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A Proposal To Completely Shake Up the College Football Playoff

June 16, 2019

Everyone wants to talk about the College Football Playoff. That’s fine. It’s human nature to want change and want more.

We had a system that didn’t include a title game. That was, obviously, a flawed system that we grew tired of, so we changed it. The new product was a system where two teams played for the National Championship and those two teams were picked in a way that, at the time, seemed like the best method because it was better than what we had. We got tired of that method, too, and wanted more teams to have a chance to play for the title and settle it on the field.

We’re five years into the four-team playoff and, so far, that format has both been better than what we had and an escalating disaster. Yep. Disaster. Division I football boasts 130 teams and three percent of them have a chance to play for a national title. (Twenty percent of CBB teams have a chance to play for a title.)

The four-team format-turned-beauty contest, and the subsequent obsession with finding the FOUR BEST TEAMS (least favorite part of college football’s discourse), ostracizes more programs than it should. UCF was undefeated and didn’t get a shot, people. Bowl games aren’t valued the way they should be and a large percentage of FBS programs enter a season with a zero percent chance of playing for a national championship regardless of how their season might go.

For what it’s worth, the fact that Alabama and Clemson are currently dominating the sport isn’t justification for keeping the field constrained. Yes, they are destroying anyone in their path now and people are fighting for third, but we talk about that like it’s going to continue until the end of time. The two represent historic dynasties, not a new norm in the sport. At some point, dynasties fall.

And at some point, the field is going to expand. It seems inevitable. People want eight. Settle the debates over who’s more deserving on the football field, not in a boardroom.  

I’m an advocate for eight, and I have an insane path toward making it a reality.  Buckle up.

Step 1: Creating an Environment that Doesn’t Take Advantage of Student-Athletes

A college football player’s life is absolutely insane. Adding another game to their schedule and more strain on the body is not the way to go, but above all else, these guys aren’t yet professionals and playing 16 games is what professionals do.

So, before we even get into expansion, player’s need to be able to profit off their name and likeness. Football is their life. Football is their more-than-40-hour-a-week job on top of school. If we’re adding more time to an already enormous time commitment, there should be compensation. Don’t create pay structures like pro leagues, but if Head and Shoulders wants to sponsor Trevor Lawrence, let it.

If this is a no-go, expansion is a non-starter.

Step 2: Restructuring Conference Affiliations

On average, football programs bring in roughly $32 million in revenue where basketball brings in around $8 million. Football at some schools (the ones with a realistic shot at the playoffs) creates more revenue than every other sport at that school combined.

Football is king. There is absolutely no reason it should play by the rules of other sports.

So, if we’re going to expand the playoff field to eight teams, I want to start by blowing up the current college football conference structure.

This would obviously require us waiting until the current TV contracts have run their course, and someone smarter than me can figure out how all this would work from a network perspective, but the conference structure as currently constituted is a mess.

The Pac-12 is all but forgotten about. The Big 12 is viewed as a power, yet has by far the fewest members compared to its Power Five peers. The SEC and ACC are incredibly top-heavy while the Big Ten is a week in, week out nightmare.

For a while, people have joked about forming super conferences, about dissolving the Pac-12 and rewritting the conference lines. I think that’s a pretty good idea; a way to balance things and create equal opportunity for each of the 64 teams.

There will be four high-major conferences, grouped by region, with 16 teams in each conference. The names of those leagues are irrelevant right now, someone more creative can come up with them. For now, we’ll just label them by region — West, Midwest, East and South — for simplicity.

Arizona Illinois Boston College Alabama
Arizona St. Indiana Clemson Arkansas
Cal Iowa Duke Auburn
Colorado Iowa St. Florida Baylor
Kansas  Michigan Florida St. Kentucky
Kansas St. Michigan St. Georgia Louisville
Oklahoma Minnesota Georgia Tech LSU
Oklahoma St. Missouri Maryland Miami
Oregon Nebraska North Carolina Mississippi St.
Oregon St. Northwestern North Carolina St. Ole Miss
Stanford Ohio St. South Carolina TCU
UCLA Penn St. Syracuse Tennessee
USC Pitt Virginia Texas
Utah Purdue Virginia Tech Texas A&M
Washington Rutgers Wake Forest Texas Tech
Washington St. Wisconsin West Virginia Vanderbilt

The name of the game here is parity.

Divisions are scrapped. They’re dumb.

Each team in the four major conferences will play eight conference games on a rotating basis and three nonconference games. One nonconference game must be against another team at the high-major level. A school like Oklahoma, with a major rival like Texas split into another conference, can elect to establish a protected rivalry in order to play every year similar to how Florida and Florida State operate now. That would fulfill the one major noncon game requirement. Teams can schedule more if they want, but they have to schedule at least one.

We’re taking a game off the regular season schedule here. Expansion just won’t happen if it means adding to the schedule. Teams that make the new eight-team playoff would only play a max of 15 games, the same as what the max is now.

