, conferences are more than just football, what about for the non-revenue sports? Is our gymnastics team going to doing lots of traveling too? Or is this just a football thing? What fun it would be to be in the Big Ten for everything except football, then we’re in Superconference Alpha!

…but, hey, we've come a long ways baby when now even high school teams can do this.

Please, tell me, how many high school teams travel across the country for about half of their games?

My suggestion is perfectly logical...

See everything I’ve written above.

and also perfectly boring (even more boring than the NFL)…

Yes and no. It’s only boring for everyone not in the top few superconferences. But, as I’ve already discussed above, this would probably kill all of the lower teams so in the end all we’d have would be those more “interesting” teams. Darwin wins again.

but at least we get a champion (actually 6 of them) that everyone can agree on, in a perfectly symmetrical & fair process with no complaints and nothing to talk about at the end.

I don’t have the energy to refute all of this but I’ve basically covered it above.

I do just want to point out, that at least one or two of your six champions every year wouldn’t be able to definitely say that they’re the best team in their conference simply because they don’t play such a large number of teams that there will probably be another team with the same record and a nearly identical schedule.

And I’m pretty sure that I’ve found some complaints.

Seriously, why to the writers keep pushing for a playoff so badly? would destroy their relevance.

No, I’m pretty sure that it would give them even more to complain about. I do commend you for finding possibly the only system that would be even more hated than the BCS is.

*Do I think that we'll bounce back, yes, more assuredly. But, would I put us in the same conference as UF, UT, USC, 'Bama, OSU, etc.? Definitely not yet.

st barth

January 9th, 2010 at 10:40 AM ^

...I understand that there are a lot of holes in the 6 division/20 team idea that I posted last night but I was running out the door & wanted to get something up quickly.

My real point is that if you are going to go to a playoff in an effort to create fairness (because this is about "fair opportunity" right? since the bowl system already offers large sums of money that may/may not be comparable to playoff) across a field of 120 teams then I don't see how it can possibly be done without eliminating conferences.

Historically, conferences exist because of geography and the need to award champions. Bowl games are little more than exhibitons and always have been. Remember that 100 years ago commercial air travel was non-existent. Today, it is not inconceivable for the big teams to travel via airplane to many games across the country. If you look at the prices of commercial air travel over the past fifty years it's actually astounding how inexpensive it has becomes in the past 20 years. I was probably a bit hasty when I referred to high school teams flying across the country for games. I can think of high school basketball teams that have done this but on second thought I doubt it happens in football. Still, it's amazing how technological advances in both travel & communications have not only lead to globalization but also cause college football fans to care about teams & conferences in far flung parts of the nation.

Back to my proposed "fair" reconstruction of the FBS division. Obviously, six 20 team divisions would be cumbersome. I'm not sure the ideal number, maybe it's more like ten 12 team divisions. So let's start with that for a moment.

The reason that I bring up historical records (and I failed to mention this in my first post) is that I would also include some type of mobility between the divisions. I know very little about European soccer leagues but from what I can gather is that the best teams play in the top leagues and that occasionally some teams are demoted and some are promoted. I would also include something similar in college football where maybe every year or two a realignment drops the bottom team (or two) from the top divison to the second divison while promoting the top couple of teams from the second divison. Also from 2nd division to 3rd division, 3rd to 4th , etc. This would allow the Boise States & Miami, Fl of the world to move up to elite status over time while also accounting for the slide of old traditional powers like Army, Navy, Notre Dame and (gasp!) Michigan.

Realistically, this system produces only one true national champion despite the existence of divisons cascading downwards (each awarding a champion). And if it were on the scale of ten 12 team divisions then I would also imagine that after the top 3-4 divisions the rest of the lower divisons would probably settle into some kind of geographic grouping due to the difficulties of maintaining budgest that allow for extensive cross-country travel. The lowest divisions really would become a trap that would be difficult to climb out of. Yet, if a program like USF that didn't exist 20 years ago can rise to the #2 ranking in the country then maybe it can happen and it would be a great story when on those rare occasions it does happen. [As an aside, I think a benefit of such a system is the fact building a championship team can be more easily understood as an effort that takes years to achieve and may require several generations of graduating classes to complete. It might create an atmosphere of solidarity with history while undercutting the "need to win it all now" mentality that leads to so many premature coach firings.]

