Thursday, June 21, 2012

My Proposal for a College Football Playoff: Get Your Brackets Ready

Most people who are not entirely delusional or insane have come to realize in the past few years that college football, and more specifically the BCS System in college football Division I-A, is fundamentally broken. "National Champions" currently are not entirely decided by head-to-head matchups and the NCAA as most feel they should be. Instead they are still ultimately decided by the results of polls by journalists and coaches. While so far these polls have mostly reflected the winner of the BCS "National Championship" Game (the Coaches Poll is contractually obligated to vote the winner of the game as #1), the AP Poll is not required to do so and if they decide to vote unranked Eastwestern Tech to number 1, then the AP "National Champion" for that year will be recorded as such. This happened in 2003, when USC was not asked to participate in the BCS "National Championship" Game, but was still voted as #1 in the AP Poll. Therefore, 2003 is recorded as having 2 "National Champions", USC and LSU. Many people, myself included, feel that this is an incredibly stupid way to determine the best team in the land, and have demanded that a playoff system be instituted.

Currently, things are progressing smoothly toward a 4-team playoff system. While it is great that there is a playoff at all, for me it is just not quite enough. No other major sport in North America has a playoff system smaller than 10 teams, so why should college football (especially with the number of colleges in the BCS)? But expanding past 4 begs some very big questions, such as: how to set such a playoff up? Should there be 8, 12, 16 or more teams involved? Where and when would these games be played? And what of the bowls, the reward for smaller, less talented schools who otherwise would have their season end? Would they still be played? I attempt to answer these questions below.

The Teams
As of last season (2011), there were 120 schools that fielded a team in Division I-A football. Of those teams, how many should be eligible for the new playoff system? My belief is there should be 16 teams, and I will outline my reasons for picking that number in this section.

The NCAA Division I Men's Basketball tournament is widely considered one of the most exciting yet balanced postseasons in all of college sports. This is because they guarantee spots for each of the 32 conference winners that compete in their respective postseason tournaments (or the regular season winner for the Ivy League). While conference tournaments would be impractical, we already have ways of determining conference champions in place, and these should not change for the new playoff system. Conferences with 12 or more teams would have their divisions compete in a conference championship game, while smaller leagues would have their champion decided by regular season play (with tie-breakers decided however the conference agrees upon).

Looking ahead to the 2016 season, the conferences will look like this for football (assuming nothing else changes between now and then):
ACC (14): Clemson, Duke, Maryland, UNC, NC State, Virginia, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, FSU, Miami, Virginia Tech, Boston College, Pitt, Syracuse
Big 12 (10): Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, OK State, Texas, Texas Tech, TCU, WVU
Big East (13): Uconn, Rutgers, Temple, Cincinnati, Louisville, USF, Houston, SMU, UCF, Memphis, Boise State, SDSU, Navy
Big Ten (12): Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue, Wisconsin, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State, Nebraska
C-USA (14): NC Charlotte, UAB, Southern Miss, Tulane, ECU, Marshall, Rice, UTEP, Tulsa, FIU, LA Tech, Old Dominion, North Texas, UTSA
MAC (13): Ohio, Miami U, Western Michigan, Toledo, Kent State, Bowling Green, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Ball State, Northern Illinois, Akron, Buffalo, UMass
MWC (10): Air Force, Colorado State, New Mexico, UNLV, Wyoming, Fresno State, Nevada, Hawaii, San Jose State, Utah State
Pac-12 (12): Cal, Washington, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington State, Stanford, USC, UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Utah
SEC (14): Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Arkansas, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Missouri
Sun Belt (10): Georgia State, South Alabama, Western Kentucky, Arkansas State, LA-Lafayette, Middle Tenn State, LA-Monroe, Troy, Florida Atlantic, Texas State
WAC (2): Idaho, New Mexico State

Independents (3): Army, BYU, Notre Dame

Let's assume that in this scenario the WAC has folded as a football conference, with Idaho going to, say, the  MAC and New Mexico State to the Sun Belt. Then, in our 16-team playoff, we have 10 conference champions as automatic bids and 6 at-large selections which are to be chosen by a selection committee similar to the one used in basketball. This committee would also determine seeding in the bracket.
With at large spots available this leaves the door open for Notre Dame, BYU, and even Army to claim a spot in the dance if they are deemed worthy. There will always be grumbling by fans of unpicked teams no matter who is picked, just as there is in basketball; this is an issue that will never be avoided and will have to be lived with in any scenario that does not involve every single team in a playoff, a logistics nightmare.

