It’s December and bowls haven’t started yet, which means what it always means: we’re talking about expanding the playoff field again. This time, it was spurred by that ultimate agent of chaotic speculation in college football, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, who suggested in remarks this week that an eight-team playoff could be instituted prior to the expiration of the current 4-team format’s existing contract.
Now, personally, I am not a fan of an 8-team playoff. I think for every year that a worthy #5 is left out of a 4-team field, we’d have another year where a clearly unworthy #8 seed is let in. I don’t want to see three-loss playoff teams; I don’t want to see a team that finished third in its conference let in.
But there’s no denying that, sometimes, a 4-team playoff will be less than ideal. You could argue that 2018 is one of those years. There are three clearly deserving teams, in undefeateds Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame, and two equally-worthy-or-unworthy flawed teams in Oklahoma and Ohio State. (To me, this is an argument for a three-team playoff).
The point is, with a sport as complex, unwieldy and unpredictable as our, there’s no way to create a system that will match up perfectly with the reality of every season.
Which is why I’m reiterating a plea I made last year: Let the committee decide a fresh playoff at the end of each season.
YOU [fool]: expand the playoff to 6 or 8 teams— actioncookbook (@actioncookbook) November 27, 2017
ME [visionary]: give the committee discretion to decide the size + structure of the playoff annually
You’ve gone mad.
Yes, quite. I’ve gone mad arguing whether four teams or eight teams or 16 or 128 is appropriate. Let the season decide.
How would this work?
I’m glad you asked. See, we’ve already established this council of ruling elders, but we haven’t given them much to do. This year, almost anyone could’ve picked the playoff field they did. Sure, there was an argument between Ohio State and Oklahoma, but basically, they picked the top four teams for four slots. No drama. No point in gathering all these luminaries together if we’re not going to make them work.
Instead, we’re having them sit down the Sunday after the season ends and draw up a playoff system from scratch. They know they’ve got a month or so until the final. They know they’ve got 38 bowl games to use. And they can use them however they want.
It could be four teams, or eight teams. It could be two teams. It could be three or five, with the #1 team getting a bye. You could play all the December bowl games and then re-seed.
Or they could just declare a champion right then and there, on live TV.
Extra games could be played on campus, or they could be hosted at lower-tier bowl game sites. Maybe you bump a couple of bubble teams. Who’s complaining if, instead of 6-6 Tulane vs. 7-6 Louisiana, suddenly the Cure Bowl is hosting Ohio State and Oklahoma in a December 15th play-in?
Ooh, this would make great TV.
Yes! Yes it would! Can you imagine how much more interesting that televised announcement would be?
“The playoff teams are... Alabama. Clemson. Notre Dame. Oklahoma.” [fifteen second pause] “... and Central Florida.” [internet explodes]
“The playoff teams are... Alabama. Clemson...” [two minute pause, thumping game show music] “... and they will play for the title on January 8th.” [Notre Dame explodes]
I believe very firmly in this. Let’s look at some potential playoff fields from the last 10 seasons.
Playoff field: Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Central Florida.
Format: Alabama and Clemson earn byes as undefeated conference champs, and are slotted into the semifinals. Notre Dame hosts Central Florida, and Oklahoma hosts Ohio State, and they play for the remaining slots.
Clemson gets a bye. Oklahoma and Georgia play in the semifinal for the right to play Clemson.
Alabama still gets to play in the Sugar Bowl, but it’s not a semifinal anymore. Should’ve won your conference, guys.
Alabama and Clemson play for the title. Ohio State and Washington play in the Rose Bowl for nothing but pride. Hey, that sounds like this year.
Playoff field: Clemson, Alabama, Michigan State, Oklahoma, Iowa, Stanford, Ohio State, Notre Dame. An eight-team playoff, but if Iowa and Stanford end up meeting at some point, we call the whole thing off before anyone gets hurts.
There was a strong argument for a six-team playoff in 2014, as Baylor and TCU got shut out because the Big 12 didn’t have a good tiebreaker. Well, here you go: a six-team playoff.
#5 Baylor and #6 TCU get a rematch during championship week. Baylor hosts, because they won their regular season game, one of the most entertaining games of the last decade.
The winner of Baylor-TCU plays Ohio State in a December 15th bowl game.
THEN we have Alabama-[OSU/BU/TCU] and Florida State-Oregon.
We declare two distinct champions and don’t play any further games. Florida State is the Champions of Football for their undefeated season; Auburn is the Champions of Life for what they did to Alabama.
Five team playoff. Notre Dame, Alabama, Ohio State, Florida, Oregon.
Wait, wasn’t Ohio State ineligible that year? The playoff committee has ultimate discretion to prevent the Alabama-Notre Dame game from happening at any cost. Notre Dame has to ladder-match past Ohio State, Florida and Oregon before facing Alabama.
Alabama has to face Oklahoma State before they’re allowed to rematch against LSU.
Eight team playoff, just so Bobby Petrino’s Razorbacks get in.
A prime, prime candidate for this format. You see, there was undefeated Alabama, and (lucky) undefeated conference champ Texas. But there were also three smaller-conference undefeateds. That’s right, what I’m saying is: