Michigan Museday Fears Nippert Comment Count

Seth May 2nd, 2012 at 8:26 AM

007Baas & Henne - Rose

Unattributed from Colley Matrix computer poll / Archived from MGoBlue.com

Earlier this week Brian discussed the latest iteration of college football's playoff structure. While the commissioners try to get a ratification whip count from the states and techs etc., we're now left with a far narrower scope of playoff possibilities to argue, opine, and get ignored about. The number of teams is probably four. The parameters:

  • Site: Current bowls or home games for higher seeds.
  • Decision Process: BCS-like system or committee

At the moment I'm much more concerned with the first. Fortunately we have an entire BCS history's worth of trials to test these things. So let's just imagine that a four-team playoff was instituted in 1998 instead of the BCS.

Actually I did something similar last December to decide how big the field should be (answer: six). The point of this exercise is a little different in focusing on a four-team system; hopefully it'll give us a preview of what we're getting into. Perhaps by running through BCS history we can anticipate the kinds of controversies a four-team playoff will generate, and which iniquities of the current system will be eradicated.

Fortune Favors Where the Heart Is

Brian's all for home games and so am I, but that's because I'm a college football fan who likes campuses and pageantry and bands playing associative 19th century marching tunes and sidelines where the subs aren't $3.99 sandwiches. Fortunately money is on the side of home games too. Travel costs are at least halved, yes, but the capacities also increase by an average of 10,000 per game.

I got that number by re-seeding the last 14 years of BCS playoffs as if it was a four-team instead of two-team playoff, and showing the capacities of the home stadia they might have played in versus the bowl games they would have been assigned via a host's tie-in system:

Year Game Game Venue Host Capacity Bowl Bowl Capacity
1998 #1 v #4 Ohio St @ Tennessee Neyland 102,455 Sugar 76,468
1998 #2 v #3 Kansas St @ FSU Doak Campbell 82,300 Orange 76,500
1999 #1 v #4 Alabama @ FSU Doak Campbell 82,300 Orange 76,500
1999 #2 v #3 Nebraska @ Va Tech Lane Stadium 66,233 Fiesta 73,227
2000 #1 v #4 Miami @ Oklahoma * Gaylord 82,112 Fiesta 73,227
2000 #2 v #3 Washington @ FSU † Doak Campbell 82,300 Orange 76,500
2001 #1 v #4 Colorado @ Miami Dolphin Stadium 76,500 Orange 76,500
2001 #2 v #3 Oregon @ Nebraska ‡ Memorial 81,067 Fiesta 73,227
2002 #1 v #4 USC @ Miami Dolphin Stadium 76,500 Orange 76,500
2002 #2 v #3 Georgia @ Ohio St Ohio Stadium 102,329 Rose 94,392
2003 #1 v #4 MICH @ Oklahoma§ Gaylord 82,112 Fiesta 73,227
2003 #2 v #3 USC @ LSU Tiger Stadium 99,500 Sugar 76,468
2004 #1 v #4 Utah @ USC ‖ LA Coliseum 93,607 Rose 94,392
2004 #2 v #3 Auburn @ Oklahoma Gaylord 82,112 Fiesta 73,227
2005 #1 v #4 Ohio St @ USC LA Coliseum 93,607 Rose 94,392
2005 #2 v #3 Penn St @ Texas Darrell K Royal 100,119 Fiesta 73,227
2006 #1 v #4 LSU @ Ohio St Ohio Stadium 102,329 Rose 94,392
2006 #2 v #3 Florida @ MICH ¶ The Big House 109,901 Sugar 76,468
2007 #1 v #4 Oklahoma @ Ohio St Ohio Stadium 102,329 Rose 94,392
2007 #2 v #3 Va Tech @ LSU Tiger Stadium 99,500 Sugar 76,468
2008 #1 v #4 Alabama @ Oklahoma Gaylord 82,112 Fiesta 73,227
2008 #2 v #3 Texas @ Florida The Swamp 88,548 Sugar 76,468
2009 #1 v #4 TCU @ Alabama Bryant-Denny 101,821 Sugar 76,468
2009 #2 v #3 Cincinnati @ Texas Darrell K Royal 100,119 Fiesta 73,227
2010 #1 v #4 Stanford @ Auburn Jordan-Hare 87,451 Sugar 76,468
2010 #2 v #3 TCU @ Oregon Autzen 54,000 Rose 94,392
2011 #1 v #4 Stanford @ LSU Tiger Stadium 99,500 Sugar 76,468
2011 #2 v #3 Okla St @ Alabama Bryant-Denny 101,821 Orange 76,500


* Miami finished 4th and Washington 3rd in the BCS standing, but I swapped them to avoid an FSU-Miami rematch.

† 10-1 Washington is in over 10-1 VT and 10-1 Oregon State.

‡ Nebraska/Colorado/Oregon is a mess. I figured 2 losses mean Colorado takes the back seat, and Oregon gets screwed by the committee who don't want a game in Eugene if they can avoid it.

§ Another mess. The committee could as easily put USC here to face Michigan.

‖ Texas and Cal were both ranked higher than Utah, but Utah gets nod so that 4/5 undefeated teams are in the playoffs Boise State is out.

¶ I put Michigan as the No. 2 and host since bumping Florida no longer avoids a rematch.


And the numbers:

Factor Home Game Bowl
Avg. Attendance 89,807 79,390
% of Games < 80k 21.4% 78.6%
Largest Crowd 109,901 94,118
Smallest Crowd 54,000 73,227

In 1998 a difference of 10,000 seats might have been made up for by the bowl venues because of their luxury boxes and better concessions, but since then the big-time collegiate venues, i.e. the ones most likely to be ranked in the Top 2 at the end of the regular season, have more than caught up to the pros in every regard except in-stadium advertising (for good reason). Meanwhile the only bowl venue comparable to the homes of D-I power programs is the Rose (a college stadium).

There were some calls I had to make in there, for example LSU won't increase its capacity to 99,500 until 2014 (they're at 93,000 now). And U-Phoenix Stadium was listed at its maximum football capacity to date, not the one they say they can get to with their ultra-hydro-matic seating expansion system™, because if they couldn't whip them out for the Superbowl why would they have them for an NCAA semi-final?

