Conference Championship Games in a 16 team playoff

Submitted by Tuebor on December 5th, 2017 at 12:43 PM

I've been reviewing the past four years worth of CFP rankings and with all the talk of expansion, Harbaugh favors 16 teams, I think we should revisit conference championship games if we want to go above 8 teams.  In the four years of the playoff only 5 conference title game losers have not finished in the top 16 final CFP poll. 2014 Wisconsin, 2015 Florida and USC, 2016 Florida and Virginia Tech.  So I ask the board, what is the motivation to play these games if 85% of the participants are going to make the playoff no matter what the outcome?


If the playoff expands to 16 teams then about only 1 conference championship game a year is going to have playoff implications for a participant in that game, but both teams risk injury while non title game participants in the top 16 are locked in and get an extra week at home to rest.  What is the benefit of playing if the goal is to win the playoff?








December 5th, 2017 at 12:48 PM ^

Honestly not sure why Harbaugh wants 16 teams. This is a disgrace and many of the important late season games (Conference champs, Bama/Auburn, etc.) would become meaningless. The best part of college Football is Fall Saturdays in home stadiums. Once the post-season hits I stop watching (except for UM).  

I am in favor of 6 only with 2 byes. That way there is still lots to play for in Reg season in terms of getting in and getting the bye. 


December 5th, 2017 at 6:44 PM ^

Expand the Playoff to 11

Power 5 champions get a bye

6 at-large selections play for the last three spots (i.e. conference champs pre-seeded 1-5, winner of at large 1v6=6, 2v5=7, 3v4=8)

Conference championships would mean a lot in that case: extra rest, better seeding, ability to prep for a month 50-50 for next opponent without worrying about the play-in game


December 5th, 2017 at 10:41 PM ^

Exaclty, they would need to do some sort of modified playoff (i.e. not a standard playoff bracket) if they still want to retain the "tradition" and "meaning" of conference titles and rivalry games.

Something with Conference champions automatically advancing. However, how many at-large bids is a real debate.

Because some years, there's a few teams in the #5-#9 ranking that really look worthy. But other years, a lof of the shine has been taken away when there are no undefeated Power-5 teams (this year is a great example).

Essentially this, some years 4 teams seems just about right (avoiding putting wear and tear on amateur student-athletes), and other years, yeah you would really want 6 or even 8.

I mean, look the B1G got MASSACRED the last two CFP's. So, even if on any given year there ARE four "deserving" teams to be called Top-4, it doesn't mean there isn't a HUGE gap between the Top-2, or more.

We still need more data, but so far there have been 6 semi-final CFP games played:

2 of 6 were SHUTOUTS

4 of 6 were pretty much noncompetitive

1 of 6 was definitely a great back and forth game

1 of 6 was a meh game that was over by the middle of the 3rd quarter

So, to be honest. You could also make a great argument, yes based on limited data--but so far, that 4 teams is just about enough.


December 5th, 2017 at 12:56 PM ^

That we do this in college basketball. Not only that, but we also award a regular season champ and a tourney champ. Then we seed, get 5+ teams in the tourney, and people obviously hate this format b/c I've never heard of March Madness before.




December 5th, 2017 at 1:27 PM ^

Honestly, I always felt the best way to do this (crown a true champion) was a plus one system. Season and bowls and their alliances stay the same, after all bowls and redoing the polls THEN the #1 and #2 teams play for all the marbles a week or so later. No, that is not what the BCS brought us either. In this scenario we see Michigan beat up Scott Frost and his Nebraska team in 1997, instead of BS shared titles. Anyway, that is a pipe dream...

Since this is the system we have I think 8 is reasonable, all P5 champs plus 3 at-large bids. But a complete reseeding would be needed once those 8 are chosen. Would be the P5 champs then the 3 highest ranked non conf champs but an 11-1 Bama would likely be seeded higher than a 10-3 Pac12 USC team, as in this year.

Would you leave out a one-loss Michigan if it was in the last game to OSU and OSU won the conf with two losses, probably not.

The committee clearly felt this way last year and this year, a one-loss OSU was preferable to a 2-loss PSU last year and the same goes for Bama in over OSU this year.. conf champ games are just one factor in the decision. If all P5 champs get in then those games matters again, and I'm sure we can always find 3 worthy at-large teams.. The Game and The Iron Bowl still have ramifications for the conference titles..

Red is Blue

December 5th, 2017 at 1:47 PM ^

Don't know how to do the research (and too lazy anyway), but in the playoff era I wonder how many winners of conference championship games ended up outside the top 8 (ie would not have been included in an 8 team playoff) and how many of the losers of the conference championship games that finished outside the top 8 would have been in the top 8 if they had won the conference championship game (obviously this one is speculative).

