Monday, December 03, 2007

The 8-PLUS college football playoff

This may not be the best season to suggest a college football playoff, seeing as how most teams don't seem to want to play for a national championship. But I still find it ridiculous that Hawaii, which finished off an undefeated regular season this weekend, had to hope the numbers work out for them to even qualify for a major postseason bowl game.

There's no reason for this. Humans and computers who rank Hawaii so low are idiots, plain and simple. This team has not lost a game. When you rank a school with 1 or 2 (or 3!) losses ahead of Hawaii, you're no longer ranking teams. You're ranking strengths of schedule, which has nothing to do with the players on the field and everything to do with athletic departments and university presidents. What kind of assessment is that? Please find a new job or recalibrate yourself.

This kind of faulty reasoning -- Hawaii hasn't lost a game, and you might let them play in January?! -- is why BCS-level college football so desperately needs a playoff system. The problem is, no playoff suggestion has ever galvanized the NCAA and other authorities to make a change. Frankly, that's because none of these systems are as good as mine.

I hereby introduce the "8-PLUS"
College Football Playoff, by which at least 8 teams figure into a postseason bracket. Sounds complicated, but it's mind-bogglingly simple. Here's how it works.

1. There are 6 major (BCS) conferences: the ACC, Big East, SEC, Big Ten, Pac-10, and Big 12. So, in my system, each of the six conference champions receives an automatic berth to the playoffs.

2. Now the BCS rankings (as they exist now, though they could always use some tweaking) come into play. Give two at-large bids to the highest ranked teams that have not already received an automatic berth. This is how independent Notre Dame would likely make the field, were they having an exceptional year.

3. So, why 8-plus? Now we look further down the rankings to add any undefeated teams that have not already been invited. Obviously, an undefeated team from a BCS conference would already have an automatic berth (or, in cases too rare to explain, an at-large berth). So these slots would be taken up by teams from other conferences -- like Hawaii from the WAC this year.

4. As for seeding the 8-plus teams, let the BCS rankings serve as your guide again. All that computation should count for something.

Let's use this year as an example. Here are Sunday's final BCS rankings:

1. Ohio State (11-1)
2. LSU (11-2)
3. Virginia Tech (11-2)
4. Oklahoma (11-2)
5. Georgia (10-2)
6. Missouri (11-2)
7. USC (10-2)
8. Kansas (11-1)
9. West Virginia (10-2)
10. Hawaii (12-0)

As it stands now, Ohio State and LSU are assigned to play what they're calling a national championship game, and the other bowls' authorities get to pick and choose their participants based on who's left. This year the Rose Bowl opted for #13 Illinois and the Orange Bowl chose #8 Kansas, leaving #6 Missouri, for whatever reason, out of a BCS bowl. Whatever.

Under my playoff plan, 9 teams would theoretically vie for the 2007-2008 national championship, in this seeding order:

(1) Ohio State, Big Ten champ
(2) LSU, SEC champ
(3) Virginia Tech, ACC champ
(4) Oklahoma, Big 12 champ
(5) Georgia, 1st at-large team
(6) Missouri, 2nd at-large team
(7) USC, Pac-10 champ
(8) West Virginia, Big East champ
(9) Hawaii, undefeated

Now place them in a standard bracket, in which the Hawaii/West Virginia winner plays Ohio State, USC faces LSU, Missouri battles Virginia Tech, and Georgia takes on Oklahoma.

So who complains? I admit that 11-1 Kansas has a fair argument, but that one loss prevented them from playing for their conference championship. It seems somewhat unfair that a 2-loss Georgia team that also didn't play in its conference championship could make the cut instead, but really, this is a voting issue. And an anomalous situation, in my opinion. (With a playoff system in place, I should hope voters would start being more careful about which at-large teams most deserve the highest ranking.)

Now that I've explained my plan, let me point out the main flaw: location, location, location. At least 7 games must take place, which raises a simple question. Where do they take place? I think that the number of BCS bowls should expand from 5 to 7, and that the NCAA creates a system by which these 7 bowl locations take turns hosting a quarterfinal, semifinal, or final.

Any additional play-in games (#8 vs. undefeated #9, #7 vs. undefeated #10, and so on) should still receive a BCS bowl-level purse, but for convenience be hosted by the higher seed. While I can see how Hawaii might complain about having to play against West Virginia in Morgantown (to use a hypothetical example using this season's numbers), they still get to play toward a national championship, which is better than just getting to play Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.

Another concern is time; how would a playoff stretch an already lengthy college football season? It wouldn't. The bowl season is already at least 4 weeks long. Play-in games and quarterfinals can take place at the same time as those December bowls, with the semifinals and final game scheduled for January. The season gets no longer because the existing timetable is perfect.

I fully realize that I'm a nobody, but it doesn't take a background in university athletics to just possess some damn common sense. This plan works, and better yet, favors the monolithic BCS conferences in every turn. Were these conference's commissioners presented with such a plan -- and frankly, I don't care who tells them -- they'd have to see that a good playoff system doesn't have to take them out of their comfort zone. Get their recommendations, and who knows what could happen?

I don't even want the credit for this or any similar playoff system. I just want college football to start mattering.


Quinn said...

But, but, college football hasn't mattered since Dennis Dixon tore his ACL. At least, not in my neck of the woods.

ps. This is how independent Notre Dame would likely make the field, were they having an exceptional year. High snarkily goodness in that line.

Neel Mehta said...