Having said all of that, there are plenty of reasons this will not happen but it is mostly politics. There is no way that the existing conferences & bowls would disappear without screaming bloody murder. In fact, I think many fans would flip out at such a proposal too. Also, the transition period (if it were to happen) would be bloody though over time it would level off. For example, as of today the Florida Gators would not rank amongst the most winning teams and would be excluded from the top division. But within a few cycles of the system would shake out in the appropriate manner.

Nonetheless, if you want a "fair" system spread across 120 teams and accounting for over 100 years of history then I believe that the only way to do it is something similar to what I'm proposing. If the President of the USA were to appoint an all-powerful College Football Czar who was tasked with turning a coldly analytical & critical eye towards determining a new system based on fairness and disregarding existing politics and lobbying then I wouldn't be surprised if the result was something closer to what I just proposed than all of the other suggestions. Almost any playoff proposal that retains existing conferences (which is petty much every proposal) is going to continue to run into criticisms of fairness with regards to opportunity & accessibility.

Personally, I don't think anything as drastic as my proposal will transpire. Probably we will just end up with another patchwork of playoff matchups that will be compromised because of considerations to politics (& profits) while furthering diluting the traditions of the bowl games. After a few years new complaints/criticisms will emerge and we will be right back to where we are now.

One of my objectives with my rather drastic proposal is to illustrate just how many forces are latently misaligned with something as convenient as a playoff. These could be eliminated by an executive order but just because we want New Coke today doesn't mean we will like it any better when we actually get to taste it. And we might even revert back to Old Coke when all is said and done.

My apologies again as that was much longer than I expected. Sorry.


January 9th, 2010 at 2:59 PM ^

The current BCS system has never allowed the MAC, Conference USA, Sun Belt conferences to sniff the BCS as an at large team. So unfortunately these schools are already not given a fair chance. Mostly because the football they play is second tier to the:

SEC, Big 12, Big 10, Pac-10, ACC, MWC, Big East, and WAC conferences.


January 8th, 2010 at 9:08 PM ^

I won't go into great detail, partly because the idea is so ridiculous and partly because Bleedin9blue did that already (thank you, well done, btw). I don't know how you thought your "plan" would fit into a serious discussion about a college football playoff because it is both so dumb and completely implausible. Were you trying to derail or slow down the discussion?

Pray For Mojo

January 8th, 2010 at 6:28 PM ^

Anyone else surprise that the NCAA (or the powers-that-be who maintain the BCS) are so adamantly against a proposal that would bring in more money for them? Playoffs = more games = more money, no?

Pray For Mojo

January 8th, 2010 at 9:50 PM ^

True, but my argument would be how much more de-valued can the Bowl become? In regards to the championship now, only 2 or so bowls really matter anyway (in regards to the championship). There's the BCS Championship game, and then in recent years one other bowl where there's another undefeated team. If college basketball can have three tourney's involving 100+ teams, I don't see why college football can't continue to have multiple bowls.

I can see the fear that the main bowls would be devalued - Orange, Rose, Sugar & Fiesta. Couldn't they be incorporated into a playoff system, a-la the Sweet 16, Elite 8 and Final 4? I don't know the #s (or feel like looking them up) but I would imagine that the Rose Bowl affects the championship less then 25% of the time. Does that make it not special, not important?


January 8th, 2010 at 6:11 PM ^

Play the semifinals and finals (plus 3rd place game) a week apart at one of the bowl sites. Still only one trip for teams and fans. Imagine the atmosphere (and possible deaths, I suppose) that would come with four fanbases partying for a full week over New Year's in New Orleans.


