Why Playoffs Are Closer Than Most People Think

Submitted by Enjoy Life on August 31st, 2010 at 8:56 AM

NOTE: The purpose of this post is NOT to discuss whether college football playoffs are good or bad. (That topic has been beaten to death, cremated, and its ashes spread in the depths of hell.)

Like most people, I have thought the possibility of college football playoffs are several years in the future. Recent events have dramatically increased the likelihood that playoffs will become a reality and also dramatically reduced the timeframe for that to happen.

1)  The Pac10 (the name will change to Pac12 in 2011) expanded to 12 teams, split into divisions and added a conference playoff. Prior to the expansion, most fans believed the Pac10 had the best conference schedule since every team played every other team in the conference. No questions about strength of schedule, who played who in which years, etc. The PAC10 expansion was about many things but mostly about the money generated by a conference championship game.

2) The Big10 added Nebraska, split into divisions, and added a conference championship game. This was inevitable because the 11 team league made no sense at all. It had all the scheduling problems with no increase in revenue from a championship game.

3) Both the PAC10 and Big10 accomplished this feat in less than 1 year!

4) The Mountain West will probably become an Automatic Qualifier for the BCS bowl games in 2012. There is an established criterion for becoming an AQ that is based on: 1) the ranking of the best team in the conference; 2) the average ranking of all teams in the conference; and 3) the number of teams in the top 25 versus the number of teams in the top 25 of the highest ranked conference.

5) All BCS AQ conferences will expand to at least 12 teams or risk becoming the victim of other conferences raiding their teams and eventually disbanding the conference. (BTW, I agree with Brian that conferences larger than 12 teams would be a really bad idea. Inter division play would be limited to as few as 2 games.)

6) The US Congress, the Utah Attorney General and others are looking into whether the current BCS bowl games violate anti-trust laws and/or FTC consumer protection laws. The BCS does not want this to go to court.

7) A large segment of the sports media already refer to important conference championship games as a “de facto” playoff.

Based on all these events, I believe college football playoffs will be a reality as early as 2012.

Since 2005, I have been proposing a playoff scenario that:

Keeps All Current Bowl Games In Place
Keeps Most Traditional Rivalries in Place for Bowl Games
Includes 16 Teams
Limits Additional Games
Reduces the Need/Desire for Teams to Schedule “Non-Competitive” Games

The basis for this has always been that the first round of any playoff must be the conference championship game. With a potential for 7 BCS AQ conferences (which will all expand to 12 or more teams), 14 teams of a 16 team playoff are established. The two additional teams would be at large bids. (BTW, if there are fewer AQ conferences or conferences do not have at least 12 teams, additional at large bids would be used.)

Since the conference championship games are already in place, you can include 16 teams in a playoff without playing an extra game.

If the conference championship is not the first round of any playoff scenario, the following problems are inevitable:

  • The conference championship become less meaningful because a team does not have to be the conference champion to get into the playoffs (I’m looking at you Oklahoma 2003).
  •  Some conference champions will not even qualify for the playoff because it is likely the primary playoff criteria will be based on BCS ranking.
  • Playoff teams will be determined by computers instead of by on the field performance.
  • Teams will continue to schedule “little sisters of the poor” non-conference games because overall record will be the primary criteria for making the playoff.
  • The number of teams included in the playoff will be maxed out at 8 with all the ensuing arguments about which teams are included.



August 31st, 2010 at 9:07 AM ^

well, spelling, but "feat" in one year. 

I don't think you'll see a 16 team playoff, but I think a 4 team "+1" game is in the future. Maybe an 8 team with each conference champ going in the future... but I agree, this is on the horizon


August 31st, 2010 at 9:22 AM ^

They can't come quick enough.  The non-conference games early in the season are generally snoozers.   If people want to see exciting matchups, they'd be best in a playoff situation.

But all the bowl games have such money behind them, they'll be able to put up great resistance to change.   We'll see.


August 31st, 2010 at 9:29 AM ^

16 team playoff is impossible. It adds 4 extra weeks of football to some schools, will diminish the value of the regular season and will tarnish some of the historic bowl games.

The Plus-1 format is the best way, IMO.

Enjoy Life

August 31st, 2010 at 9:50 AM ^

Absolutely not true. As I posted, the first round of the playoff is the conference championship which is already being played.

No extra game is required to have a 16 team playoff with the conference championship as the first round versus an 8 team playoff after championship games are played. That is the beauty of the approach.


August 31st, 2010 at 9:55 AM ^

So it's not a 16 team playoff, it's an 8 team playoff with the conference championship game being a play-in game without rewarding the regular season conference winners.