A long way of getting to, how much of a difference would there be between an 8 team playoff with conference championship games and a 16 team playoff without conference championships?


December 5th, 2017 at 2:36 PM ^

The conference championship serves as a play in. So if the P5 conference champs all get in, you're really looking at a 13 team playoff.

I'd also guarantee the highest rated non P5 team gets in every year. This year would be UCF.

This year the playoff would be:



December 5th, 2017 at 4:28 PM ^

Any system with BYEs in it stinks.  I understand the NFL has BYEs but their system also has far more equitable scheduling in general. It's very rare for teams to not have earned their BYE.

In college football the BYEs will always be totally subjective and will give 2 teams completely unfair advantages. 

8 teams, no BYEs.  5 major conference champs, 3 at-large.   Let's do it. 

Yost Ghost

December 5th, 2017 at 5:23 PM ^

Does 6 even work?? 1 v 6, 2 v 5 and 3 v 4 and then you have 3 winners. What next?

I think 8 is ideal because it only adds one more game to what we already have. No odd number of winners. All P5 conference champs are in plus 3 at large bids. 

Yost Ghost

December 6th, 2017 at 8:01 AM ^

Well that means you're introducing more of the human element than an 8 team scenario where you're reducing it. How do you choose who gets the bye? Rankings? What if there are 3 undefeated teams? Now you let the humans decide who the top 2 most deserving teams are. I'd prefer a system that is less depenedent on human rankings. 


December 5th, 2017 at 2:10 PM ^

I have a hard time remembering what that feels like. 

I had to go look it up/  2004 shared with Iowa.2003 outright champs.

13 years without a title.  Good lord what a drought. Then I went back and saw that the only comparable draught was 1951-1964.  If I am reading wikipedia correctly, this ties the longest title drought in Michigan history.


December 5th, 2017 at 1:00 PM ^

But then you are benefiting teams who stayed home when it comes to seeding.  It would be better to be at home than to lose.


Washington moved up 2 spots by staying home, and Alabama and ND both moved up 1 spot.  PSU stayed the same, but had USC jump them for winning the pac12 and Miami fall below them for losing the ACC.


December 5th, 2017 at 1:18 PM ^

in this year yes that is the case where a whole bunch of 1 loss teams didn't make their conference champ over 2 loss teams.

but its always better to win.  whether its better to lose than stay home well you run the risk of missing out altogether.

win your games, the rest takes care of itself. 

Boner Stabone

December 5th, 2017 at 12:53 PM ^

I would vote for an 8 team playoff.  16 is too many. 

Once you get to team number 16, you get MSU in at #16 this year.  As most of us can probably agree they are one horrible #16 team this year that is mediocre at best.


December 5th, 2017 at 1:00 PM ^

8 teams with the 5 power-5 conference champs receiving automatic bids, plus 3 at large would be a nice set up.  

Then again, I could see 16 teams.  Works well in the other divisions of football, plus upsets are what makes the NCAA basketball tourney so exciting.  A 16 team format would add to that element (but I certainly don't want to see more than 16 teams).


December 5th, 2017 at 2:13 PM ^

they're 2-1 in the playoff era. 

Prior to that, you had from various American/Big East/MWC teams: UCF in 2013 beat Big XII Champion Baylor.  Louisville in 2012 beat then-#4 ranked Florida.  WVU in 2011 beat ACC Champion Clemson.  TCU in 2010 beat B1G Champion Wisconsin.  Utah in 2008 beat then-#4 ranked Alabama.

Hawaii in 2007 was actually more the exception vs. the rule.

And even if there is a lousy team like Hawaii 2007 that makes it ---- that's a benefit for the #1 or #2 ranked team.  They get an easier game then a #3 or #4 or #5 ranked team (etc) gets.  


December 5th, 2017 at 7:06 PM ^

UCF in 2013 was ranked #15 prior to the Bowls.  I thought they were under-ranked, even at the time.  They were 11-1 with a decisive (ignore the score, they controlled the game) road win at a decent-enough PSU team, and a narrow 3-point home loss to #8-at-the-end-of-the-regular-season South Carolina team.  Won their conference w/ a road win over a good Louisville team.

Louisville in 2012 was ranked #22 prior to the Bowls.  WVU 2011 was #23, TCU 2010 was #3, and 2008 Utah was #7.  I think they were all rather properly ranked.  

So that's 2 teams of the 5 that made the Top 10.  2013 UCF really should have been there too.  I do think there's a tendency for the committee to underrank non-Power 5 teams over the last 4 years.  S&P+ isn't "gospel", but UCF, Memphis and Boise State all are ranked lower by the committee vs. that paritcular advanced analytic.