January 8th, 2010 at 6:12 PM ^

Brian, the question is not whether this playoff idea is worse than what we've got now from our standpoint. The question is, is it worse than what we've got now from the standpoint of those whose job it is to make the decisions? And I submit the answer is an unqualified YES.

Once this playoff is implemented, the giant endless bins of money that the BCS currently produces will all shift over to the playoff. Period. Everything other than that will be relegated to Pizza Bowl status. And right now, the commissioners of the BCS conferences have locked their access into the big piles of money and mega-exposure for their teams, and the non-BCS conferences have managed to get as big a share of it as they're going to get for the moment. Removing the autobids means these conferences have to risk giving that up. Do you really think the ACC, Pac-10, Big Ten, etc. are going to risk a year in which their teams and conferences don't get cut in on the cash and exposure? Do you think the MWC and WAC are going to like a system where they have even less access to the cash than they do now?

I believe this six-team system is perhaps competitionally (actual word?) interesting but realistically, completely unfeasible. A non-starter for the bosses. It's just a fantasy pipe-dream.


January 8th, 2010 at 6:30 PM ^

I have read your proposal on and I am impressed with your approach to design. Since you considered the demands of the universities it seems your plan would be more acceptable.

Why don't you and Brian combine your playoff plan with his explanation for why any playoff is superior to what we have now, and push it out on various websites for more public consumption? This is the time of year when fans everywhere debate this subject, so let them understand all of the things that must be considered.


January 8th, 2010 at 7:48 PM ^

Why don't you and Brian combine your playoff plan with his explanation for why any playoff is superior to what we have now, and push it out on various websites for more public consumption?

Believe me, I'd love for the sheer, radiant brilliance of my playoff thoughts to be spread as widely as possible across the college football universe, and having the MGoClout of this site behind them would be nice to have in that effort. But keeping my thought processes in mind, the answer to your question must become plain: such an alliance would benefit Brian a great deal less than it would me.


January 8th, 2010 at 6:17 PM ^

1st round should start 2 weeks after conference championships to allow the ~ 10% of fans at the 1st round who are supporting the visiting team to make travel arrangements, etc.

But yeah, your plan makes too much sense.


January 8th, 2010 at 6:19 PM ^

1). To be clear, because there are no autobids, beyond the conference games, teams would be encouraged to strengthen their schedules, to build a resume, correct? There would still be rankings, but they would be the same as the college basketball rankings, a relative power polls with no meaning on who gets into the tournament. This would have the obvious positive effect of likely killing off I-AA cupcaking, but would there be some kind of RPI or PWR which would give a positive benefit to road or neutral site victories (to encourage more home and homes?) Similarly, would you look to have the NCAA cap Division I-A teams from playing more than seven home games in a season? Obviously that might hurt them with the committee, but it might not matter to the bottom line of an athletic department.

2). Finals always at the Rose Bowl? I'm not opposed (I'm sure USC and UCLA would be very happy about that, but small price to pay), as last night certainly showed me an absolutely amazing visual. Would the Rose Bowl still exist on New Year's Day under your proposal, if in a slightly diminished form? Because I really kind of like this split. If this system co-existed next to the bowl system, would you also call for an end to bowl ticket subsidies to compel bowls to actually act responsibly?


January 8th, 2010 at 7:02 PM ^

I might get in trouble for saying this but.. The BCS is an improvement over the previous system of just going to bowls. Of the Pac-10 playing the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl.

At least this way the actual #1 team and the #2 team play. At least this is a two team playoff whereas the previous system didn't even have a playoff. All there was was confusion, yelling and "well Michigan would wipe the floor with Nebraska because WOODSON!"


January 9th, 2010 at 9:20 PM ^

In practice, how often do we have a definitive #1 and #2? The answer: not very often. Last year, there were eight or nine teams that were nearly indistinguishable by resume (the Big XII South triumvirate, Florida, Alabama, USC, Penn State, Utah, and Boise State).