Either way, you need to understand college football has turned into a cash cow and attendance will be considerably lower if they go to a 16 (or 8) team playoff.

People aren't going to be able to book their travel plans on a weekly basis.This is too much of a good thing. In this case, less is more.

A red bottom line -> not a shot of happening.

Plus-1 allows attendance to be maximized, especially if there's a 10-14 day break between games.

Enjoy Life

August 31st, 2010 at 10:57 AM ^

People seem to have no problem booking travel plans to go to the current conference championship games.

And, who says there can't be 2 weeks between the conference championship and the next round?

BTW, in my playoff scenario, the games are played at the home stadium of the team with the better record -- not at a neutral site. Solves the problem and gives the better team the home field advantage (which I am in favor of).

It would also make teams from the south play up north. Hoooray!


August 31st, 2010 at 11:10 AM ^

Conf Champ: First week of Dec.

Elite Eight: Third week of Dec.

Final Four: First week of Jan.

Championship: Third week of Jan.

So now you want the season to extend towards the end of January. The NCAA is never going to allow that to happen with finals, breaks, etc.

Also, conference championship games only sell-out in the SEC with the Big XII last year alone being the one exception (game essentially in Texas' backyard)


August 31st, 2010 at 12:34 PM ^

But at the current level, players have time for their final exams, etc.

The AD's would never approve a 16 game schedule over the course of 5 months, this would easily lead to a significant decline in attendance for the playoffs (again not profitable), smaller bowl payouts and a watered down regular season.

Enjoy Life

August 31st, 2010 at 1:17 PM ^

Fact: All teams that play in a conference championship currently have a 14 game schedule

Fact: This currently stretches over 5 months

Fact: There is basically 2 extra games for 8 teams and 1 extra game for 4 teams

Fact: They currenty do it in FCS (is academics more important in FBS?)

Fact: The playoffs (as proposed) do not eliminate ANY bowl games

Fact: There are ONLY 6 additional games


August 31st, 2010 at 9:34 AM ^

I really wish you were correct, but I've seen Jerry Palm dispute point number four numerous times via his twitter account. It doesn't look like the Mountain West is going to make it, particularly with Fresno State and Nevada entering, and Utah leaving (and BYU, perhaps, as well).


August 31st, 2010 at 9:37 AM ^

It also dawned on me several years ago that all of the little tweaks and changes that have occurred with the bowl system (going from unaffliiated bowls, to the Bowl Alliance, then to the BCS, then adding the BCS championship, etc.), the 12-game schedules, the emerging superconferences, and whatnot over time seem to be aligning the college football planets for an eventual playoff.  I don't think we will see a full playoff system in place by 2012, but I do think you are right that it is inevitable.  I also think the NCAA will continue to proceed incrementally; the next step might be something like choosing the BCS championship contenders from winners of two BCS bowls (which two probably rotating) rather than at the end of the regular season.

Also, people need to realize that just because a playoff system emerges does not mean the end of the bowls.  There will still be bowl games.  Most of them will be just as meaningful with a playoff system as they are now.


August 31st, 2010 at 10:01 AM ^

IS the plus one. I think they will implement that next year, and keep everything else the same. Then the following year the only thing you need to add is 6 games to play rounds two and three. That means an estimated 45 bowls will not be affected (smile). I really don't know how many bowls there are, but seriously there are so many of them it's getting silly...  


August 31st, 2010 at 10:15 AM ^

but I think they should reduce the at large BCS bids back to 2, or extend those 2 bids to the champion of the currently most competitive "non-BCS" conferences, and eliminate the fifth BCS game.  In other words, don't convert the current BCS Championship game to the Cotton Bowl and then have a 6th BCS game that is the true title game.  Go back to Rose, Sugar, Orange, and Fiesta, with the championshi game as the plus one at fifth site.


August 31st, 2010 at 10:42 AM ^

Sorry, but the idea that a playoff will ever increase incentive to stop scheduling crap in the nonconference schedule is pure bunk and always will be.  The reason teams bring in Little Sisters of the Poor is money, not the competitive advantage of gaining more wins.

And if your only path to the playoffs is winning your conference, then that's just added reasoning that there is no incentive to schedule crap teams.  The OOC schedule is 100% meaningless - if I'm going to fill my stadium whether I schedule Alabama or Alabama State, why would I schedule Alabama?

Enjoy Life

August 31st, 2010 at 10:51 AM ^

Oh, I thought it was obvious. If you play better competition in the OOC games, then you should be better prepared for the conference schedule and, thus, win more conference games.

