Football, NCAAF

It’s Time to Expand the Playoff

The playoffs were created to help conclude the argument of who should be deemed the National Champion.  The BCS forced only 2 options upon us, most of the time they got it wrong.  Before the BCS it was up to the polls to decide, which is how we have co-champions throughout history (last year Alabama and UCF were the first co-champions in some time but that’s neither here nor there).

Every year the playoff committee ruffles feathers and gets one or more of the teams wrong and people like me call for an expanded playoff to include the teams that get left out.  I mean there’s only so much subjectivity the public can take from a group of elitist sitting in a room with no cameras determining the fates of 18-22 year old players.

Let me state that I love that we have a playoff.  It’s a step in the right direction but 4 teams was never enough to determine a true champion.  8 teams was always the obvious and more logical option.  With the “Power 5” conferences and a few undefeated Group of 5 champions from time to time, numerically 4 teams just doesn’t work.

The idea of the playoff was for teams not from the SEC to have a chance to play for a championship (as the BCS heavily favored the SEC).  Though as helpful as the playoff was supposed to be in giving opportunities to new teams, it seems the playoff may have had other implications…

“It’s 2018 and the College Football Playoff has ruined college football.”

At first, there was an awe about the playoff.  Finally teams left out of the conversation would have a chance.  There would be different teams every year and blah blah blah…Looking at the 4 playoffs, parity doesn’t really exist.  Here’s a list of ALL the playoff contenders:

  1. Alabama: 4 Appearances, 2 Championships, 1 Runner-Up
  2. Clemson: 3 Appearances, 1 Championship, 1 Runner-Up
  3. Ohio State: 2 Appearances, 1 Championship
  4. Oklahoma: 2 Appearances, 1 Championship
  5. Oregon: 1 Appearance, 1 Runner-Up
  6. Florida State: 1 Appearance
  7. Michigan State: 1 Appearance
  8. Washington: 1 Appearance
  9. Georgia: 1 Appearance, 1 Runner-Up

In essence, 5 of the 16 spots have gone to teams with only 1 appearance.  For the other 11 spots it’s been the same show over and over.  The playoff has now clouded our minds to mainly think about teams that can win a championship.

The same thing has happened in the NBA where fans only care about if their team can beat the Warriors.  NFL fans mainly care if their team can win the Super Bowl.  College Football is now in the same mold of thinking where most fans want to make the playoff and win a championship and anything less is a letdown.

This way of thinking is bound to lead to unhappiness and an inability to acknowledge and enjoy the ride of a 10-2 season.  This thinking is evident in the early season polls as there is no surprise who the top 5 teams in the polls are.  Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma.  See Above for why that’s not a surprise.

The season has now became, “Can we beat Alabama? or Ohio State? Who in the ACC can contend with Clemson?  Oklahoma should roll through the Big 12”.  The early season rankings were built off projections of who will make the playoff and here into week 5 there is no excitement.

We know most of the teams will eventually play each other like Ohio State and Penn State and Stanford and Notre Dame this weekend.  Alabama will eventually play LSU as well and LSU will play UGA and UGA will play Auburn.

Every team still has to manage through their schedule unscathed in order to make the playoff and that adds a little excitement along the way.  However, for everyone else all the focus remains on the top-tier/elitist programs.  Let’s say Alabama/Ohio State/etc slip up, their position at the top of the polls creates a leniency over other programs.  Twice we’ve seen teams go 11-1, not win a conference championship, and make it to the playoffs with Ohio State over Penn State in 2016 and Alabama over UCF/Ohio St/USC last year.

Only looking forward to the playoff teams will cause you to miss the roller coaster of a ride that the season provides.  I strongly wish the voters of the poll would break free of the projection-like thinking and let some of these teams enjoy themselves in the moment.

LSU is #5 in the AP Poll.   LSU remains the only team to have beaten 2 currently ranked programs this year and they should have earned the #1 ranking spot through 4 weeks.  Though the voters want to make them earn their way to the spot by basically making them beat Alabama and UGA.

If #5 LSU beats #1 Alabama, then LSU would rise and Alabama would probably drop around the #5 ranking, but if #1 LSU beats, say, a #5 Alabama then Alabama might drop out of the top 10.  That drop would have playoff implications for the Crimson Tide and allow other teams the opportunity to be one of the 4.