Big thing for me is "access."  I think FBS is way too big at 130 teams.  But if the Power 5 conferences aren't going to break out on their own, we gotta accept the 130 and make sure they all at least have a chance.  UCF (plus everyone else) doesn't have a chance right now, despite some historical results showing teams of their ilk can hold their own in the BCS Bowls.  So I'd give them a slot automatically - even if we get the occasional stinker like 2007 Hawaii or a 3-loss C-USA champion in there.



December 6th, 2017 at 9:21 AM ^

I don't like autobids because a 9-3 stanford could have won the pac12 this year.  I do not believe that they would be in the top 8 of college football.


Just saying we are taking the top 8 with no auto bids for champions is enough.  Wisconsin won the big ten one year at 8-5.


December 5th, 2017 at 1:45 PM ^

8 team playoffs would have looked like this, I left the option of having 3 straight at large or 2 at large and a G5.  Bolded are P5 Champions

2014: Alabama, Oregon, FSU, OSU, Baylor, TCU, Mississippi St, Michigan St/Boise St

2015: Clemson, Alabama, Michigan St, Oklahoma, Iowa, Stanford, OSU, ND/Houston

2016: Alabama, Clemson, OSU, Washington, PSU, Michigan, Oklahoma, Wisconsin/WMU

2017: Clemson, Oklahoma, Georgia, Alabama, OSU, Wisconsin, USC, Auburn/UCF  (I took the liberty of moving USC to #7 and Auburn to #8 as they would be first out if a G5 team gets an auto bid)


Thoughts:  It doesn't look like you'd need to specify that P5 champs get in, because they seem to finish in the top 8 anyways.  You could say Top 8 get in or Top 7 and highest ranked G5.  This year would have been the first kerfuffle with Auburn at 10-3 being #7 and pac12 champ USC at 11-2 being #8.  If you had to take a G5 then one of those teams is getting left out, and apparently the committee thinks it should be the pac 12 champ in favor of the aac champ.  I disagree with that personally.



Kermits Blue Key

December 5th, 2017 at 1:00 PM ^

Eight is the magic number, and get rid of conference championship games. They are apparently meaningless anyway and would reduce the "extra games" people seem to be concerned about. Six is fine, but that bye week for #1 and #2 is just too critical of an advantage and would be the next controversy we bitch about every year.


December 5th, 2017 at 12:59 PM ^

I think you've identified one of several really good reasons why 16 teams will never happen. You're right, there is no point to a conference championship game if a playoff berth is basically guaranteed to both parties. 

Specifically, there's no point to buying tickets and spending a lot of money for a trip to Indianapolis or Atlanta if you know your team is going to be playing a much more important playoff game in a week or two. And the conferences know this, and they will fight to protect the territory, since it is an important revenue source. 

I think 16 games is too big. 4 teams works, and there are permutations for 8-team playoffs that preserve the vitality of conference regular seasons.

But the politics and revenue are the real issues, and between player welfare (that's a lot of games for them to play) and revenue sharing (how aren't they deserving of a cut of the money?) on one side and the wrangling that would happen with minor conferences on the other, I don't think a 16-team playoff is feasible. 


December 5th, 2017 at 9:48 PM ^

Not sure which post on 16-team playoffs you are responding to. In one of them mentioned above, they were counting the P5 conference championships as the first round of the playoffs (to reach the quarterfinals), while G5 champs and at-large teams (including independents), would be playing-in to reach the quarterfinals.


December 5th, 2017 at 1:10 PM ^

the Playoff has made me like college football less.  This is not just because Michigan has not been in it (although I am sure I would not feel as strongly if they had been), it is just the talk of the season from beginning to end, and not enough teams make it to justify that kind of attention. At any time, in any game, the screen and announcers will jump to the Playoff rankings just to do it even though the game they are calling might not have any effect on who gets in.  It makes the game that you are watching feel meaningless, and that takes away a lot of what I loved about college football, that the games are inherently meaningful.  If the Playoff was just "what happened when the regular season ended" I think I would like it more, but it shades everything else that happens during the season and makes it actually less enjoyable.


December 5th, 2017 at 9:40 PM ^

I honestly prefer the old-fashioned way, before any BCS. Conference races, and interesting cross-sectional bowl games. Rankings were just amusing trivia, used to hype TV broadcasts. Focus was on the regular season. Leave the arguments and controversy about who should have been ranked #1 for the off-season.

