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.