Oregon: Beg to differ. You still have a Jon Stewart on your team!

Notre Dame: Yes, I thought it struck a nice balance between politeness and snark.

Quinn said...

Second favorite Jon Stewart out there.

Neel Mehta said...

Agreed. They manufacture some fine men over at the Jon Stewart mill.

Nupe said...

I see a problem with your "plus 8 configuration"... the off chance that you would have two undefeated teams from non-BCS schools (2004 comes to mind). As history shows, there were two other times a non-BCS school made the BCS and won those games (Utah, Boise State), showing they can keep up with the BIG BOYS.

I see that you're assuming that anything more than 8 teams would be too much and I agree with you. So here what I propose: the "New BCS Champion's Series" or "all champions are eligible but only 8 can go" system. In this system every champion from every conference would have an OPPORTUNITY to go to the BCS Playoff. There are presently 11 conferences (Big 11, Big 12, Big East, ACC, SEC, Pac-10, WAC, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West and Sunbelt). For the ND fans that are going to "cry" about this system, I consider the independent schools (Notre Dame, Army, Navy, Western Kentucky) as a "conference" as well.

Now out of these 12, all undefeated champions get an automatic bid. Out of the remaining bids, the highest ranked champions will go to the playoff. The playoff seeding will be based on their BCS rankings. The higher ranked teams would play the lower ones at their home for the first two weeks. Then, the tourney would move to the bowl sites for the "final four".

This system will take into a teams regular season as well as give us the fans a reason to watch championship games with more enthusiasm.

So let's see the New BCS Champion's Series in action. Let's look at the 2004 season... in '04, the conference champions were: Oklahoma, Auburn, Virginia Tech, USC, Iowa (Michigan is also considered the champion but by virtue of a better BCS ranking Iowa's in), Pittsburgh, Louisville, Navy (for the Independents), Utah, North Texas, Boise State, Northern Illinois. There were 5 teams that were undefeated and automatic bids -- Utah, Boise State, Oklahoma, Auburn, USC. Out of the remaining champions: VT, Louisville and Iowa makes the tourney. No team lower than 12 that year would have made the BCS. And the three "at-large" bids are conference champions with every right to be there.

If we were to look at this year, the teams eligible would be: VT, Oklahoma, Ohio State, West Virginia, Navy, USC, Central Michigan, BYU, UCF, Troy, Hawaii, LSU. The Great 8 would be Hawaii, Ohio State, LSU, VT, Oklahoma, USC, West Virginia and BYU. Then no one could say that they weren't the "real" champion.

Neel Mehta said...

I see a problem with your "plus 8 configuration"... the off chance that you would have two undefeated teams from non-BCS schools (2004 comes to mind).

No, I address this directly. It's an 8-PLUS format, which means at least 8 teams would make a playoff, and many more could. If, as you say, a WAC team and an MWC team were both undefeated, they'd both be in. 9 or 10 teams or more, it doesn't matter. If you're undefeated, you're always in.

I'm glad you brought up 2004. That's the year I started playing around with the idea of a college football playoff, and eventually came up with this. (I was going to write this post last year, but never got around to it.)

I see that you're assuming that anything more than 8 teams would be too much and I agree with you. So here what I propose: the "New BCS Champion's Series" or "all champions are eligible but only 8 can go" system.

I agree; the issues of location and time get weightier with a 16-team playoff.

I like your system because it's even more subversive than mine, in that you get to stick it to The Man better. In fact, what you're doing here is exactly what I do when I rank college basketball teams: put the undefeated ones first, no matter how small, and then follow them with the best of the rest.

Also, I appreciate how you graciously applied your system to 2004 (a great year for playoff proponents) and this season as well. It's so much easier to listen to a sports fan who's willing to take the time and break it all down.

The problem, as you might expect, is that your format is too wildly different for the powers that be (many of whom represent those slighted BCS conferences) to swallow. My plan, while revolutionary in its own way, gives them more concessions and handles their egos with kid gloves.

But, hey, you've got my vote.

Ookami Snow said...

I can't agree with a system that rewards teams for scheduling a weak non-conference schedule. The reason Hawaii went undefeated was that they played easy teams their whole season, and even then they struggled.

Hawaii was banking on the fact that their wins would out weigh other teams attention to respectable opponents. They got burnt this year, and they will again if they try to 'trick' the system into giving them a big bowl game.

I agree that we need a playoff system. I am for a straight up 8 or 16 team field decided completely by the computer rankings, non of the biased BS that we have right now with the AP voting to get the championship that they want to see.

We don't need to lose any bowl games, they can be played along with the playoffs for the other teams, and the playoff games themselves can be bowl games.

I think everyone can agree that playoffs need to happen, but until the NCAA can figure out how to make more money than the current Bowl system we are stuck with the BCS. But we must recognize that the BCS is a big step above the old system in place before it.

Brando said...

Good idea, Neel, but I think they can accommodate a 16-team playoff the way I-AA does. However, I think to make it work, the Big 10 would need to add one more team so they can move to two six-team divisions:

1) Cap season games at 11, including conference championship games.

2) Go to 16-team playoff format.

3) Top 1-6 seeds are reserved for BCS conference champs, ranked in order of BCS rank.

4) Remaining wildcards are ranked by BCS rank.

This way, only a handful of teams play 14-15 games. The reduced regular season would eliminate some early out-of-conference matchups, but the playoffs would more than make up for them.