Step 3: The Kansas Question

Is Kansas better than Boise State? Not even close. But Kansas is in a power conference. The way we view the two programs is inherently biased because of their conference affiliations, regardless of the fact Kansas has accomplished next to nothing in football this century.

So, at the end of each season under the new set-up, college football’s conferences will experience promotion and relegation for the first time. The last-place team in each of the four high-majors at the end of the regular season will drop to the mid-major level, to be replaced by the top team in each of the four new mid-major feeder conferences.

The set-up will be just like tiers in European football. No more Mountain West or WAC or AAC; the current Group of Five schools will be divided into four regions. (Again, these names are bland. Someone else come up with the conference names.)

  • West 2: Air Force, Boise State, BYU, Colorado State, Fresno State, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, New Mexico State, San Jose State, Tulsa, UNLV, Utah State, Wyoming  
  • Midwest 2: Akron, Ball State, Bowling Green, Central Michigan, Cincinnati, Eastern Michigan, Kent State, Miami (OH), Northern Illinois, Notre Dame, Ohio, Toledo, Temple, Western Michigan
  • East 2: Appalachian State, Army, Buffalo, Charlotte, Coastal Carolina, East Carolina, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Liberty, Marshall, Navy, Old Dominion, South Florida, UCF, UConn
  • South 2: Houston, Louisiana Lafayette, Louisiana Tech, Memphis, Middle Tennessee State, North Texas, Rice, SMU, South Alabama, Southern Miss, Texas State, Troy, Tulane, UAB, UL Monroe, UMass, UTEP, UTSA, Western Kentucky

These four conferences will each have a championship game during championship week on the first weekend of December and the winner earns promotion.


Step 4: Auto-Bids and Seeding

Under the BCS format, a computer spit out the rankings each week. Under the CFP format, 13 college football bureaucrats release their rankings each week. While the BCS didn’t take the eye test into account enough, the CFP committee has been accused of falling too in love with the eye test, of moving the goal posts each season on what constitutes “best,” and of not caring enough about results.

The goal is to make the process as objective as possible, but that’s really hard to do when there are so few games played. Pro leagues in baseball and basketball can rely on records for standings because there’s the potential for so many different results. Football is much different, so, while it would be ideal to take human error and bias out of the selection process, it’s just not realistic here. 

Instead, we’ll try to limit it.

The four high-major conference champions all automatically qualify. Win the championship game and you’re in. Even if a 7-5 team upsets a 10-2 team in their conference title game, the 7-5 team gets an automatic bid. Wins matter.

The mid-major team with the best record amongst the bunch also earns an automatic bid. If there are multiple teams with the same record, tiebreakers come into play: conference record is the first, like normal, followed by head-to-head record, record against the four major conferences, scoring differential and record against mutual opponents. If we need any more after that, we can cross that bridge when we come to it.

That leaves three at-large spots. These can go to anyone in the country. And coaches will decide who.

Each offseason, coaches will select 10 of their peers from the FBS ranks to serve as the new playoff committee at the end of the season. It could be the same 10 coaches every year, but it doesn’t have to be. There’s no requirement of these 10 men in-season, but on the second Friday of December, they’ll vote on the three at-large teams and seed the field one through eight. And they don’t even really have to be in the same room; technology is cool.

Coaches understand the game better than anyone. They understand it better than media. Giving them the choice seems like the right thing to do, and while some could vote for friends or try to help their own conference, I think majority would be fair if given the chance. (We do have a Coaches Poll, after all.)

This also means there won’t be a weekly drama on ESPN to reveal the playoff rankings. The AP and Coaches polls will still operate in-season like they have for decades, but the playoff field won’t be determined until the panel of coaches make their selections.

Step 5: The Schedule

The most important part of the scheduling is ensuring there’s enough time in between the playoff games for the teams and players to rest, recover and gameplan. Hopefully, it works out so there is anywhere from 10 to 14 days time between rounds.

Which would have the postseason schedule looking something like this:

  • First Saturday of December: conference championships will be played in each of the four major conferences, as well as the mid-majors
  • Second Friday of December: playoff teams announced, seeding and matchups set
  • Third Friday of December: bowl games begin
  • Third Saturday of December: playoff quarterfinals begin
  • New Year’s Day: playoff semifinals begin
  • Second Saturday of January: the CFP National Championship

What This Would Look Like in Practice

If this was in play for the last college football season, we'd have seen something like this:

  • West team relegated: Oregon State
  • West 2 team promoted: Fresno State
  • Midwest team relegated: Rutgers
  • Midwest 2 team promoted: Notre Dame
  • East team relegated: North Carolina
  • East 2 team promoted: UCF
  • South team relegated: Louisville
  • South 2 team promoted: UAB
  • West Championship game: Oklahoma vs. Washington
  • Midwest Championship game: Ohio State vs. Michigan
  • East Championship game: Clemson vs. Georgia
  • South Championship game: Alabama vs. Texas
  • Mid-Major autobid winner: UCF

This would be fun. Make college football fun again. 

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