This book is about college football. So first and foremost, the history of college football, bowl games, and eventually championship games, has to be told to you. It’s a long history, it’s not very exciting, but it’s pretty important setup information for the entire rest of the book. If you know the history of college football bowls, and understand how we got to the CFP, then you’re excused from this segment. But if you are sticking around, we will be going all the way back into time. Well, only back to the beginning of American football.
American football started in colleges, which explains why it’s so prevalent, even to this day. However, the bowl tradition is a bit less obvious. For a long time, teams would just simply play against other nearby colleges, and sometimes teams would win and feel good about themselves. Remember, this was in the late 1800s, so there was no major effort to play teams that weren’t your nearby neighbor, because it took too long for the teams to go to the games, and there was no incentive, financial or competitive, to play outside of your area. However, back in 1902, there was a college game in Pasadena, between Michigan, a team from the eastern US, and Stanford, a team from the western US, called the East-West Bowl. It did not go well. At the time, the difference in quality between eastern US teams and western US teams was so great that the aforementioned 1902 game ended in a surrender by the west coast team. Teams then continued to play against other local teams until another East-West Bowl was made in 1916, which the underdog western team, Washington State, actually won. This started a chain of annual East-West Bowls, and even led to a stadium, the historic Rose Bowl, being built to accommodate the event.
The massive success of the Rose Bowl spurred on other people, trying to start their own bowls. Bowls grew and grew, now spreading to over 40 bowls with over half of the teams who can play in bowls being accepted. Eventually, college football became big. The Associated Press, or AP from now on, started releasing regular polls on who the 25 best teams were, according to a wide range of journalist votes. This eventually became a weekly poll, and the AP’s end-of-year #1 team was the unofficial champion of that college football season. However, for most of their seasons, teams still played against teams near them. This was even further cemented by the creation of many conferences that kept teams playing against other teams in a geographically similar area, such as the Southeastern Conference, a collection of teams in the southeast US, or the Mountain West Conference, a group of colleges that are around the Rocky Mountains. This meant that if you weren’t in the same conference as another team, the exact power of each of you compared to each other is unknown unless you play against each other in a bowl game. However, since many bowls had, and still have, individual contracts with certain conferences, some teams would never play each other. For example, the old East-West Bowl, now the Rose Bowl, pitted the top Big 10 team against the top Pacific 10 team. If a team from the Southeastern Conference and a team from the Big 10 were the two best of the season, that’s just too bad because the Big 10 team is already booked for the Rose Bowl. Sometimes, this put the AP in a tricky situation of having to choose the better of two very strong teams who never played against each other. This started to come to a head in the 90’s. The human race had finally hit the information age, and basically anyone could find college football. With all of this newfound information, questions of power between teams who didn’t play against each other got stronger and stronger. In 1995, the NCAA made a system of pitting the two top teams against each other, named the Bowl Coalition, but crucially, it didn’t include the Big 10 or Pacific 10 teams, as the Rose Bowl kept a tight hold on them. In the 1997 season, an undefeated, first-placed Michigan team won their Rose Bowl game against a relatively weak Washington State team. Meanwhile, an undefeated Nebraska team, currently ranked second, won a close game against a very strong #3 Tennessee team to win their bowl. Despite Michigan’s weak schedule and weak bowl, they ended the season with the AP #1 seed, which gave them the unofficial AP championship, and Nebraska, with their harder schedule and harder bowl, was given the Bowl Coalition championship. This caused some outrage and a demand of a better system that put the two best teams against each other to decide who really deserved the championship. And so, with a lot of minor annoyances from the Rose Bowl, who really liked their Big 10 and Pacific 10 monopoly, the Bowl Championship Series, or BCS, was created.
