Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A playoff proposal

I've been thinking about the BCS a lot lately for obvious reasons, and just this morning had a conversation with a friend who was wondering whether or not Boise State's schedule next year would put them in National Championship contention (if they win out), because they'll be ranked relatively high preseason. My general feeling toward it is no, they wouldn't, based on the strength, or lack thereof, of the WAC.

He then asked what I thought should be the NC game when I roundly dismissed the possibility of BSU or TCU playing in the game legitimately this year. A rematch between Alabama and Florida (although such a rematch can never happen because OSU/Michigan was denied one in '06) or Alabama and Georgia Tech--winners of the two best conferences in college football this year.

It was at this point that the idea of a reasonable college playoff system came into my mind. I already sort of addressed this issue and came to the conclusion that,

A playoff still brings controversy, though, as the teams that make it into the playoffs are still ranked on a computer-generated basis a la RPI or BCS computer polling and there will be a debate as to what 10-1 teams should get the final playoff spot etc. etc.

But giving the major conference champions automatic bids into an 8-team playoff seems perfect to me. Take the six major conferences' (ACC, Big Ten, Big East, Big 12, SEC, Pac-10) conference winners and have two at-large births for independents and mid-majors.

What I like about this system is that it eliminates the drama that a playoff system of "the best 6 (8) teams in the country" would inevitably bring. If a 6-team playoff system were in place right now, whose to say that Ohio State or Oregon should be left out instead of TCU or BSU, based on the strength of the teams respective conferences--BSU has the edge over Oregon due to a head-to-head win, but after seeing the game last night, are you so sure that OSU couldn't beat TCU or BSU? (Simply, I'm not sold on the idea that going undefeated in the WAC > One or two losses in the SEC/Big Ten/etc.)

This would bring in a few issues, though, namely that nonconference play seems completely worthless now. But seeding in the playoff could be determined by record and strength of schedule in nonconference play. The seeding would look something like this:

What this system will also do is encourage teams to schedule strong nonconference slates without the fear of losing a/multiple game(s) and being completely forgotten in the national picture. But, that's not to say that there's not a premium on winning these games. The primary focus is on winning your conference, however, as that gets you a bid into the playoff. This may necessitate a conference championship game or it may not. Either way would be fine with me. Seeding would also dictate home-field advantage until the National Championship game, which would be played at a neutral site.

In the end, this system would eliminate any griping from the major conferences (and probably most from the mid-majors/independents as there's unlikely to be more than two teams from those conferences worthy of such an at-large bid). It would give each conference a chance to settle it on the field, and would avoid the rematches that the BCS is so clearly opposed to. It would also remove any drama from the selection process and bickering over who gets in among the major programs.

As for the rest of the bowls, I don't quite know how this would pan out. This is the biggest issue against this system. Without a national ranking system, it would be difficult to match teams appropriately, but with all of the conference tie-ins that the bowls currently have, something could easily be established. The #2s of each conference meet somehwhere, etc. The point being: It could be done with the most important issue--the playoff--set in place. And if you were to match teams by their conference rank, you wouldn't end up with terribly overmatched Big Ten teams getting blown out in bowls.

It's basically the NFL model, but instead of wildcards and first-week byes, you have at-large bids being matched up against the conference champion with, presumably, the best resume. By the end, you have a champion who has beaten three conference champions, the final being on a neutral site. Opposition may come in the form of universities complaining that teams are playing too many games or too long, but, well, deal with it. It's three more games than the current system and, in some cases, only one more than a national champion would play in a 6-team playoff scenario.


Lankownia said...

This is my preferred playoff format as well. The best aspect is that regular season games retain importance. The 2006 OSU-Michigan game (or 2009 Florida-Alabama game) would still be hugely important and not just about bragging rights or seeding leading up to more important games in a hypothetical playoff with multiple teams from the same conference.

The flaw in this (and any playoff format really) is the battle against the intrenched interest of the bowls. While I love the idea of home playoff games, I think any realistic playoff format has to include the big name bowls to be adopted. I like the idea of leaving the 2nd tier bowls in the system for teams that fail to qualify for the playoff.

An addendum to your plan: How about, instead of seeding via a poll or computerized ranking, you keep traditional BCS bowls as the first round of the playoffs and have the same conferences face off every season. Rose (Pac10 vs Big10), Sugar (SEC vs. Mid ) Fiesta (ACC vs. Mid) Orange (Big East vs. Big12).

Yes, it creates unfair matchups, but it retains some of the quirky tradition of the bowls. Fans will still travel to these bowl games if they know in advance where their team is headed and when they will play - January 1st.

After this round you're left to seed the final 4 based on one of the polls (making it still relevant, but not instrumental). This is essentially a "plus 3" scenario, but with the BCS rankings being taken out of the equation for the BCS conferences in favor of permanent tie-ins for each bowl.

Lankownia said...

The impact to non-conference scheduling is a noteworthy issue. Making non-conference games irrelevant for BCS conference playoff births is both a positive and a negative. It is a negative for the marquee matchups like OSU-Texas, Alabama-VaTech, etc. OTOH, it makes cupcake scheduling less attractive because doing so hurts preparation for conference play. In balance, fans will see less of the extremes - huge games that change the national title picture and glorified exhibitions against cupcakes - and more consistent quality matchups.

Lankownia said...

Another flaw is that the system is still unfair for mid-majors. Some seasons there may be 3 or 4 undefeated schools. It wouldn't be hard for ND and MAC, WAC, and MWC teams to all be undefeated in the same year. In other seasons you'd have middling teams enter the playoff and serve as playoff cupcakes for lucky teams.

That said, if you think the ACC and SEC champs are lucky in my proposal (for getting to play Mid majors), think again. How crappy would it feel to have the entire nation rooting for the underdog year in and year out every January 1st. Thats a lot of long-term ill-will at a national level.

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