Sanity-checking, I did this initially using real numbers—taking the largest announced capacities for each host's and bowl's venue for that year (example: Neyland Stadium's 107,653 in 1998 is from the '98 Florida game)—and the numbers barely moved. Avg. capacity for home games: 88,489; Avg. capacity for bowls: 77,877. Same difference.

Future-proofing the dolla dolla bill y'all advantage, college football stadiums are growing in capacity while the bowl stadiums aren't.

I emphasize this because the bits of conversation leaking from the commisionerati keep fearing things like Cincinnati (Nippert Stadium: 35,097) finishing in the Top 2. Looking above there are just four games in 28 in which a stadium of under 80,000 capacity would have hosted: Autzen's 54,000 once, Virginia Tech's 66,000 once, and two games at Miami (YTM)'s home, which is the same place they play the Orange Bowl.


This is our concern Lebowski

I don't believe the dreaded small venue is that much of a threat. Paul Brown Stadium is three miles away from Nippert and is tapped often for "big" games like West Virginia and Louisville. TCU is in Fort Worth, spitting distance from JerryWorld. Boise State sneaking in after trouncing the now mid-major Big East is the real concern, but they've been handily kept out of the Top Two so far; if it actually comes down to undefeated Boise getting a home seed, either suck it up and let them have the most important event in Idaho history they deserve after being so good so long, or find a way to slide a 2-loss SEC team ahead of them and ride out the now-standard outrage.

Brian mentioned the bowl games aren't worried about selling out since they sell mostly to scalpers who then assume the risk/reward of the eventual matchup, but this also creates a middle-man scenario. The reason scalpers do this is the market is almost always higher than the face value once the teams are decided, with fans commonly paying three times the initial value. If you want to know how to flow this price variance to the athletic departments instead of the scalpers, just have Dave Brandon give his seminar on Creating the Future™ to ADs; a huge donation to get on the waiting list for season tickets feels like fleecing, but if I'm paying $300 on Stubhub now, why wouldn't I donate $200 to the university to reserve my $100 seat?


There Is a Downside to Home Games

And I just hinted at a big one just now: any controversy a four-team field avoids over a two-team field, it gains back again by having either pollsters, computers, or committees parsing between nearly identical seasons to decide who hosts the #2-#3 game. All it takes is one petulant Dantonio (or Urban Meyer PR campaign, or Fulmer with Heisman envy) to swap Gators in the Big House for Wolverines in the Swamp.

Add that to the fact that you just swapped the "who's in" wrangling from 2-3 to 4-5, and now there's at least two teams every season likely to believe they got screwed. Neutral site games at least neutralize any advantage gained by being #2 rather than #3. Of course it also neutralizes the advantage of being #1 versus #4 (except for a vaguely easier matchup in the first round). There is a possibility of a compromise solution here where #1 plays #4 at home but the 2-3 game goes to a predetermined neutral site. Of course now you're just shifting that argument to 1-2.

Another advantage of using the bowls—to the ADs, not the fans—is that home games at college stadiums invite the nasty beast of student tickets. Students pay more now than they ever did (my senior year was $85) but it's still way less than alumni. Make them buy general admission for a semifinal game and you invite the inevitable Daily column and Diag outrage. Give 'em the student discount and you just wiped out much of your 10,000-toushie advantage. Go to a bowl and the question is moot.

ADDED: I forgot (and meant to) mention that another consideration against home sites is that the teams themselves would probably rather travel. The big schools use their bowl trips and bowl swag to reward the players and recruit new ones. Roy Roundtree (just using him as an e.g. senior everyone likes) would probably take the free trip to Pasadena over another home game in Ann Arbor if you put it to him that way. The big thing the bowls have going for them is that the teams themselves love traveling to the bowls.

A Few Case Studies1998


What happened: Tennessee came in 12-0 and an obvious No. 1, but there was some debate about who should play them. Florida State, near the peak of their powers, was the most sensible pick. Other claimants included one-loss Kansas State and Ohio State, both behind FSU more for the timing of their one loss than anything else. Tulane went undefeated spread 'n shredding a Conf-USA schedule. Arizona and Wisconsin also went 11-1.

And then we had a big debate about: Mostly that Kansas State wasn't invited to any BCS bowl; they ended up losing to Purdue in the Alamo.

If we had a playoff: Tennessee hosts Ohio State, Kansas State visits Tallahassee, and nobody complains but Tulane. The normal tie-ins for bowls fit just as nicely.

Outcome: Few thought Ohio State or Kansas State were better than Florida State so this works out either way.



What happened: Oklahoma was undefeated and an obvious #1. After that it was an inbred mess of one-loss teams. Florida State's loss was to one-loss Miami (YTM), as was V-Tech's only loss. Miami only lost to Washington, who only lost to Oregon, who had two losses one of which being to Oregon State, who only lost to Washington. FSU got the nod because they're Florida State.

And then we had a big debate about: If only Henson had been healthy all year. And the whole head-to-head-to-head thing.

If we had a playoff game: Well you leave out Oregon State and VT, though everyone but the fans of those teams could be down with that. But now you need to do some fiddling to avoid a rematch in the semifinals. For this reason you want FSU playing Washington, but which one hosts? Probably Florida State, and Miami has to be content with facing Oklahoma when they thought they should be hosts themselves.

Outcome: This illustrates the playoff problem of rematches, which if not controlled by a committee of sorts would become twice as likely now that twice as many teams are in the playoffs.



What happened: Similar situation as the previous year, fewer teams, more debate. Miami was obviously #1 and mentioned among the best teams ever. Nebraska thought they might be in that conversation until losing to Colorado, who went on to win the Big XII championship but had two losses. And then there's Oregon, as justifiable and as ignored in the year-long, racial-overtoned Huskers vs. Canes fest as Joey Harrington's Heisman-level campaign. Nebraska got the nod, and got demolished.

And then we had a big debate about: If you don't even win your conference… Nobody mentioned Oregon, which I thought was very weird and spent most of a night trying to convince the Daily sports editor to back over Colorado.

If we had a playoff game: Hooray they're all in. Again there's the rematch situation that's easily solved by having Colorado be the fourth seed and Oregon visit Nebraska. We all win.