Now, importantly, the BCS wasn’t a real thing. You couldn’t just go to the offices of the BCS, or send an email to the CEO of BCS, as those simply didn’t exist. The best description of the BCS is a group of 5 bowls that rotate which one is the one that gets a group of computer programs to choose the teams who play each other in that bowl to decide who the official champion of college football is. That is a lot of important information in a grammatically confusing sentence, so I’m going to explain it in more detail. First of all, the bowls. There were 5 bowls in the BCS, and you don’t really need to know their names because I will tell you a more important list of bowls to remember later. The actual BCS championship game rotated to each one of these bowls, replacing it for that year. In 2007, it was changed to be a bowl of its own, about 2 weeks later, in the same location as the bowl whose turn it was, plays in. Second, the computers, one of the most hated parts of the BCS. The BCS ran a number of team-ranking computer programs to decide which teams were the best. This was weekly, starting a few weeks into the season, and basically did the same job as the AP, but with computers instead of journalists. At the end of the year, the two highest-ranked teams played each other in the previously mentioned bowl to decide the official champion of college football. And that leads to the final important point, the official-ness of it all. Previously, it would just be a guess which team won the AP college football title. Sometimes we got random ties and co-winners because of the ranking and voting formula. It definitely wasn’t official, there was no real guidelines on how to choose a winner or what to rank off of. Now, we have an official, NCAA-supported title to give to the winner of this official, NCAA-supported bowl game, who is the official champion of all of college football. That’s cool, and a climactic end to the college football season. Over the BCS’s lifetime, we had some very exciting championship games, ones that really capped off the college football season well. However, after the early honeymoon of actually having a championship wore off, cracks in the armor of the BCS started to appear. As I noted earlier, the computers were an issue. Sometimes, the programming was under serious question. One of the programs was made by someone without actual programming experience. Another program, run after the BCS championship to determine postseason rankings, still held that the loser of the championship game was the #1 team. Some people suspected that the computers had bias, and while it sounds very strange, the Southeastern Conference’s teams were regularly ranked above teams from all other conferences, even to the point where it wasn’t too crazy to see two teams from that conference play for the BCS championship game. Most experts considered that conference to be the strongest anyway, but it is questionable that the results would be so consistent. Even without these defects, people still wondered if it was fair to judge these teams and players based on an algorithm that nobody really knows. If a good team is in the top 5, but not the top 2, they may go without a BCS chance, wondering why they were turned down since they get no reasoning.
Finally, we have the largest problem with the BCS. The one that was the reason for all future events. The fact that it was just two teams. See, college football is large. Over 700 teams large. Even if you narrow it down very far into the Power 5 conferences, which will be detailed later, there are 60-70 teams. In that powerful pool of 70 teams, at least three of them will likely go through the season undefeated or with just one loss, looking very strong throughout. In 2009, 5 teams went through the season undefeated. That’s way too many to be easily chosen. Then those teams are chosen by mindless computers, leaving teams with the previously mentioned problem of not knowing why they were not picked out of the couple of viable teams. So, it was a problem. A big problem. And people wanted a playoff.
Playoffs were a taboo topic for college football for a long time, at least for Division 1-A/FBS (don’t worry, I’ll also explain what that means soon). It wasn’t even talked about for a long time, with vehement protest from conference heads and NCAA higher-ups for about a decade. Even when it was talked about, “playoff” was not an allowed word, calling the system a “plus-one” instead. Yes, it was this touchy. However, after much hardship and annoyed people, we finally received a 4-team playoff system, known simply as the College Football Playoff, or CFP from now on. You definitely need to memorize that acronym, as that is the rest of this book.
I’ll spare most of the details, because I will tell you the details during the rest of the book, but here are the basics. The CFP has 4 teams. Those 4 teams are based on ranking by a set of about a dozen college football experts, mostly collegiate athletic directors and current or former coaches, journalists, and Secretaries of State for the United States. That last one isn’t actually there. Anymore. Those people mostly replace everything that the computers did in the BCS, adding in a layer of the “eye-test” for everyone to be graded on. The CFP includes 6 bowls, known as the New Year’s Six, on account of them all being at or around the New Year’s activities. Yes, this information will come up later. Do not forget it, New Year’s is an important time for college football. Both semifinals are played as part of these New Year’s Six, with the others just being a rounding out including a bunch of other strong teams. The finals are played about two weeks later, on the second Monday of the year. Semifinal and final locations rotate around between the Rose Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl, and Peach Bowl, the only one not included in the BCS. There are problems with it, and that is what will happen for the rest of this book. Not the problems, talking about the problems and solutions and problems with the solutions and problems with the problems to the solutions and so on and so forth.
So now, after an entire chapter of telling you about how we got here, I have to define where “here” actually is. See, over time, the NCAA’s football segment has grown and become more specific. With over 700 college football teams, you need really good organization. And the NCAA’s is… alright. Very complicated, but serviceable. So, first of all, the NCAA. Yes, I am explaining the NCAA. The NCAA is the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the organization responsible for organizing every college sport in the US (and a little bit of Canada). It was founded by Theodore Roosevelt, which is a useless fact, and something interesting that you got to learn today. Try telling people that at parties, and people will probably leave you alone for the rest of the party. But anyways, while the NCAA is large and honestly very interesting as a whole, we don’t really care about the NCAA in particular. We just care about the football. Which is okay, because football is the most convoluted out of the NCAA sports.
So, the football. The NCAA splits colleges into 3 divisions, conveniently named Division 1, Division 2, and Division 3. The lower the division number is, the better/larger your college is. Teams can only play other teams within their own division, which isn’t too hard, since each division has around 240 teams. And while, yes, D3’s Mount Union/Wisconsin-Whitewater control is nice and all, and Northwest Missouri State’s control over D2 is great for them, we don’t care about these divisions. They are small, have little funding, and it’s rare that you will have ever even heard of most of these schools. Did you know that the Coast Guard had an academy? Well, now you do, and it plays in D3. Surprisingly, their sailing team isn’t as good as you would expect. So we’re ignoring everything that isn’t Division 1.
And now that we have Division 1 only, it’s time to split that up even more. You know how I mentioned Division 1-A earlier? This is where I explain that. Essentially, Division 1 is split into two subdivisions. There’s the Football Championship Subdivision, or FCS, formerly 1-AA, and the Football Bowl Subdivision, or FBS and 1-A. I list their old names because some people still call them that, but I will call them FBS and FCS for the rest of this book. Now, the difference between the FCS and FBS is that, unsurprisingly, the FBS uses bowls, and the FCS uses a championship. Yes, I know that that was very vague. The FCS’s postseason is a 24-team seeded bracket where teams play over the course of about a month. The FBS is basically everything I described at the beginning about the bowls and the BCS and the CFP. Yes, the FBS is so important that it was possible to tell about the history of college football postseason without even mentioning any other division or subdivision. The FCS, while often interesting, and including some of the most memorable upsets in the history of college football against their FBS counterparts, will not be mentioned for the rest of the book. Sorry to you, North Dakota State fans.
So, finally, the FBS. This is what this entire book has led up to. The FBS is a group of 130 teams, give or take a few depending on what year it is. It is then split into 10 conferences. Those conferences are split into the Group of 5 conferences, and the Power 5 conferences. As the names suggest, the Power 5 are more powerful, and are therefore usually the stronger and more important teams. I won’t tell you to outright forget about the Group of 5, because they aren’t completely useless and will come up again, but definitely remember that the Power 5 conferences are the Southeastern Conference (SEC), Pacific 12 (Pac-12), Big 10 (occasionally called the B1G due to their logo), Big 12 (not to be confused with the Big 10), and the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC). You definitely need to know those. In case you’re curious, the two conferences without obvious locations from their names, the Big 10 and Big 12, are generally located in the northern Midwest (Ohio/Iowa area) and southern Midwest (Oklahoma/Texas area) respectively. Now, the FBS has a system where any team with 6 wins qualifies for a bowl. Specific ways that teams are chosen for specific bowls are weird and often differ per conference, but the top bowls, the New Year’s Six, do not differ, as they are all chosen by the CFP committee and by certain rules on teams from certain conferences going to certain bowls. But the top 4 teams, they are sent to the CFP.
The CFP, as noted earlier, includes 2 of the 6 New Year’s bowls. They switch around every year, on a predetermined schedule. This detail seems small, but it is important. The Sugar and Rose Bowls have guaranteed New Year’s Day slots every year no matter what due to their TV contract with ESPN, meaning that unless those bowls are the CFP semifinal hosts, the semifinals must be held on a different day. This is due to timing conflicts and not wanting to hold multiple games at the same time, nor hold a game early in the day or late at night. The top 4 teams play each other as you would expect, with #1 playing #4 and #2 playing #3. Pretty standard bracketing. The #1 team gets preferential treatment for where their semifinal is held. For example, if the #1 team is from Georgia and the two predetermined semifinals are in Atlanta and Phoenix, the #1/#4 match will be in Atlanta and the other one is held in Phoenix.
So far, as of this writing, we have had 3 years of the CFP, and it’s gone moderately well. The first year was a large success, and while the next two years fell off hard in their ratings due to being on New Year’s Eve, we’ve seen a major improvement overall. I could honestly go on for hours about these CFP semifinals and finals, but I will spare you for now, as it’s not incredibly pertinent to the topic at hand that you know how Washington did a surprisingly good job against Alabama in 2016 by holding down their QB for most of the game and limiting Alabama to pretty much just their ground game, but lost because Alabama’s sometimes-explosive ground game was still better than Washington’s offense for most of the game. However, we’ve had enough years to know that 4 teams may just not be enough. Most years have had a simple, yet restrictive selection of teams for the CFP. Teams who could have seriously been in contention for the title have gotten shafted for other teams for sometimes confusing reasons. Notable snubs have been pretty much everyone from the Big 12 in the first year, Stanford and Ohio State in hindsight in the second year due to their bowl results, and USC, Penn State, Oklahoma, and more in the most recent year. We’ve had a strange couple of years. Most notably, we had the first listed one, which outlines a major problem. Not every Power 5 conference will have a representative in the CFP. If Notre Dame, who is not in a conference for football (despite being in the ACC for every other sport and playing a number of games against ACC teams equal to what most teams play in-conference), is good that year, only 3 will get in, and if one conference has weirdly high records like Big 10 in 2016 or Big 12 in 2014, we might see even less conference diversity. This is a major problem, as we could reasonably see a strong team from every Power 5 conference, and then have to compare nearly incomparable conferences to just try to figure out which teams are the best and most fitting to get into the CFP. Plus, when the CFP decisions are so subjective, you’re never really sure how a team will be picked. Are conference championships important? Probably not, from what the CFP committee has said and done recently, but we don’t know for sure. Is out-of-conference schedule important? Once again, probably not, but it’s still an issue that people talk about and we really don’t know if it’s important to the committee. Criteria changes every year, and often there seems to be a level of, “Well, you were ranked here before, we don’t have a reason to move you,” which is a terrible reason not to move a team in the rankings.
One proposal that many people has mentioned to fix the CFP is to expand it to more teams, which is a sentiment that very many people, coaches, analysts, and players alike, share. There are three main groups of people, those who think that the CFP should stay 4-team, those who think it should expand to 8-team, and unrealistic people. To quickly cut the arguments of the final group of people, any system larger than 8-team is unwieldy and essentially requires a gutting of the currently very popular bowl season to make it work, and it’s really not worth it. A 16-team playoff is favored by many Group of 5 people, because some people think that there should be automatic qualifications for the winners of those conferences in that system, but that wouldn’t work in any case. There is a more reasonable group of people asking for a 6-team playoff with byes for #1 and #2, but that’s really not fair, as differences between #2 and #3 are small at times, and it’s really not fair to give a team an extra game against a very strong team just because they performed slightly worse at times in their 12-win season than another team in theirs. A few are also calling to go back to the 2-team system, but that’s a bad idea on so many levels, and would be a PR nightmare for the NCAA, so that’s not happening. The only real possibilities are 4 or 8, and that’s pretty much final here.
So, should we have 4 teams, or 8 teams? Well, both sides have a lot of arguments. First and foremost, competitive integrity. What is competitive integrity? I’m glad you asked, otherwise that sentence would have been really confusing. Competitive integrity is essentially making it so that the best and most deserving team to win the championship, wins the championship. And despite it being such an important issue, and it seeming relatively obvious what system is better, there are a lot of background issues in play here.
First of all, that definition of competitive integrity leaves more vagueness than you would expect, mostly because I included the part that says “most deserving team.” See, whether a team deserves a championship or not can be somewhat subjective. Let’s say a team loses every single one of their first eight games, but at the end of the season, beats the numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4 ranked teams. They has some of the highest quality wins in the nation and are on a huge hot streak, but they did go 4-8 overall with the assumption of having some truly awful losses earlier on. They don’t really deserve to be the champion, even if they have strong recent wins. Now we go to another team. This one went 9-3 overall, looking clearly like the best 3-loss team in the country, winning multiple big games against teams with few losses, and overall being very strong. However, they started their season 1-3 and therefore are out of most playoff contention, despite looking to be one of the strongest teams in the nation and generally seen as the best overall team by some people. Yes, this description is awfully specific, because this exact situation happened with USC in 2016. Did USC deserve a chance in the playoffs? In an 8-team system, they would have gotten in, by most metrics. But they lost three games early on, and in the short, hectic seasons of college football, that can be a death sentence for a conference win, let alone a championship run. Many people who prefer a 4-team playoff say that it devalues the regular season, making individual losses less important for the team. On the other hand, people who want an 8-team say that those teams are actually better, so they should have the chance to show that they are the best and that they deserve a chance to win the title.