As in, where will these games be played? As the BCS is currently set up, four bowls reign supreme: Orange, Fiesta, Sugar, and Rose, the 4 BCS Bowls. So, why not use these locations in our playoff? And while we're at it, let's throw in two more formerly-major bowls: the Cotton Bowl and the Citrus (Capital One) Bowl. These six locations will be permanent fixtures in the new playoff  format. Before we get any further, let's look at a hypothetical bracket for reference (based on the 2011 season top teams and conference champions as they would be in our hypothetical 2016 conference makeups):

The first round of games will be played at the higher seed's home field. This ensures an incentive to be one of the top 8 teams in the country as those teams will have home field advantage. As you can see, each conference has at least one representative, along with the 6 At-Large teams. Round 2 games will be played in 4 bowls: Orange, Citrus (Capital One), Cotton, and Fiesta. The East Final will be decided in the Sugar Bowl, while the West Final will be decided in the Rose Bowl. The Championship Game will take place in a rotating location, similar to the way the NFL's Super Bowl is played. Possible locations include Cowboys Stadium, Lucas Oil Stadium, Ford Field, Raymond James Stadium, Metrodome, etc.

Currently, the season ends with the Army-Navy game played in Week 15, usually in the 2nd week of December. This works well for the two schools because they are both currently independents. But what happens when Navy joins the Big East in a few years? I understand that the game is definitely important enough to deserve its own day, but I don't think that it really needs to have its own week. So for the purposes of this proposal, the Army-Navy Game will take place in Week 14, and will be the only game of the day it is on (most likely Thursday or Friday). So, our hypothetical football regular season schedule will end on Saturday, December 3, 2016, and the playoffs will begin the following week. The opening round will consist of 8 games, which I have divided thusly: 2 games on Thursday, December 8, one at 7pm and one at 10pm, which will be a match in an EST or CST stadium and a PST or MST stadium respectively; 2 games on Friday, December 9, with the same times and time zone matchups as Thursday; and finally, 4 games on Saturday, December 10, with games at 12pm*, 3pm, 6pm, and 9pm. On Saturday, any remaining western teams would have precedence for the later time slots. All of these games would be played at the home field of the higher seed. Hawaii is considered a PST stadium for purposes of time-slotting.

For round 2, we have 4 games to play, and all of these games will take place on Saturday, December 17. First will be the Orange Bowl, which will be played at 12pm. Second will be the Citrus Bowl, which will take  place at 3pm. Third, the Cotton Bowl will be played at 6pm. And finally, the Fiesta Bowl will be played at 9pm.

After these games, the non-playoff bowls will begin. All playoff teams will have a bye week and will resume play on December 30.

For the semi-finals round on December 30, we have the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl. The Tournament of Roses Parade will take place in the morning as usual, and the Rose Bowl game will be played at 4pm. The Sugar Bowl will be played at 8pm.

Finally, the National Championship will be played as the last game of the year on January 7, 2017, at a location that will be bid upon a la the Super Bowl. Hypothetically, for this season, it is in Cowboys Stadium.

The full post-season schedule looks like this (playoff games in bold):

Thursday, December 8
7pm Round 1 matchup (Clemson at Arkansas)
10pm Round 1 matchup (South Carolina at Boise State)

Friday, December 9

7pm Round 1 matchup (Wyoming at Alabama)
10pm Round 1 matchup (N. Illinois at Stanford)

Saturday, December 10

12pm Round 1 matchup (Arkansas State at LSU)
3pm Round 1 matchup (Wisconsin at Kansas State)

6pm Round 1 matchup (Southern Miss at OK State)
9pm Round 1 matchup (Virginia Tech at Oregon)