I do not know what revenue sharing is for home versus away games. But, if M schedules OOC games with teams that have large capacity stadiums on a home and home basis, is there any difference in revenue?

If there is a difference, watch out. Brandon is sure to end any meaninful OOC games because they always require the loss of a home game every other year.

Also, M is one of the few schools that sells out every game. Scheduling better teams should help other teams sell more tickets.


August 31st, 2010 at 4:51 PM ^

Revenue-sharing for home-and-home matchups is typically zero.  It doesn't exist.  You keep the money you make on your home game, and I keep the money I make on mine.  And 90% of teams that would be in the playoff conversation each year would sell out all their games regardless of whom they're playing.  Texas, Michigan, Ohio State, Alabama, USC, Florida, LSU, Oklahoma, Florida State, Virginia Tech ... do you think these schools ever not sell out?

Is there any difference in revenue?  You bet your ass there is.  Right now Michigan gets seven out of eight games at home in any given two years, outside of the upcoming trip to Connecticut which equals zilch.  Switch to scheduling home-and-homes, and that number goes down to four of eight, on average.  Three home games worth of revenue....that's like $20 million.

If "preparation for the conference schedule" could ever outweigh the monetary concerns, we'd do it more already.

Enjoy Life

August 31st, 2010 at 11:00 AM ^

24 August 2010

The Boulder Daily Camera is reporting that the University of Colorado is planning to stay in the Big 12 Conference through the end of the 2011 season, and will join what will be the Pac-12 Conference at the beginning of the 2012 season.

Previous rumors had Colorado leaving early and paying a sizable severance fee to the Big 12 Conference in order to join Utah as a Pac-12 member in 2011, setting up a conference championship game that season.

Although still technically an option, it appears Colorado will stick out the remainder of their Big 12 commitment.


August 31st, 2010 at 11:54 AM ^

If I ran the Pac-12, I would pay part of the severance fee (I heard it was like $5 million), because they would probably make it up in revenue from the Championship game and hassle from scheduling an 11 team season then a 12 team season. I'm sure the Big XII doesn't really want the awkward exit either.

I think CU and the Big XII are going to split by next year, and they are just playing chicken with each other.

BIG XII: Hey Colorado, don't let the door hit you on the way out, but by the way, you owe us for leaving.

CU: Sorry guys, but we really can't pay. Let us go for free, or we're just gonna sit around like Buffaloes and get in your way. If you're going to make us honor the contract, then schedule us. And please don't put Texas on it.


August 31st, 2010 at 1:21 PM ^

beats VaTech this weekend, it will be one colossal dong punch to the BCS supporters, as they will be in prime position to go undefeated.

High Preseason Ranking + Cake Schedule = BCS Fatal Flaw


August 31st, 2010 at 2:06 PM ^

Excellent article on Rivals today about Boise State and the BCS. If Boise goes undefeated this year and somehow doesn't get invited to the national champoinship game the anti-BCS feeling will go to a all-time high and I think we will have no choice but a playoff.


August 31st, 2010 at 3:36 PM ^

I love a good playoff proposal thread. My proposal is the best.

8 teams. AQ conference champs qualify. Top 2 non AQ (including nd) if ranked in top 8 of bcs qualify. Fill in with highest ranked at large teams, no more than 1 at large per AQ conference. Seed based on bcs and top 4 host a home game. Winners play in two of the bcs bowls. Losers play in the other two. Champ game played a week or so later.

st barth

August 31st, 2010 at 5:47 PM ^

I disagree about the nearness of playoffs.  College football is a competitive landscape in more ways than one.  I could envision an expanded Pac Ten & Big Ten recommitting to the Rose Bowl and dropping out of the BCS entirely.  

Sounds crazy, but if the Pac Ten & Big Ten both expand to 16 teams (by devouring whatever is left of value in the Big 12, Big East & maybe ND) with coast-to-coast reach they could actually lock the SEC into a corner where southerners can brag all they want about how great they are but they'll never get a shot at the big boys in the Rose Bowl. 

A couple of stumbling blocks to keep in mind with most playoff scenarios: 1, the national championship is still a mythical beast awarded on the strength of popular opinion via polls, not by any NCAA rules.  2, the bowls themselves are also independently run franchises that will do whatever is ultimately in their best interest.

The Rose Bowl in particular has always been more interested in tradition and been a bit of a straggler in falling into the mix with the other bowls in the BCS.  Seems crazy today, but the Big Ten & Pac Ten commissioners could easily argue this as a return to traditional college football while massively advancing their own interests.