And while having 8 teams would clearly allow for more strong teams to be able to play for the championship, there are some issues with the system. In particular, the fact that it would cause one more game for these teams. Every FBS team always plays 12 games per year. If your CFP-viable team is not named Notre Dame and is therefore in a conference, they will usually have to play in a conference championship game. All Power 5 conferences (thanks for finally joining the club, Big 12) have 2 divisions. Yes, the use of the word division is too common in college football. Each conference division has 5-7 teams depending on the conference, and it sends the best performing in-conference team to a conference championship to decide the overall conference winner. For example, if a team goes 9-3 overall and 8-0 in-conference, they will beat a 10-2 team that went 7-1 in-conference to get to the conference championship. Winning the conference championship can then lead to the team being ranked better for bowls or having a resume-booster for CFP discussion. I say that the top teams usually play a conference championship game and not always because sometimes the earlier record difference may result in the team missing the conference championship. This has happened in the CFP era. So that game is one more game for most top teams, up to 13. If the team goes all the way through the CFP, that’s two more, now up to 15 total games. That’s a lot. Football is a physically punishing sport, and these players aren’t even professionals, they’re college students. Now we’re planning to add another game to that, which might be too much for these players to be expected to play.
Then we have to ask the question of when the games will occur. There is a large gap between the final games of the regular season, the conference championships, and the playoffs at around New Year’s. It’s usually about 3-4 weeks, depending on the year. However, those weeks are often filled with players either recuperating after a grueling regular season, preparing for theoretically the toughest game of their season to that point, or taking finals. Yes, they are still college students, they have finals. That leaves many options. The first is to put the championship game about 2 weeks after the usual championship game, moving all the games backwards and putting the new quarterfinals at New Year’s. While this is probably better for scheduling, there are two problems. The main one is that it conflicts with the NFL playoffs. That is not okay. Conflicting with the NFL playoffs is surprisingly important to college football schedulers. At best, you have minor conflicts on major weekends, but even that is something that CFP schedulers like to avoid. So, usually the favorable strategy is a bit before New Year’s for the quarterfinals, and the semifinals and finals on their current days. This would usually take place around December 21st, but it’s not an exact science. And yes, there are still problems, which I mentioned earlier. However, some solutions have been proposed to those problems. Some people would like to remove conference championships. This is probably not the best idea, since conference champions may be important later (wink wink nudge nudge), and in any case, conference championships make a lot of money and only take up one week at the end of the season. So basically, there is no perfect system. You just have to pick whatever sounds best to you, and embrace the flaws with it. It’s almost a metaphor for life, if you don’t think too hard about it.
And yes, many coaches are vocal about this issue, to varying degrees. Brett McMurphy of ESPN ran a poll of most FBS coaches a few years ago, and a plurality, 44%, wanted an 8-team playoff, compared to 29% wanting 4 teams in the playoff. Even the ACC commissioner wanted an 8-team playoff, although that might be because at the time most people thought that the ACC was the weakest of the conferences and most likely to miss the playoffs most of the time. That was before Clemson really started winning. It was truly a different era. Anyway, most coaches do prefer this 8-team system. We can’t count out bias here, since many of them see an 8-team system as the most possible solution to give their team a CFP run, but we don’t really know for sure, and they might have voted with college football in mind rather than their jobs.