Outcome: Here we see how a neutral site isn't necessarily a home game, since a Miami home game and the Orange Bowl are the same thing. On the other hand you're trading Tempe for Nebraska in early January.


What happened: There were three viable one-loss teams and only two spots. The BCS used computers to judge the strength of a season to make up for pollsters' obsession with shiny things and whatever happened three seconds ago, and this resulted in LSU and Oklahoma playing with USC left out despite being #1 to both polls of people who are easily distracted by Reggie Bush. The AP rebelled and said it would stick with USC if they beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl.

And then we had a big debate about: How computers and statistics and the hard realities of the world around us are not nearly as important to the greater human experience as the world that we perceive, that what makes us human is this capacity for fallibility, that we can make choices of the heart even in the face of concrete logical evidence. If you think otherwise then you're a pointy-eared bastard.

If we had a playoff game: Well there's three one-loss teams and then a whole slew of relatively even two-loss teams. However the 5th ranked one had just lost to the 4th ranked one, which was Michigan. So John Navarre and co. travel to Norman while USC faces LSU.

Outcome: I actually like our chances against Oklahoma. Not love, but like better than USC. Oh right, hypothetical. Well USC going to Baton Rouge instead of staying in L.A. because of a computer would bother them just as much as going to New Orleans instead of the Rose Bowl because of a computer.


What happened: Virtually the same thing, different result. Three undefeated teams on top plus two undefeated mid-majors, and two one-loss teams between them.

And then we had a big debate about: How Auburn could be left out because pollsters don't care about strength of schedule and the computers were neutered.

If we had a playoff game: Well now Auburn is in but who plays USC? Can Mack Brown downvote Cal to get the Longhorns into the playoffs instead of the Rose Bowl? Or do they take the Bears for having lost only to USC (and do they play at USC again, or do we move the #1 seed so now Auburn's playing USC? Or do we take 11-0 Utah and skip the be-loss'ed teams? Then what about Boise State? Eh, screw Boise. Oklahoma gets Utah and Auburn visits USC.

Outcome: This is a classic example of how odd numbers screw with playoffs. A two-team playoff left out Auburn; a four-team playoff now elevates the Texas-Cal dishonesty to playoff proportions. That's why I said they ought to take Utah. What I don't want to see is for the system to force them to take an undefeated 6th seed over a 1-loss four-seed. I'm pretty sure by this point that I'm for a committee, not a ranking system, determining the seeds.


What happened: You already know about [deep echoey voice] FOOTBALL ARMAGEDDON and the result.

And then we had a big debate about: You know that too.

If we had a playoff game: Now the question is which two-loss team between LSU and USC? And down the line there's still one-loss Louisville, one-loss Wisconsin, and undefeated Boise State. This time I invite the Broncos, because there's such a clear line between Michigan's season and LSU's (at this point anyway).

Outcome: Here's the 2 or 3 problem. We know Florida got in when Michigan's prima facie case was far stronger, but that was to avoid a rematch of [deep voice] FOOTBALL ARMAGEDDON. Would they do the same just to avoid a January date in the vicinity of Great Lakes?


What happened: Final BCS Standings: 1. Oklahoma (12-1), 2. Florida (12-1), 3. Texas (11-1), 4. Alabama (12-1), 5. USC (11-1), 6. Utah 12-0, 7. Texas Tech (11-1), 8. Penn State (11-1), 9. Boise State (12-0)

And then we had a big debate about: All of the things.

If we had a playoff game: Half of the things.

Outcome: Expanding to four teams does not guarantee a national champ.


What happened: Five teams finished undefeated, and Florida had only lost to Bama in the SEC championship game. Since only two of the undefeated teams were from real BCS conferences (We had to be reminded multiple times that season that Cincy was in the Big East. q.v.) it was an easy choice.

And then we had a big debate about: How mid-majors who play perfect seasons always get screwed, even after they are careful to add at least one football team to their schedules full of Rocky Mountain mime schools.

If we had a playoff game: Boise still gets left out, Bama and Texas munch on snackycake undefeated teams before the inevitable matchup between them.

Outcome: You got the idea awhile ago. The following year TCU was undefeated and left out of an otherwise obvious matchup of Auburn and Oregon.


What happened: LSU was 13-0, and had already beaten No. 2 Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Okie State and Stanford made one-loss runs that nobody thought were as good as Bama's season. So we played the rematch nobody wanted to see outside the SEC, and horror of horrors the original loser won by enough to win the battle of "my win over you was better than your win over me, let's lolz at everyone else who is puny for not cutting their bad players and replacing them with robots! lolz lolz lolz S-E-C!"

And then we had a big debate about: How we need a playoffs.

If we had a playoff game: For the first time it would have been almost perfect.

Outcome: As with every other BCS season, the perfect system for any given year is the one implemented next year.

1999, 2000, 2002, and 2005 are examples of when a four-team playoff would have overly complicated a relatively simple field of two. This ought to be a greater concern than whether a school that seats 35,000 and doesn't have access to an NFL venue nearby will end up ranked in the Top 2. I believe an option to skip the semifinals in obvious situations would ensure they have the right playoff every year, but that creates its own problems.

Birthday shout-out to my little brother. You're getting MGoShirts again.



May 2nd, 2012 at 8:34 AM ^

Easy solution: have a minimum capacity threshhold and if the teams home stadium doesn't meet it, the game automatically moves to pre-designated regional site close to the home campus where tickets are divided up as if it were on campus.

No way should the conclusion be that neutral bowl site is better because an on campus stadium may be smaller than most. It's clearly not.  


May 2nd, 2012 at 9:58 AM ^

Considering most teams would be under that threshold, this would never fly. The realpolitic is that the teams with the massive stadia are the most likely to end up hosting because the same advantages that give them massive houses give them a better overall shot at national championships.

However this is going to 120 teams of whom 19 have stadiums larger than the nearest NFL venue.

I forgot (and meant to) mention that another consideration against home sites is that recruits and players love a chance to go to bowl places. The teams themselves may not want to stay home with their studies and nearby families and cold weather instead of a free trip to Pasadena. You'll end up with two teams every year among the Top Four who didn't get the whole bowl travel experience. The fans will appreciate that; the players might be all WTF. Maybe I oughtta add this to the article. One thing they could do (this adds expense though) is to have a consolation bowl game for the losers at the same site as the championship game. The upside is you can make the travel arrangements for all four teams as soon as they're in, as opposed to booking for two teams then having to scramble when they know which teams they are. And everybody gets to go to a sweet bowl game. And you can televise and sell tickets to another bowl game among top drawing teams. And then two of the playoff teams get to end the season with a win. I mean, would you watch a loser's bracket Michigan bowl game a week after we lost to USC at USC?