Saturday, December 17

12pm Discover Orange Bowl, Miami, FL (Ark. State/LSU vs. S. Carolina/Boise State)
3pm Capital One Citrus Bowl, Orlando, FL (S. Miss/OK State vs. Clemson/Arkansas)

6pm AT&T Cotton Bowl, Dallas, TX (Wyoming/Alabama vs. Wisconsin/K State)
9pm Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, Glendale, AZ (N. Illinois/Stanford vs. Va. Tech/Oregon)

Monday, December 19:
8pm S.D. County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl, San Diego, CA

Tuesday, December 20:
8pm R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, New Orleans, LA

Wednesday, December 21:
8pm Beef 'O' Brady's St. Petersburg Bowl, St. Petersburg, FL

Thursday, December 22
8pm Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Boise, ID

Friday, December 23
8pm Gildan New Mexico Bowl, Albuquerque, NM

Saturday, December 24
12pm Belk Bowl, Charlotte, NC
4pm MAACO Las Vegas Bowl, Las Vegas, NV
8pm Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, Honolulu, HI

Monday, December 26
12pm  Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, Dallas, TX
4pm Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl, San Diego, CA
8pm Champs Sports Bowl, Orlando, FL

Tuesday, December 27
4pm Military Bowl Presented By Northrop Grumman, Washington, DC
8pm Valero Alamo Bowl, San Antonio, TX

Wednesday, December 28

4pm New Era Pinstripe Bowl, New York, NY
8pm Meineke Car Care of Texas Bowl, Houston, TX

Thursday, December 29

12pm Hyundai Sun Bowl, El Paso, TX
4pm AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Memphis, TN
8pm Insight Bowl, Tempe, AZ

Friday, December 30
12pm AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl, Shreveport, LA
4pm Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, San Francisco, CA
8pm Chick-fil-A Bowl, Atlanta, GA

Saturday, December 31
Morning: Tournament of Roses Parade
4pm Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio, Pasadena, CA
8pm Allstate Sugar Bowl, New Orleans, LA

Monday, January 2
12pm TicketCity Bowl, Dallas, TX
4pm Outback Bowl, Tampa, FL
8pm Gator Bowl, Jacksonville, FL

Tuesday, January 3
8pm Little Caesars Bowl, Detroit, MI

Wednesday, January 4
8pm Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, Nashville, TN

Thursday, January 5
8pm BBVA Compass Bowl, Birmingham, AL

Friday. January 6
8pm Bowl, Mobile, AL

Saturday, January 7
8:30pm Allstate NCAA Division I-A Football National Championship Game, Dallas, TX

Of course, non-playoff bowls can fight out what dates and times they want, I am merely attempting to slot in all current bowls.

*All times EST

Q: But wait, what about academics? Will this affect final exams?
A: No. Most schools schedule their finals on the third week in December, which in this case would be December 12-17. In this format, there are no football games scheduled during those days except December 17. Currently, bowl games are played and basketball games are scheduled on the last day of finals (Saturday), so if they can be worked around, so can our playoff games.

Q: With a playoff system like this, why would anyone watch the other bowl games?
A: Nobody really watches them now, other than fans that have teams in the games, so I don't really see the difference. The major bowls, the ones more people watch, have been made into playoff games.

Q: Will teams with a 6-6 record still be selected for bowls?
A: Most likely, unless the number of non-playoff bowls shrinks (Pretty unlikely, as everyone wants to make more money). 6 more teams are added to post-season play with the opening playoff round, so I suppose there will be 6 more teams with 6-6 records (or worse!) selected for various bowls. I personally would rather get rid of the bowls altogether, but I can see why teams and especially corporations want them to still be played. So the result is mediocre teams playing in bowls. The bowl system right now is such a monster cash cow that it would be impossible to get rid of the bowls right away. Maybe a slow removal of lesser bowls over time is possible, but I don't know. Certainly there should be no new bowls created.

Q: So with this new system we could do bracket pools for football?
A: Absolutely! No one that I know of does Bowl contests or pools (except ESPN), and this would be as great for various interested parties as March Madness is for basketball. Call it December Dementia (that's actually a terrible name, but you get the point).

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