This could all be quickly set off if Texas A&M makes good on their flirtation with the SEC.  Big 12 would implode leaving Texas & several others on the door step of the Pac Ten.  Big Ten gives Notre Dame one last chance before grabbing a few east coast teams to complete the evil master plan.

On the other, it should be noted that i've been drinking rum for the past 48 hours as i rode out hurricane Earl...so my scenario might have some holes in it.  Even so, I don't think we are close to a true playoff.

Edward Khil

August 31st, 2010 at 9:41 PM ^

OP makes some interesting points.  But the Big Ten added Nebraska to strengthen the conference (well, to make more money; but it also strengthened the conference), further separating itself from the likes of the Mountain West.  And there is no reason to believe that Delany is done.

The Op's scenario virtually screams that Notre Dame would be joining a conference.  If so, it would almost certainly be The Big Ten.  Then the top two conferences would be so much stronger than the bottom 3-4 that it would be tremendously unfair to slot the Baby Seal Conferences into a playoff on an equal footing with the giants.


August 31st, 2010 at 6:06 PM ^

I don't think we will see playoffs in the near future.  There is too much that needs to happen in order for this to come true.  Eventually we will see playoffs but I wouldn't bank on it being anytime within the next 5 years.  I'm not even sure it would be good for college football, but you know it brings in much more $ so it's certainly a done deal when the time comes.


September 1st, 2010 at 7:53 AM ^

You make very valid points, I agree and applaud the research. The more I get into college football though, the more I know that it isn't about who gets crowned National Champion or whether it is fair or not!! its honestly very simply all about the money, and if this model creates more money and makes the college sports programs more sustainable and make both the corporations and universities satisfied then all we're going to talk about would be the playoffs. Do note though that 16 team playoff means 4 more games for the student athletes which I think no school president would approve today, taking into consideration the stress and physical needs that are thrown the way of the students, being responsible is still part of the universities' policies and this has to be a priority.

The problem is that an 8 team playoff still creates 3 games, meaning the students will have to play 2 extra games than what they play now, acceptable. The main part that will be very acceptable and would probably be the expected situation is a 4 team playoff which takes out the controversy that always hovers over the BCS, the one that is mostly petitioned for the number 3 unbeaten team in the nation, the UTAH, TCU or Boise State... In 2006 the MICHIGAN of that Poll. This only adds one game to the schedule and is a reasonable added game to determine who will play in the NC, and the top 4 are chosen based on the current BCS ranking model. The only exception to participating in the playoffs if you are part of the top 4 would be probation similar to what Alabama went through a while back or USC is going through right now, in that case the next ranked team gets the spot.

Again, to just quickly go back to the money, IF it makes financial sense and the Bowls are kept in place with being significant then it will happen, and I agree with your points.


Enjoy Life

September 1st, 2010 at 10:12 AM ^

I agree with many of your points.

But (you knew that was coming), you and several people have simply gotten the math wrong.

Since the first round of a 16 team playoff is the existing conference championship games, there are NO additional games to go from an 8 team playoff to a 16 team playoff.

Going from a 4 team to an 8 team playoff requires just one extra game.

So, that is basically the question. Live with a 4 team playoff which virtually everyone has said is only marginally better than the MNC. Or, add one more game (for just 8 teams) and go to a 16 team playoff.


September 1st, 2010 at 2:20 PM ^

...how virtually every argument against a playoff sounds a lot more like bowl politics than it does like reality, sportsmanship, or the "welfare of the student-athlete."

The OP's plan is a lot like mine, but includes more teams.  I am guessing that he has more faith in the ability of "minor" conferences to put out a competitive product than I do.  For the sake of argument, I am going to assume that seven conferences can put out legitimate championship games, and that two decent at-large teams will be left.  There are plenty of systems that would work, but these are the simplest.  I would hope that posters with more elaborate plans don't mistake simplicity for "not well thought-out."

I think a "plus one" would be a great transition. After a year or two and more controversy, it would simply be a matter of one extra round of eight the week after conference championships to determine the final four, like this:

Seven Conference Championships plus play-in with two at-large teams not in the seven conferences already represented.

Round of eight the next week.

Two bowls designated as semis

True National Championship game in "plus one" slot


In January, that would be exactly the same as a plus one, but the teams would play their way in with no voting or computers.  And it would require ONE EXTRA WEEK WITH FOUR GAMES in December compared to the "plus one" model.  I would bet that those students playing that one extra game would be more than happy to play it. 

A playoff will happen; it's just going to take a few more years to reframe it to the satisfaction of the bowls and other assorted whiners.