What would be more palatable would be a system by which the host school can simply choose wherever they want to have the game. MSU could choose to put it indoors at Ford Field, for example. However I don't want to encourage that, because the idea is to make the home game have all the pomp of a home game. Plus, I don't think it's that big of a deal -- if Boise State actually climbs the same exact mountain they haven't climbed yet despite an unheard of run, suck it up and put a home game in Idaho.


May 2nd, 2012 at 11:43 AM ^

where i say that the embodied finances of a football palace like UM's or PSU's or Tenn's over rules total and complete fairness. the boises and indiana states of the world already have an equal say on things like athlete stipends, but largely they are jumping on the coat tails of over 100 years of football passion (money) that other teams have spent. if they want to host a 2 vs 3 game at their stadium, charge your fans money and build it, until then, support your team as best you can.


May 2nd, 2012 at 8:39 AM ^

Don't really understand why you're doing selective case studies why not just show all the years.

There will still be tons of controversy at the end of the season which makes it fun to talk about but a four team playoff almost assures that no undefeated team from one of the BCS conferences (except maybe the Big East) gets left out and solves the worst problem of when it's really close between selecting the team to be #2 and #3 team they still both make it and oh wait in case we were off #4 can get in too.

The #5 team can be angry all it wants but at the end of the day unless they went undefeated they don't have as much of a case to complain.


May 2nd, 2012 at 8:39 AM ^

The real problem, I think, is that they turn the major bowls into consolation games. It may be popular in the blogosphere to say "Screw the bowls," but the conference commisssioners and presidents are clearly not going to do that.

It also makes it difficult for the bowls to sell tickets, because there would be an extra week or two in the schedule during which the bowls wouldn't know who would be playing, as they waited for the outcome of the semi-finals.


May 2nd, 2012 at 11:17 AM ^

4 times out of 14 years, there would have been both a Pac 12 and a B1G team in the semis. 3 of those times USC was the Pac 12 rep. Assuming every time there is a B1G and a Pac 12 team in the semis, they playoff in the Rose Bowl even if both would not have had "home bowl advantage" (i.e., neither were #1 or #2), then 3 of those 4 times (3 out of the 8 times a B1G participant was in the semis), USC would have had a home filed advantage.

However, in 2003, neither Michigan or USC were #1 or #2, so then 2 out of 8 there would have been a home field advantage for the Pac 12 (or 2 out of 14 if you take the whole time period).

Given that the traditional objective of every B1G player for at least 65 years has been to win the B1G and (as a reward) go to the Rose Bowl, and we'd be playing a team with home field advantage 14% of the time ... well if the worst thing that happens is "home bowl advantage", that ain't so bad.

Personally, I like the idea of an 8 team quarterfinal playoff in the major bowls, a 4 team home field (or nearest big enough venue) semifinal playoff, and then a championship game the best. Preserves the traditional big bowls, and gives the higher seeded team a non-travel week between road events. Maybe we get there in the next turn of the crank.


May 2nd, 2012 at 9:08 AM ^

Great post!

Attendance is clearly a laughable arguement as you well pointed out.

The real issue I think should be picking the best teams so that the championship cannot be denied.  Particularly years like '08 I don't think 4 works.

4 teams is way better than 2, but there are so many good teams, and the top teams so rarely play eachother enough so that 1-loss teams can fairly be compared.  I would love 6, or 8 teams but can live with this new arrangement- particularly since in top years Michigan will have a much better chance.  For teams like Boise that go undefeated and may not crack top 4 this still sucks- but way better than what we have had.


May 2nd, 2012 at 9:40 AM ^

Too bad Nippert Stadium is getting such a bad rap... The money for it and its name sake come out of a tragedy where a player died from a "spike" injury sustained during a game... Interesting to see how far football has come:

"Nippert Stadium has been home to Bearcats football since 1902, making it the fourth-oldest playing site and fifth-oldest stadium in college football."

Online it appears that they are considering a 10-20K seat expansion...




Also for anyone is SAE, Nippert is the son of one of SAEs prominent founders...

French West Indian

May 2nd, 2012 at 10:10 AM ^

Here's the thing about the 2006 scenario that is overlooked.  The Big Ten now has a championship game.  Michigan & OSU would now have a rematch one week after The Game.  Scary thing is that even with a Big Ten championship rematch, M & OSU might both have still made the 4 team national playoff since popular consensus at the time was that the Wolverines & Buckeyes were clearly the two best teams based on their steam rolling of regular season competition.

Michigan vs. Ohio State playing each other 3 times in a 5-6 week span = perhaps the first oh shit scenario of the proposed playoff system.

We're probably going to have no choice now but to move the game to earlier in the season. 

Section 1

May 2nd, 2012 at 12:32 PM ^

I think we first need to figure out what the Intended Consequences are really going to be, before we can finalize the List of Unintended Consequences.

Quite seriously, posts like yours in this thread are pretty damn good in outlining The List.  +2 for you.

French West Indian

May 2nd, 2012 at 10:30 AM ^

Another thing that this type of historical analysis misses is how voting would have changed if there had been a four team playoff looming.

The final weeks of the season are already skewing with sketchy voting (ie, 2006 when Florida jumped Michigan) as voters start casting their ballots with eyes towards potential matchups rather than based on ranking of teams with respect to actual performance & strength.  Mgoblog dislikes politics, unfortunately, college football will become a hell of a lot more political with a four team playoff. 

The irony is that a move to a playoff is supposed to be an effort to "settle it on the field" when in fact it is really expanding the influence of factors outside the game.