The polls have now greatly started to favor perceptions and projections that down the line end up having a log jam for the #4 spot.  That’s why 8 teams is the perfect solution.

#1.) The 8 team playoff system is already in place – The infrastructure already exist to execute the playoff and not change anything.  There are 6 Bowls that rotate the semi-final matchups every year, 4 bowls are the “Highlight” games while the other 2 host the Playoff followed by a rotating National Championship Game location.  If they kept the Rose, Fiesta, Cotton, Sugar, Peach, and Orange bowl games then, for example, the Rose-Sugar could host the round of 8 teams, the Peach and Orange would host the Semis, with a rotating national championship host site for the final game.

The Structure has always been in place and an idea of adding Indianapolis and San Francisco as other potential host cities for the semi-final round could still be doable.

#2.) Give every team 2 bye weeks – People clamor that adding another round of games isn’t good for the athletes but adding another bye week to the schedule would give teams extra rest during the regular season to stay healthy.  The idea of the season being extended is a type of fallacy as it only gets extended 1 extra game for 2 teams and 1 extra game for 4 other teams.  The other teams in the playoff are expecting to play 15 games for instance if they want to win a championship.

The added week to some of these team’s schedules would allow players to be conditioned a little better for the NFL 16 game season and could potentially lead to fewer injuries from rookies.  That last point needs data to be validated but it is a theory that should probably be looked into.

#3.) Make every conference play 9 conference games – the unfair weight of one team’s record over another by scheduling 1 extra inferior out of conference team should go away.  The Big 12 plays everyone in their conference and 2 teams play 1 team twice (see the Big 12 Championship Game).  The Pac-12 and BIG 10 play 9 conference games.  It isn’t a fair playing field for the SEC and ACC, 2 regular playoff conferences, to challenge their teams with 1 less in-conference game.

The ACC, SEC, and BIG 10 have 14 teams in the conference.  It’s impossible on an 8 game schedule to play the 6 in-division games, plus a permanent crossover rival, and 1 rotating crossover game and end up playing the better teams in the conference.  The 9 game schedule should also be monitored as follows:

  1. 9 Conference Games
  2. 1 lessor tier opponent in the 1st half of the season (no FCS in the 2nd to last week).
  3. 1 Out of Conference Rivalry Matchup.
  4. 1 Out of Conference opponent of as close to equal value as possible.
  5. If no Out of Conference Rival exist, then another Power 5 opponent shall be scheduled.

In order to accommodate #4, future schedules cannot be set more than 3 years out.  Numbers 2, 3, and 5 would help teams in the Mountain West, American Athletic, Sunbelt, MAC, and Conference USA the opportunity to play multiple power 5 opponents or multiple ranked opponents and prove their worth in the conversation for the 8 team playoff.

As another bonus for the Group of Five schools, they are required to play 8 conference games allowing them the opportunity to schedule a 4th out of conference opponent from either another Group of Five conference or stack another Power 5 school into their schedule.  A team like UCF or Boise State could use this to their advantage to identify power 5 opponents they feel will help their resume standout.

#4.) Get rid of the polls until week 6 – The early polls create a subconscious bias within the voters and people who watch that certain teams are better.  Often times there are teams that begin high in the polls and by the final week aren’t even in the top 25.  The reverse of that happens often as well.  Penn State in 2016 was a good example of this when they started the year unranked and weren’t able to make the playoff as the Big 10 champion even after beating the BIG 10 representative during the regular season.

The early rankings create an almost impossible gap between the elite programs and the teams trying to get there.  Almost every other team has to do twice as much and do just a little more than the teams that start the year at the top.  The superior programs will weed out the competition throughout the season, just let it happen naturally and allow programs who are experiencing a 1 year run of excellence the opportunity to challenge the elites.

Conclusion:

Through the past few weeks I’ve railed against the polls and the biases.  This is something I feel passionate about and feel changes could be made.  We are at the beginning of a new cycle of college football. This is only year 5 of the playoff system and college football isn’t going anywhere.  So why don’t we try to learn from the past 4 years and try and correct the mistakes now while this system is still in its infancy.

-Jaracz

picture at https://3psmag.com/2017/12/08/expand-this-thing-to-8/

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