ESPN (and Fox and CBS) and the rest of the media are ruining the sport for most real fans of most college football teams, in the effort to attract eyeballs more casual fan, by hitting us over the head with the urgency in the process-of-elimination sweepstakes, the way the news networks cover politics.

[Conversely, if we ARE stuck with a playoff/tournament, I think enlarging it enough to give auto-bids for conference championships (however they are determined) would move at least some of the focus to the conferences and the game and the week at hand, rather than hear  sportscasters go on and on about resumes of teams elsewhere.]



December 5th, 2017 at 1:16 PM ^

Every season the team has 2 goals in front of them, a conference title and then a national title.  Last year PSU won the conference and not the national, and same for OSU this year.  A BIG title will always mean something because its completely democratic and that won't change even with an expanded playoff.  But 4 teams just aren't enough to put an end to arguments and politics.  At the very least, we need all power five conference champs with an automatic seed and then a few at large bids.  8 would be my minimum number, mabe even 12 so youd have some teams with bye rounds.  

Anyhow, doesn't really matter for us with the talent we have coming up.  That title will be ours soon whether its a 4 or 24 team playoff.

Go Blue!!


December 5th, 2017 at 1:16 PM ^

I think any Power 5 champ could beat the other this season and that's probably the case most seasons.  Three at-large teams, including at least one-Group of Five team would be fair.  

Anything beyond that devalues the regular season, conference championship and whatever bowl games remain.  It would be great i they could then figure out how to incentivize the rest of the bowl games, maybe apply some type of conference wide boost in the CFP rankings the following season (if they go to a points based system) for the conference with the best winning percentage.  Dunno.  Something so people stop calling the bowls glorified exhibition games.

Playing The Field

December 5th, 2017 at 1:17 PM ^

I think 16 teams would be great. Have the first round on campus, seeing a southern team or west coast team have to travel north on campus would be awesome. Same token seeing a northern team have to go to LSU or USC or whatever would equally be great. The matchups would be great theatre. During the regular season when we see a 14 vs 3 matchup it's labled as a great game of the week. There would be some upsets no doubt. Conference championships would still matter, A) For your team wiinging your confrence and B) Seeding reasons. That just makes winning the confernce championship that more important.Then obviously the major bowls would take over from there to host. With the parity in college football I think any team in the 16 range has a real chacne to win their opening round.The irrelavent bowls that go on today, would still go on with the same irrelavance. 


December 5th, 2017 at 1:18 PM ^

Eliminate conference title games as they are pointless. First 2 rounds should be hosted by the higher seed teams in order to not devalue the regular season. Then go to a final 4 like we have today. It's a good solution and good balance. The only whining will be from #17 but 16 teams gives you every team that really has a chance to win at all. 4 is too small of a sample size and even 8 is questionable given the variance in scheduling.

Leaders And Best

December 5th, 2017 at 1:20 PM ^

Yahoo's Dan Wetzel had a column on this. Before I read it, the idea sounded ludicrous, but it may not be a bad idea. Expand to 8 teams and get rid of the conference championship games & the conference division structure. I think 16 teams are too many and will take away from college football regular season.


Red is Blue

December 5th, 2017 at 2:05 PM ^

The concept has a lot of merit, but IMHO, one major flaw.  It would have worked great if the conferences had 10 teams and played round-robin schedules.  But, even with 9 conference games, with 14 team conferences, there is too much room for randomness of scheduling to heaviliy influence the conference champion.  That is, strength of schedule within the conference could vary too much.

One solution might be use of some type of flexible scheduling based on results part way through the year, but I don't see that happening.


December 5th, 2017 at 3:20 PM ^

This will never happen --- but:

(1) pair down FBS to 120 teams from the current 130.  Why exactly are the likes of EMU, Kent State, Massachusetts and Coastal Carolina playing at the same level as Alabama and Michigan?

(2) divide the 120 remaining teams into 12 conferences of 10.  All conferences play a round-robin.  No conference championship games.  Season ends Saturday after Thanksgiving.

(3) the 12 champions plus 4 wildcards make it.

The 12 conferences are actually pretty intuitive also:

(1) Old B1G,

(2) Old Pac-12,

(3) SEC (current SEC minus Mizzo, A&M, Arkansas and Vandy)

(4) MAC (you're at 10 simply by cutting EMU and Kent State),

(5) Big 8 (old Big 8 + Cinci + Louisville),

(6) SWC (old SWC + Vandy moving from the SEC),

(7) ACC (old 9-time ACC + Notre Dame),

(8) Big East (old 8-team Big East + PSU + UConn)

(9) WAC (old 10-team WAC)

(10) "New Big West" 

(11) "New C-USA"

(12) "New Sun Belt"