May 2nd, 2012 at 10:55 AM ^

In order to keep the importance of the regular season and not let it become like basketball, where the Kentucky, UNC game actually means nothing and has nothing to do with winning the title, three things must be included. In order, in my opinion. 1. Only conference champions. If you didn't win your conference, or like Alabama, you division, you have no right to play for a national title. You had your chance. Plus, this helps reduce the amount of rematches that can happen. 2. Home field advantage. Give the top 2 teams something to play for, makes going undefeated in conference, the goal, not just an acheivement. 3. Bring back strength of schedule. Makes the non-conference slate important again, and it helps teams earn their home field advantage. Do those things, and the part we all love about college football, a meaningful regular season, and what we all crave, a playoff to determine the champ on the field, will both be possible.

I do agree, 6 teams is better, and to slate the people who say the 2nd best team may not have won their conference is being left out, allow 1 at large team, but no home field advantage.


May 2nd, 2012 at 11:24 AM ^

I think with the awfulness of the championship games today, having a "must win your conference" rule is just an unnecessary addition. There are very plausible scenarios where a non-conference champ is by far the best overall team.

Imagine if Michigan went 11-1 next year, blowing out every opponent including Alabama, but losing in triple overtime at Nebraska in the middle of a badly officiated tornado. The rest of the national field: Alabama is a clear #2 at 12-1 and SEC champs, but then it's a lot of 2- and 3-loss teams. Now picture Nebraska went 8-4, except they only had one loss in conference and three losses out of it. Nebraska and Michigan both finish 7-1 in the Bo Division race, but Nebraska has the head-to-head advantage and thus goes to Indiananapolis, where they lose to 10-2 Ohio State. Michigan is 11-1, beat Ohio State in Columbus by 21 points, but isn't the Big Ten champion. Do you thus exclude #1 overall Michigan while two-loss Ohio State, whom Michigan defeated, draws in? That's a trick question: Ohio State isn't eligible to go to a bowl next year lolololololololzzz.

The "must win your conference" reasoning fell flat on me in 2001 as well. Head to Head between two very similar teams I can countenance because it makes those games more important, and more important regular season games is a good thing. However I think people got way too obsessed with finding any reason to go with hot Colorado despite Nebraska's much stronger overall season.

Section 1

May 2nd, 2012 at 11:31 AM ^

A six or eight-team playoff.

Michigan student-athletes in the football program play 12 regular season games.  Some of them involving bowl-like endeavors to Dallas, to play Alabama.  Then in December, a B1G Conference Championship.  And then a playoff game, and then another playoff game, and then if anyone is still standing, a National Championship Game.

You know who will love that scenario?  Sportswriters.  it will give them something to write about, in the week right before the NCAA Mens Basketball Tournament.

French West Indian

May 2nd, 2012 at 12:25 PM ^

They are tangible goals that can be achieved as the direct result of onfield performance.  Oh, and they happen to be fair too.  You start the season.  You win all of your games (or at least all of your must-win games) and you have earned your championship.

The national championship (even with whatever playoff arrives in the near future) is too heavily reliant on intangible factors such as voters, perceptions, bias, politics, etc.  That is the source of the crisis this past season when a team that failed to achieve its tangible goals gets rewarded with a national championship.  Alabama's national championship this past season is completely illegitimate and most people sense this (although they fail to understand it).  That's why there is finally an effort to reform.  The true tragedy will be if the reform fails to comprehend this crisis and further dilutes the legitimacy of a national championship by granting additional access to it from teams that have failed to achieve their goals.

That is why conference championships are so important to the legitimacy of even the idea of a national champion.  If we must have a single true national champion then we must accept that that champion comes from a pool of teams that have achieved their goals.  With an abundance of such teams available (at least four major conferences providing championship teams), then there is no reason to include teams that have already failed.  Alabama 2011 does not qualify and that's why people are pissed.  2006 Michigan also would not have qualified and that's why at least some of us are thankful we didn't get the rematch. 

Bo had a crystal clear understanding of this.  In fact, I suspect every football coach understands this.  But for some reason many fans, sportswriters and bloggers are just don't seem to get it.

Picktown GoBlue

May 2nd, 2012 at 1:00 PM ^

Do they stay special forever? Is the Big East really worthy of such special consideration?  If the BCS goes away, what is a "BCS" conference?  If a team in 2012 beats the defending MNC, goes undefeated and wins their conference, should they be assured of being in the BCS title game?  (Don't answer too quickly.) 

Or shoud some addtional judgment/analysis go into it?  Not sure you can totally remove perceptions/bias/voters/selection committees or the like from any of the processes.




Note, I was thinking about Western Kentucky when I made up that scenario...

French West Indian

May 2nd, 2012 at 2:11 PM ^

Nothing makes those conferences special.  That's not really the point that I'm arguing.  There are 11 FBS conferences.  That means 11 conference champions each year, i.e., teams that embarked on their season and managed to achieve a major goal.  Maybe they went undefeated, maybe they only managed to win the minimum number of must-win games but however they got there, they did not fail or come up just short 

The big question with a playoff (whether 4, 6, 8 teams, etc) is who gets in?  Where is the line drawn.  Thankfully the existing conference structure provides an excellent starting point.  Fail to win your conference and you should not even be part of the discussion.  There's really no reason for second place teams to be included because a playoff is about excluding the failures not about including them.  No mulligans.  A national playoff could be a really strong entity if it bills itself as providing a champion amongst champions.  But it completely undermines itself if it lets a second place team (a team that has alread failed) be crowned as the ultimate champion of the season.  This hurts the playoff.  And it hurts college football too.

So my point is that there is simply no reason to even let such teams in the mix when there are already plenty of candidates.  That is a pool of 11 teams (11 conference champions) that should be enough to fill out a 4 team playoff field.

As to some of Pictown GoBlue's specific questions:  BCS status is irrelevant.  No one conference is more or less special than the other.  If Western Kentucky goes undefeated and wins the Sun Belt, no, they should not be "assured" of being in the title game but they should be in the discussion of who should be in the 4 team playoff.  They are certainly more deserving than an Alabama team that came up short in its goals by finishing in second place.  Now in all likelihood the Sun Belt champ won't have the resume to compete with the winners of the SEC, Big Ten, Pac Ten, Big 12, ACC etc most years.  But it is possible that some rare years that some of the big conferences turn up unsatisfying 3 or 4 loss champions and in those cases an undefeated team from the Sun Belt should be strongly considered for inclusion.

