Monday, December 28, 2015

A Better College Football Playoff system

Last year, college football fans finally get something they've long wanted - a college playoff, and while it should prevent some problems, such as Auburn's fate in 2004, it won't solve all the problems that have come up under the BCS and it certainly won't end controversy.

Under the current playoff system, four teams are selected by a committee to play in a three-game playoff. The main difference between the playoff and the BCS is that it will involve twice as many teams, which is why I used to say the BCS was a two-team, one-game playoff. But many of the BCS controversies will still be possible in the new playoff.

There will still likely be undefeated teams who don't get to play for the championship. After all, there were 5 undefeated teams at the end of the 2004 season. And even when there are fewer than that, it's not unreasonable to think that an undefeated American Athletic school might miss out to let a 1-loss SEC champion in. College football remains the only sport where this is possible.

There will still be controversies over which 1-loss teams get in and which do not. There are likely to be times that teams lose their last game, but still get in; or that teams who don't win their conference, get into the playoffs, while their conference champs do not.

One way to fix this is to create a basketball-style "December Madness" playoff involving all of the conference champions and some number of at-large teams. While March Madness works for basketball, college football is different. What makes college football so special, IMO, is that every game all season matters. One loss, to a good team, can knock you out of it.

In trying to balance the historical importance of the regular season (it wasn't so long ago that the "post-season" didn't even count) with the need to create a real and fair playoff system, I long ago came up with the following proposal.

The general idea is to steal from the way that golf tournaments fill their slots, with everyone who accomplishes some indisputable metric getting in. As such, there is no set number of teams to get into the playoffs, all the team who qualify get in, except there has to be at least four teams (back-testing several years shows no time in the last 20 when less then four teams qualify). While this makes scheduling more complicated, it solves the problem caused by a set number, namely that you often wind up distinguishing between teams who are basically equal - such as the way Baylor was left out last year.

Think of it as being more like a teacher. They don't (normally) give out a certain number of A's, but rather everyone who earns an A gets an A.

The full rules are below, but simplified it works like this: Go undefeated and you're in. Lose a game and win your conference and you're in. Otherwise, pray.

If this had been used for the last two years, the playoffs would have looked like this (using the BCS Poll to rank and assuming higher seed wins in cases where the teams didn't actually play):


Quarterfinals (Dec 23)
#5 Louisville at #4 Utah
#6 Boise State at #3 Auburn

#4 Utah vs #1 USC at the Rose Bowl
#3 Auburn vs #2 Oklahoma at the Orange Bowl


#2 Oklahoma vs #1 USC at The Super Dome


Quarterfinal (Dec 24)
#5 Baylor at #4 Ohio State

#4 Ohio State vs #1 Alabama at the Sugar Bowl
#3 Florida State vs #2 Oregon at the Rose Bowl


#4 Ohio State vs #2 Oregon at AT&T Stadium

And then this year, the playoffs would look very similar to how they look now, but would include 12-1 Houston


Quarterfinal (Dec 24)
#5 Houston at #4 Oklahoma

#4 Oklahoma at #1 Clemson at the Orange Bowl
#3 Michigan State at #2 Alabama at the Cotton Bowl

This would usually result in more games, and more Cinderella teams with less controversy. The only issue now is that #18 Houston "jumped" more than a dozen teams to get in. But those teams did not win their conference or they last more than 1 game. If strength of schedule becomes an issue, as teams try to game the system, then the only solution would be hand over some of the scheduling to an overview body (such as the NCAA) to create more balanced schedules.


Section 1: The following teams qualify for the playoffs.

1. Teams that are undefeated
2. Teams that have only one loss and win their conference championship outright
3. Teams that have only one loss and win a share of their conference championship if
     a. The team or teams they share with lost more than one game or
     b. The team or teams they share with have a worse record if all overtime games are eliminated or
     c. The team or teams they share with lost only one game, cannot be distinguished by (b) above and lost in a head-to-head match or
     d. (a)-(c) can not distinguish a team, but the team wins a conference-determined tie-breaker
4. An independent team with only one loss if no independent team qualified under rule 1
5. If less than four teams qualify under rules 1 through 4 then use the qualifiers below, in order, until at least four teams qualify, once 4 teams qualify move on to Section 2
a. All one loss conference co-champions
b. All team with one loss, if the loss came in overtime
c. Teams that have two losses and win their conference championship outright, if one loss came in overtime
d. Teams that have two losses and win a share of their conference championship, if one loss came in overtime
e. An independent team with two losses if no independent team has qualified yet and one loss came in overtime
f. All teams with one loss
g. Conference champions ranked by records, until four teams are qualified

Section 2: Seeding Teams and Playoffs

1. A committee of experts will seed qualifying teams.
2. If more than 8 teams qualify, first round games will be played at least 2 weeks before the New Year's Day game to eliminate extra teams
3. If more than four teams qualify, quarterfinal games will be played at least one week before New Year's Day to eliminate extra teams
4. The four teams remaining after seeding or other games will meet in two neutral-site New Year's Day games.
5. If the number of qualifying teams is not a factor of 2, then top teams will receive byes as necessary.
6. First round and quarterfinal games will be played at the home field of the higher seeded team.
7. The two winners of the New Year's Day games will play in a neutral site championship game.

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