The 8-team system also has a location problem. You can’t just put a CFP bowl wherever you want, otherwise I would put one in my backyard. There are three simple factors that you need for a stadium to be useable for the CFP. The first is physically having the stadium, one that can play football and hold a reasonable number of people. You can’t play college football in Madison Square Garden, and you shouldn’t hold a CFP quarterfinal in Harvard’s 30k capacity field. The second is general field neutrality. This means that the field shouldn’t be a team’s home field, and definitely can’t be on a certain team’s campus, in case that team gets an unfair home-field advantage. And no, the University of Phoenix Stadium doesn’t apply to this. That’s the Arizona Cardinals stadium that also holds the Fiesta Bowl, but the university probably doesn’t hold a football team. Although, I could see them having some esports teams, due to the whole online university thing. In any case, those two points basically require the game to be held in an NFL team’s stadium, which applies to 5 of the 6 current CFP locations. Yes, the other one is the Rose Bowl. How observant of you! And next year, 2 of the 6 CFP locations will be named by and after Mercedes-Benz. Those are your factoids for the day. In any case, I forgot the final factor, and it’s surprisingly important. See, these bowls take place in early January. Where do you not want to be in early January? The answer is outdoors in the north. For example, many NFL teams hate the Green Bay Packers because their stadium is really cold in January. Avoiding going there during playoffs is advised. Additionally, Super Bowls are usually held in Miami, because it’s warm. Of the current CFP locations, all are in southern states, and four of them are domed. Guess the two that aren’t. Seriously, guess. You’re right, it’s the Rose Bowl and the one in Miami. Now, technically, we don’t need new stadiums. I know that’s anticlimactic considering all the build-up I just gave you. We have six CFP locations, and six games in the quarterfinals and semifinals before the championship, which is bought out by the stadium, all Olympic-style. However, bowls don’t like being moved around. Having your bowl be 2 weeks earlier than usual and less important than other bowls is a bit weird. If we want a rotating list of bowls, the Sugar and Rose won’t change, and will have to be semifinals due to their previously mentioned New Year’s Day clause. So is that okay? Do we need other bowl locations? They may be tough to find, but some of them do exist that fit the ideal of either being warm or domed as well as being an NFL stadium. But, since I am not a stadium operator, I do not know the limitations of these stadiums. It’s very possible that those older CFP locations can be used multiple times, once for the quarterfinals and once for normal bowls, assuming those are kept. Larger stadium turnarounds happen in shorter periods of time, and the stadiums may want the added revenue. In any case, it’s an important factor to a possible 8-team system.
There are many reasons for both having a 4-team system, and an 8-team system. Additionally, there are many other smaller factors. But we need to put all of our wonderful ideas together and make a real plan. And that is what is next. So just flip the page and you’ll find it.
And finally, after about half of this book was taken up by exposition and explanations, here’s my opinions and solutions on the issues at hand. There are very split opinions on what the CFP should be. Many think it should be 4 teams, many think 8 is better instead. Personally, I would side with the latter.
So you know, this is not a light decision. I’ve done more research on this topic and found more differing opinions than most people could even imagine exists about a topic as weird and niche as the College Football Playoff’s team count. As the last chapter noted, there are a lot of hidden factors in play that I have considered. In addition, this part of the book on is completely subjective. I have my opinions on these things, which I will share, but I have different priorities than other people. There are some issues that I mentioned earlier that might be unacceptable to some people that are fine for me or others. Or maybe there’s a positive point of a system that I find more important than a negative point of that system. I personally see my idea as the best solution. I’ve done research and gotten a number of opinions, although many opinions are mixed. This strange, looping paragraph is just to tell you that no, I am not 100% correct in everything that I am going to say. No system is the best thing ever, but this is the closest that we’re all gonna get, in my opinion.
So, let’s start with the 8-team system. Yes, that is the most logical solution. Many people disagree, for a wide number of reasons, but any negatives are outweighed by positives. The chance that good teams are being left out is greater than the chance that those teams will just get destroyed in early rounds, and the added game is not enormous when weighed against the amount of games that teams already have to play. While it is true that teams need to be held somewhat accountable for losses that they have, I don’t think that expanding the CFP will hurt that accountability too much. More often than not, teams with strong seasons are left out because of this system than teams with weak seasons are rightfully kept out of contention. Expanding to 8 teams has more positives than negatives, so it should be the choice.
So, with the team count locked down, what else is there to look at? Well, when in doubt, use the 6 questions: Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How. The What is the CFP, pretty obvious there, and the Why and How aren’t exactly necessary to answer here. So the next one is Who. The answer seems obvious, but I have a wonderful twist to add to the situation. So, there are 8 teams going to the CFP. I already told you about that. But now, there is the twist that five of those teams are the winners of the Power 5 conferences. See, being a top team is kinda subjective. As I mentioned earlier, being arbitrarily chosen for the championship can suck for teams. Adding a way to automatically qualify through performance would be an easy way to allow teams to let themselves qualify for the CFP instead of having someone choose when they qualify. And since there are still three more at-large teams, teams that lose their conference championship in an upset or don’t qualify for the conference championship for some reason can still be in the CFP. Also Notre Dame, since they don’t have a conference. And, with the way that conference championships work, it’s rare that weaker teams would actually make it into the CFP like this. And, in the end, teams will be seeded 1-8 by the CFP committee. They may not be the top 8 teams in the country necessarily for their voting, but for seeding purposes, that will be how it works. The CFP committee will also choose the three mentioned at-large teams that didn’t win a conference.