You are correct in that we probably can not completely remove bias/perception/voting from the process under a 4 team playoff scenario but by focusing on the tangible achievements of teams (such as conference championships) then we can quickly exclude many from the discussion.  Conversely, if we open the discussion to include teams that didn't win conference championships then that includes everybody and it makes the discussion exponentially more cumbersome.

Still, some people will argue that 2011 Alabama or 2006 Michigan were the 2nd best teams in the country and that they deserve a shot.  But those team already failed in achieving their goals and when there are several other teams out there who haven't failed then the Alabama/Michigan team shouldn't be in the mix.  Moreover, if the sheer weight of perception & reputation (that is to say polls) must play an outsized role then we might as well either 1.) just have those two teams meet for the title on Labor Day and call it a wrap or 2.) let the season play out and then just do the vote at the end.  And that's right back to where we started.

Ugh...my head is begining to spin.  Time for me to check out for a while.


May 2nd, 2012 at 1:31 PM ^

I fully agree that conference championships are the core of college football. I've said numerous times on this site that it's impossible to play (max) 13-14 games with unbalanced schedules between 120 teams and then claim any one of them was a "true" national champion unless you get lucky enough that there's a runaway champ. That's why I think the bowl system lasted so long: college football is about the haves playing against regional rivals with similar types of students and then the haviest of the haves from all over playing each other.

This isn't a concept restricted to coaches. It's simply a concept that is anathema to anyone who runs a national sport or a national media outlet. ESPN wants you to care more about what happens to LSU-Arkansas than Indiana-Purdue.

If a conference crown today was a *real* conference crown I would probably agree with you, but it's not. A season where Michigan plays every Big Ten team and then faces Ohio State for the best record in the conference is a conference crown; a season where Michigan plays 2/3 of its conference, has 1/3 of its games removed from consideration altogether, and then has to win a comparison against *these* five schools instead of *those* five schools in order to participate in a largely redundant by that point bowl game isn't a real conference crown. All sorts of things can go wrong with that system to crown a champion who wasn't as deserving. Just last year Michigan State had an obvious stake to the Rose Bowl already planted--having even beaten Wisconsin already--and then was put in a position where the original Wisconsin game had to be replayed 'cause the first one wasn't good enough.

The problem I have with conference championships is that the conferences have chosen largely arbitrary means of selecting champions. In the example I showed above, Nebraska played just 8 games against its 11 conference rivals and then went 1-3 versus a non-conference slate. Meanwhile Ohio State lost to both Nebraska and Michigan during the season, but because their two conference losses were the best against their division rivals they get the free pass to Indianapolis to play for the Big Ten crown. That's leaving a whole heck of a lot of crap out of the hands of the teams.

What the current system does is effectively make the divisions the new conferences. Michigan is back to gunning for the championship of the West (-ern B1G). Except our biggest rival isn't even in our conference, and our conference has this half-affiliation with another conference. Under this current system the "Conference Championship" is really just another playoff round between two regional conferences.

Every team's goal should be to win every game they play. I'm sure that's a coaching adage too. However we're going to have many years when the best team lost a game for whatever reason, and because of that there needs to be a structure to ensure that the team with more merit has the better shot at a championship.

College football can be conference-based, but then it needs to stop pretending it's a national sport that can be won by any of 120+ schools. Kick out half of those schools and rebuild the conference structure so the conferences can actually produce worthy champions every year, not just most years. Because 14-team conferences that play a winner-take-all game based on incomplete records, arbitrary comparisons, and uneven divisions are not capable of fairly rewarding the actual best seasons in their conferences with championship crowns. Turn the conferences back into a conferences and we'll talk.

French West Indian

May 2nd, 2012 at 2:53 PM ^

...I agree with you on many points and appreciate your sensibilities. 

Conference structures may not be perfect at the moment but it makes more sense to work at reforming them after the playoff structure is solidified and clearly articulated.  A  tournament that produces a "champion amongst champions" is a formidable entity with broad popular appeal that would be difficult to argue with.

In contrast, a playoff structure that continues to let second place teams be crowned as the ultimate champion is one that is vulnerable to continued controversies that will slowly eat away at the legitimacy of the sport.  It sounds crazy today...but it is possible that fans will become fed up enough that they might start walking away.

2 points regarding conferences:

1- they may not produce the "real" conference champion that you prefer but the conferences are a collection of teams playing with agreed upon rules amongst themselves.  Those rules may not be ideal or necessarily fair (with respect to schedules, tie-breakers, etc) but they are written down and agreed to before play begins.  Such an effort towards "respect of law" should trump any whims that voters/pollsters might have in determining who is the best team in conference and who is eligible for the national playoff tournement.  Moreover, all teams begin the season with the goal of winning their conference and, should you ask them in August, few would argue that they'd be national title worthy should they come up short of their conference goal.

2- conferences are works in progress.  They may not be balanced today but they can add or subtract to teams achieve such balance if members continue to fight for their own self-interest.  Such issues of competitive fairness are much better played out within the conferences themselves during the offseason than being allowed to come to the spotlight under the glare of the national playoff each Dec/Jan.


May 2nd, 2012 at 1:49 PM ^

to remedy the conference champion issue. Simply eliminate the conference championship games and have each conference team play one or two more conference games during the season. This is how conference champions were determined for decades before the SEC instituted the conference championship game.

Is this perfect? Not exactly because you could still end up with tied conference records for teams that might not have played one another during the season. But, again, this was an issue for decades and various tie breakers were used to select the champion.

The point is, without the conference championship game you are less likely to end up with the scenario you outlined above.

Ultimately it will be difficult to come up with a system that works well for only a four or six team playoff. If the decision is to shorten the regular season by a couple of games and go to eight teams, or even sixteen(!!!) teams you could have slots for "at large" teams, so teams that deserve to be in the playoff are not left out.


May 2nd, 2012 at 11:00 AM ^

How would you parce out the money from home game scenario, would it be split 50/50 between the teams? How do you split up the concession sales? How do you pay back a school for all the security and traffic stuff that goes into hosting a game if you are taking away a large portion of the money they generally use for that? Speaking of which what do you do with parking prices?  There are  lot of disadvantages to having the games at home, I'd still prefer it but it doesn't actually make a lot of sense if you are still splitting revenues because there is so much that bowls and schools make money off of other than ticket sales.