The BCS promises a definite #1 but consistently fails to deliver. I'd rather have no official title awarded than an often fatally-flawed one.


January 8th, 2010 at 7:02 PM ^

Quick note on point 3 about Montana from a I-AA fan.

The biggest reason that Montana (and a lot of I-AA teams) sell out all year long and don't in the playoffs is due to the NCAA's cut. For home games the schools keep the gate revenue. For playoff games the NCAA takes a cut of the paid attendance. So teams that "sold out" all year long suddenly count their numbers much more carefully because they owe the NCAA money for every ticket sold. This same stat can be shown for most of the "big time" I-AA programs and happens every year (Montana, App. St., Delaware etc). Just as many people were at those playoff games as regular season games but there is incentive to not pad your attendance to keep as much money in your own pocket.

Playoffs will pack the stands.


January 8th, 2010 at 7:31 PM ^

It is beyond insincere to have any argument (as Joe and others suggest) relating to the sheer number of games becoming unreasonably high for players in a playoff.

From FCS to D-III, these inferior athletes already are playing 15 total games (if they make the final) and have been for YEARS.

What a load.


January 8th, 2010 at 9:05 PM ^

Not only is this the case in the rest of the levels, as you state, but some high schools will play 15 games in a season (at least in Pennsylvania, if they make State finals). I believe that's also the case in other larger states (TX, FL).


January 8th, 2010 at 7:35 PM ^

I understand the six team playoff and why you chose that number, but I think a big problem with the current system is that a group of people use a faulty formula to choose who plays. going to a six team playoff under the same rules will just expand what we already have.

I propose a 12 team playoff with autobids for the conference champions of the current 6 BCS conferences. By autobidding these teams it puts all the value on conference play and would open up the possibility to add better non-conference games. The other six teams would be chosen based on a RPI like formula. Playing OHIO, AKRON, DELEWARE ST. would hurt your RPI and teams would have to start scheduling up a little.

What do you do with the WAC, MWC, CONFERENCE USA, MAC, and SUN BELT? Autobid saved for the top two RPI teams in this group IF they go undefeated and are not in top 6 of the RPI pool of non auto qualifiers.

NOTRE DAME - screw them, top 6 in RPI of non-auto qualifiers, or nothing.

Bye's to top 4 of RPI, other 8 play in 1st round at home of higher seeded team two weeks after conference games. 2nd round played at BCS sites, semis and finals at neutral rotating regional sites. ie - Indy, Ford Field, Texas Stadium, etc.

This adds one week to existing schedule, takes care of all the major and minor conferences, and allows high quality teams not autobidding a chance.

Teams not in the playoffs can still play in a bowl.


January 8th, 2010 at 8:44 PM ^

"You have a good idea who the best teams in each conference are, but you have almost no idea how the conferences are relative to each other." - Brian

I agree with the statement above from Brian. And in saying that, this is why I just can't agree to award byes to the top teams at the end of the year. Most of the time, schools skate through the regular season without playing any meaningful competition out of conference and you just can't judge who the best teams are. This is crucial especially since you are handing out all-important byes to the top 4 teams and Brian is handing them out to the top 2.


January 8th, 2010 at 8:59 PM ^

I think you have to have byes in a playoff to counter what I think of as the Colts Problem. That is, resting key players before the playoffs. I don't think it's such a big deal in the NFL, where Week 1 and Week 17 all count the same. I think in college, it would absolutely destroy the game as we know it. I'm not exaggerating. Do we really need a situation like 2006 where Michigan and Ohio State are #1 and #2 and pretty much locked into hosting a playoff game - and star players are sitting because the coaches don't want to jeopardize the playoff run at the title? You may say this wouldn't happen, but if the overarching purpose of the season is to crown a champion, as the playoff debate implies, there will be many who clamor for players to sit - especially after, say, a Mark Ingram or a Colt McCoy go down with a separated shoulder or a torn ACL in the conference championship game.