So the other question on the list is When. As I mentioned earlier, time can be a problem. In this system, the quarterfinals are held 2 weeks prior to New Year’s on the nearest Saturday to that date, at different times throughout the day. It’ll be a long day, but time zones can make it work. It has to be on Saturday so that people actually watch and so that it doesn’t conflict with NFL. Afterwards, the semifinals are held on New Year’s Day, and then the championship is held about two weeks after the semifinals, as we’ve had for a while now. Those dates have worked and I don’t see any reason to change them. With this timing, everything will go relatively smoothly. Teams have a fairly long amount of time between games and after their conference championship, and they will therefore be able to practice then. This system will also not impede the standard bowl system, which should stay in place for reasons that end up getting very off-topic for the rest of this book.
Location is the final issue, and the least simple to hammer out the details of. As noted earlier, I am not a professional stadium operator. I am also not a CFP insider. However, it’s the easiest part to give a ton of viable ideas for, since in location planning, there are no bad ideas. First is using the current CFP bowl locations multiple times, once for Quarterfinals and once for their regularly scheduled bowls on New Year’s. If that’s not favorable, you can use other stadiums. Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis has a dome. Both the o.co Stadium in Oakland and America’s Center in St. Louis find themselves unfortunately without NFL teams anymore, and both of those work for this purpose. There are also plans for a new stadium in Los Angeles for the Rams and a new stadium in Las Vegas for the Raiders, both of which should fit the need for warmth, size, and neutrality. If more stadiums were needed, you could use stadiums of other pro teams that already hold bowls, like EverBank Field in Jacksonville. Or, you could use college home stadiums like UCLA’s Rose Bowl and have those as your stadiums. The LA Coliseum would be my choice, I’ve been there and the coach’s private bathroom is… surprisingly lame. And even further, with modern technology, you could turn basically any large outdoor sports arena into a football stadium. Raceways and baseball stadiums can both become football stadiums now, which opens up the possibilities even more. Basically, if stadiums are needed, you can find plenty of candidates to hold these games. And, as usual, teams with higher seeding get preferential treatment in location. You could even have the different semifinal locations chosen based on who won the quarterfinals. The world is your oyster in this department.
So, with that all settled, what would this look like? How would an eight-team CFP play out? Well, I took a look at the CFP and BCS-era standings from the end of the season to see how it would actually go down. Here’s what it looks like, year by year:
*Note: A conference listed after a team name shows that they won that conference. Big 12 championships are awarded based on whoever took the regular season title because they didn’t have a conference championship. They will have one starting in 2017.
Semifinals (Saturday, December 31):
My solution’s playoff:
Quarterfinals (Saturday, December 17):
As you can see, it is different. All of the winners of the Power 5 conferences are in, and there are some admittedly interesting matchups. An important thing to note, as you may have already noticed, is the fact that I included both Wisconsin and USC at that #8 slot. The reason for this is that those teams were very even in the polls in that point of the season, and I honestly could have seen USC being chosen over Wisconsin if it actually mattered in the end. And, overall, it’s a very uncontroversial top 8. Apart from possible Wisconsin or USC questions, every team had a clear claim to that top 8 title and no team outside of the listed eight teams had a serious claim to the CFP. If we look at in in hindsight, so after all of the bowls took place, the Big 10 teams lost most of their bowls, with Michigan losing, Penn State losing, and Ohio State losing to Clemson in the CFP, but I don’t think that changes the choices here. There is a weird matchup in Michigan vs. Ohio State, because they would actually be playing against each other two times in a row, although that honestly has every college football fan frothing at the mouth because of how exciting their first game was. So far, this works, and I need to stop looking at these matchups because I’m getting way too excited over things that are never gonna happen.
Semifinals (Thursday, December 31):
My solution’s playoff:
Quarterfinals (Saturday, December 19):
This one is more interesting, and shows us the variety of things that we are provided with in this system. Notre Dame got into the CFP despite their lack of conference, which is good. Iowa had a solid season with few major mistakes, and is now able to be in the CFP. Now, due to the state of that season’s bowls, where nothing made sense and every game ended in a massive point deficit, we can’t really say whether or not the teams truly deserved to be in the CFP. Michigan State got super destroyed, as did Iowa. I have no idea what would have happened if this system actually went down. But it’s fun to see it anyway, as a concept.