May 2nd, 2012 at 11:10 AM ^

I think they can figure that part out without our help. College football teams have road games all the time--I'm supremely confident they can get another one organized.

Having home games is technically going indie. The bowl payouts are part of the bowl scheme where the bowls are doing the legwork and the payouts are the cost of filling their game with teams. It's the difference between Maple Street paying us to write HTTV and us producing HTTV--we're assuming the risk if it goes sour and gain the reward if it goes well.

Best guess is the conferences of the two teams in the game do what they usually do: put all conceivable expenses against the proceeds and split the net. I'm sure they will not be able to get around the conferences all taking their shares, so Indiana will get their piece of Michigan and Ohio State both hosting in '06.

Space Monkey

May 2nd, 2012 at 11:33 AM ^

Your statement that the players would probably prefer to travel to a bowl venue is not a likely scenario. I don't think this is really how a player would think when playing for a national championship.

I would agree that unless a player is in a championship game, they would likely prefer to travel to a bowl game. However, if we are talking about a semifinal game that puts you in the national championship game, what player would not want home field advantage so as to have a much better chance of reaching THE game.

As to one other person's comment about the other bowls becoming consolation games, what are they now?


May 2nd, 2012 at 12:09 PM ^

My excellent suggestion to be ignored is that the conference-champions-only crowd should force a rule that the top three conference champions (any conference) are in, with the fourth spot an at-large bid selected by a committee which also does the seeding. [Note: I think Notre Dame and BYU would be okay with this, although they might want some language that says if two independents place in the top four, then they automatically displace the third conference champion.]

As you can see below, such a rule would not change many of Seth's assumptions about what an unrestricted committee would or should do, but it would eliminate some of the pressure on the committee, since three of the four spots would be based on the BCS standings. Plus, it would still allow for the committee to choose Michigan in 2006 and 'Bama in 2011, and probably also to give Utah a shot in 2004.

In 2000, Oklahoma, Florida State (ACC), and Miami (Big East) are in as the top three conference champions, and the committee gives Washington the nod over VT as the top Pac-10 co-champion. So no change.

In 2001, Miami, Colorado, and Oregon are in, and Nebraska gets the at large. If I'm the committee, then Nebraska plays at Oregon -- Nebraska has to pay some price for losing to Colorado. Mostly no change.

In 2003, Oklahoma, LSU, and USC are in, with Michigan the at-large. No change.

In 2008, Oklahoma, Florida, and USC are in, leaving the committee to pick one of the others, probably Alabama -- to my mind, losing a well-played conference championship game (Alabama) trumps getting caught up in a three-way divisional tie (Texas). Utah is screwed, partly because Michigan was so weak that their win in Ann Arbor has no weight.

In 2009, Alabama, Texas, and Cincinnati are in, and TCU gets chosen. No change.


May 2nd, 2012 at 12:13 PM ^

I am reasonably certain they won't select the participants by committee. They'll have a ranking system, as they do today. It won't be the same ranking system, as just about everyone agrees that the coaches' poll needs to be scrapped. But it'll be some kind of numerical ranking system, probably with a mix of computers and human voters, as today.

Once you have that, then you just take the top four teams. The whole point of a playoff is to let the four best teams settle it on the field. If you've got auto-bids for conference champions, then one day you're going to have an 8-4 team playing for the title, because they managed to pull off the upset in their conference championship game, despite a mediocre regular season.

Last year, UCLA could have won the Pac-12 with a 7-6 record.

If conference champions get auto-bids, then there needs to be a ratings floor, to ensure a conference with a very weak champion doesn't get to play for the championship, when clearly better teams are sent to consolation games. So, for instance, we might say that a conference champ has to be rated at least 6th, to ensure that any team in the playoff has at least a plausible claim that they belong there.


May 2nd, 2012 at 1:20 PM ^

2011 UCLA or a 9-4 conference champion with an upset in a championship game is not going to be ranked high enough to be among the top three conference champions.

I think you're missing a strong desire amongst all those conferences not named the SEC to avoid a situation where you have three teams from one conference in the playoff, no matter how worthy those teams might be. No doubt the television money that drives all this doesn't want that to happen either. The scenarios for that are considerably more likely with a 14-team SEC than some mediocre conference champion being among the top three champions in the BCS.

Since I can't edit above, I left out 1998:

#1 Tennessee, #2 Florida State, and #4 Ohio State are in as the top three conference champions. The committee chooses between #3 11-1 Kansas State and #5 Pac 10 champion 10-1 UCLA. Both teams have late, close losses away from home, but I go with Kansas State, whose only loss is in overtime in the conference championship game, partly because UCLA is headed to the Rose Bowl, while Kansas State will be screwed by the bowl system since their conference champion (Texas A&M) isn't in the playoff.


May 2nd, 2012 at 12:05 PM ^


You and Brian have performed some excellent analysis. You have laid out the following logic:

1.       Playoff system of four teams will provide more teams with an opportunity to win the championship. There will still be controversy about which four teams and who is the host of the semi-final games (ranking) but four teams is better than two teams.

2.       Top two teams should host their semi-final game to reward them because it is more exciting (the passion of college games), financially better (bigger stadiums, less travel for student athletes and fans), better exposure for hometown and less money goes to corrupt bowl officials (Rose Bowl doesn’t seem to be corrupt but that is another story). The correct parties are rewarded.

3.       Less travel for student athletes (only 50% will travel) helps with academics.

4.       This decision is up to the conferences (political process) as southern teams will be reluctant to give up bowl game location home field advantage. B1G and PAC 12 like the Rose Bowl.

If the B1G, PAC 12 and others can overcome the SEC bias against using the current bowl system then we could eventually see games in the Midwest in December. Talk about poetic justice.

However, since it is a political (emotional and $) process . . . what do you recommend we (MGoBlog fans) do to help support the B1G that it benefits more students, athletes, fans and schools with top two teams hosting the semi-final games?


May 2nd, 2012 at 12:49 PM ^

I'm surprised you didn't do a review of 2007.  That year, the #1 team had 1 loss but teams ranked #2 - #6 each had 2 losses.  Naturally, an SEC team had to go to the title game because, duh, they're an SEC team.  LSU already with a loss to the mighty Kentucky Wildcats then lost their last regular season game against Arkansas.  But after a ho-hum win over a 4 loss Tennessee team in the SEC Championship game (and desipte the rest of the SEC being ho-hum all year) LSU still got selected for the title game because, duh, they're an SEC team.  Naturally it's no surprise that an SEC school has been college football's only 2 loss national championship team.  The selection for the 4 team playoff that year would have been just as crazy.

As for 98, I don't think few thought OSU was better than Florida State.  And I say this as a lifelong buckeye hater, but I thought they were the best team in the nation that year despite the hilarious loss to 6-6 Sparty. 


May 2nd, 2012 at 2:00 PM ^

2007 was a redunancy issue that basically just highlighted the same point made by the year of a million 1-loss teams: what happens when there are 10 teams with a plausibly equivalent season to #2?

Remember too how much havoc happened at the end of that year, with Missouri and West Virginia both in line ahead of LSU before they lost. That year just emphasizes how much of a mess college football becomes.

What really became apparent in all of this is the "odds" problem. There are plenty of years when one team could have a strong claim to a national championship even after losing to the next team down, e.g. last year with LSU or 2007 with Ohio State.

In 1998 I agree Ohio State had a very strong claim to being the 2nd best team over FSU--really it came down more to when Ohio State lost than to whom. On the other hand I'm not going to cry for them because they're Ohio State for one, but more importantly because who's two through four matters less in a year when #1 is clearly ahead of the competition. It's like 2007 or last year--Tennessee was so good they might have had a strong claim even if they lost that game, therefore any other team's claim that they "deserve" a shot at the championship is muted.


May 2nd, 2012 at 12:53 PM ^

2000 was a pretty big screwjob for Miami.  They had the same record as FSU and beat them head-to-head.  If Miami had more of a fanbase, we'd have never heard the end of it. 


May 2nd, 2012 at 1:04 PM ^

I remember the fact that Miami had McNeese State on their schedule also hurt them.  Strength of schedule was more of a factor back then and the southern schools were really the only teams playing 1-AA schools.  Now everyone has to play them for some reason. 


May 2nd, 2012 at 12:59 PM ^

I dont know why Nippert is a problem. One of the best CFB games I've ever seen was Montana-App State in the 2009 FCS semi's. The game was played in Montana's 24k stadium but it was in the snow and it was awesome. Wouldn't have been nearly as cool as a neutral site game in some lifeless NFL stadium


May 2nd, 2012 at 2:09 PM ^

Your avatar suggests you share my Yost-inflicted bias toward games played in the company of a few thousand die-hards jam-packed into a barn.

Yes, absolutely it would be awesome. If I saw Radiohead play at the Blind Pig that would be awesome too, but even this most "we don't care about the money"-iest of bands won't take on a tiny venue, and NCAA football conferences are a far cry from Radiohead's largess.

"Would be awesome" for the 30,000 who attend doesn't matter a whiff to NCAA and the conferences. More tickets sold means more concessions sold and more parking sold and more hotels sold etc. etc. etc. If I got to be one of the lucky few to see Michigan play Boise State at Boise State for a shot at the national championship, that would be pretty awesome--more awesome than JerryWorld even. But then there's another 80,000 people who would have bought tickets if there were seats, and no business is going to leave that much money on the table.


May 2nd, 2012 at 1:07 PM ^

I appreciate the effort put into it.  It also shows that the argument about having the semi-final games at bowl sites over college stadiums doesn't hold any water in terms of attendance issues.  Dan Wetzel wrote a scathing article about the sudden concern the BCS had about where the media would stay if there was a semi-final game in Manhattan, KS (answer:  Kansas City) as he points out that if Green Bay can handle an NFL playoff game logistics wise, then KSU could do likewise.

I do think that the semi-final games should be at campus stadiums for all the reasons you mention, but I don't think it'll be persuasive with all the conference commissioners (although Jim Delany seems to be beind the plan).  Whether its familiarity in working with the bowls (even though they're not good partners and their utility as a vehicle to promote college football is at an all time low) or just a matter of being conservative, I suspect we'll see a system where the major bowls host the semi-final games.

I would have loved to have seen an eight-team playoff with the five major conferences getting autobids provided they were in the top 12 of the rating system utilized along with three at-large teams (or more if a conference champion wasn't in the top 12).  The quarter- and semi-final games are played on college stadiums with the final game at a bowl or neutral site.  The first two rounds are played in the latter part of December with the final game two weeks later--sometime in the middle third of January.

IRT the conference champion issue, I'd give the top four conference champions the 1 thru 4 seeds.  This would ensure they get the home field advantage in the quarter-finals as a reward for winning the championship.  This would also ensure that the regular season and the conference championshipp games really count in determining who gets into the playoff and where they are seeded.

If this had been done last year, the top four conference champions would have been LSU, Oklahoma State, Oregon and Wisconsin.  Clemson was #15 in the BCS poll and would not have received the ACC's autobid.  The four at large teams would be Alabama, Stanford, Arkansas and Boise State.  The first round would look like this:

#8 Boise State (MWC At Large) v. #1 LSU (SEC Champion) in Baton Rouge, LA

#5 Alabama (SEC At Large) v. #4 Wisconsin (B10 Champion) in Madison, WI

#7 Arkansas (SEC At Large) v. #2 Oklahoma State (Big XII Champion) in Stillwater, OK

#6 Stanford (Pac 12 At Large) v. #3 Oregon (Pac 12 Champion) In Eugene, OR

The major bowl games would have had a number of teams from the major conferences to fill their games--Clemson & Virginia Tech (ACC), Michigan & Michigan State (Big Ten), Kansas State & Baylor (Big XII), Georgia & South Carolina (SEC), Stanford & USC (if they weren't on probation) (Pac 12).







May 2nd, 2012 at 3:28 PM ^

The simple solution is to put in home stadiums and have a threshold about 60000 and if any team with a smaller stadium is qualified they should put it in the nearest NFL stadium nearest their stadium. 

Ex: Oregon Seattle, WA

TCU Arlington, TX

Cincinnati Paul Brown Stadium

This could create an extra emphasis for winning the game as the winning teams' players get to travel to play in the national championship in sites rotating between Pasadena, Arlington, New Orleans, and Miami.