Semifinals (Thursday, January 1):
My solution’s playoff:
Quarterfinals (Saturday, December 20):
For a third time, I am mildly annoyed by the simple accuracy of this. However, at least the bowl records let us maybe find problems with the system. Specifically, Mississippi State. They might not have belonged in the CFP, and they ended up losing to the #12 Georgia Tech relatively convincingly in the bowl game. Maybe Mississippi State didn’t deserve to be in the CFP. Maybe they underperformed for some reason against Georgia Tech. Or maybe, I’m overanalyzing a relatively small detail. Overall, everything that I have shown makes the 8-team system make sense. However, I do want to show outlier possibilities, and that would require showing one more season, 2012.
Actual playoff (BCS Championship):
Important rankings: #7 Georgia, #8 LSU, #12 Florida State, unranked Wisconsin
My solution’s playoff:
Quarterfinals (Saturday, December 22):
Alright, time to break this absolute insanity down. I’ll be honest, this looks like nonsense to me and I lived through when this took place just five years ago. I’ll address the elephant in the room first, the winner of the BCS, Alabama. The joke is that their mascot is an elephant, if you didn’t get it. They are the only conference winner listed in the top 4, and the team that won the conference that makes up half of the natural top 8, the SEC. See what I meant earlier about the BCS computers apparently liking the SEC? If you’re not convinced, numbers 9 and 10 are also SEC teams. As you can probably tell, this is the poster child for seasons where the conference champions have worse records. While a few of these teams show it, none show it more than the 8-5 Wisconsin. Now, let me chronicle their insane path to the Big 10 championship for you. They went 7-5 over the season, 4-4 in conference and 3rd in their division. Now you’re probably asking, “How is this team 3rd in their division if they got into the conference championship?” Well, that’s the source of the oddity. There were two teams ahead of Wisconsin: Ohio State and Penn State. They both made big mistakes, and were disqualified from postseason play, which includes conference championships. Then Wisconsin made a stand in the Big 10 championship and destroyed Nebraska, and won the Big 10. So, even though there are outsider cases, they do happen, and it’s important to note them. At the same time, in my opinion, they are not common enough, nor are they bad enough to truly destroy the system.
So that’s that. My plan on how to make college football better for everybody. Now, it’s not like this is the only problem in college football. Players aren’t exactly treated great and often have to neglect their education to play, which is ironic because their payment for playing is their education. And since most of these players aren’t getting to NFL, they aren’t really making any money and now don’t have a real education to get a job with. And despite all of this, they’re amateurs and can’t be paid, despite the fact that the university and the sponsors make a lot of money off of the games, and the players can’t make money with their own image, despite the universities and sponsors being allowed to make money off of the players’ image. Much of this is true of college basketball as well, so it’s not just a football problem, but it’s still not great. There’s also the continuing controversy over whether or not bowl games have gone too far and that there are too many of them, continuing struggles with conferences to make them make some sense for people and work properly as an organization technique (I could write another entire book just about the shenanigans that have gone down here, usually with the Big 10 and Big 12, but I’ll spare you the details), struggles to keep college football relevant when sports viewership is dropping off with millennials and the aging heads of college football have no idea how to fix it, studies about football causing head injuries and the difficulty of finding solutions while still maintaining the spirit of football, and the slow onset of dynasties into the brand-new CFP (the last two years have had the same championship game, Alabama has appeared in every CFP, Ohio State and Clemson have appeared twice each, etc) in a sport that can’t really deal with boring dynasties very well due to the recruiting process and the lack of any sort of plug on spending by teams. These problems have bled the college football system pretty intensely for a long time now, and the sport can’t handle such a large strain on it for a long time. College football’s main home is ESPN, and as ESPN profits drop, college football is put in a more precarious situation in terms of future profitability. My home with this plan is to at least bring enough attention to the sport as to make it popular enough to get the rest of these problems solved. Whether this will accomplish that, or if it’s even possible, nobody really knows.
But with these problems in mind, I’d rather end on a more positive note: my reason for writing this. I really like college football. Making college football better is what I would like to do. I enjoy this, and I like doing this. Writing this was actually pretty fun, because I could simultaneously make stupid jokes about college football and explain ideas to someone without them ever responding to me, my two favorite things. That’s really it. It’s what I enjoy and it’s something that I like to explain to people.