By Rixon Lane
College football finally has a playoff and we have seen the excitement it has generated in recent weeks.
With blockbuster match-ups like Alabama vs. Ohio State and Oregon vs. Florida State on the horizon, fans everywhere (well, except in Waco and Fort Worth) are looking forward to the action.
But is this really the best playoff system we can have?
While a four-team playoff is certainly an improvement over the BCS, college football is still missing out on a chance to have the greatest playoff in collegiate sports. The answer is not the eight-team playoff that many fans are clamoring for, nor is it the somewhat unorthodox six-team format that has been suggested.
Instead, college football could have a 16-team playoff that would improve every aspect of the sport's postseason.
Here's a quick overview of how it would work:
- The playoff field would be comprised of 10 conference champions (AAC, ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, C-USA, MAC, Mountain West, Pac-12, SEC, and Sun Belt) and six at-large teams. In the event of co-champions, the automatic bid would go to the higher-ranked team. The at-large teams would be the highest-ranked teams that didn't win a conference championship.
- A committee would rank the teams each week, just like they do now, to determine which teams would be in contention for at-large bids and which teams would advance if they were to be named co-champions of their conference.
- Once the field was set, the committee would seed the playoff teams 1-16 according to ranking. Unranked teams would be seeded after ranked team and the order of unranked teams would be determined by the committee. There would be no bonus for winning a conference championship (ex. an 8-4 Sun Belt champ wouldn't be seeded over an 10-2 SEC at-large team).
- Higher seeds would play at home until the semifinals. Host sites for semifinal games and the championship would be chosen the same way they are now, with the major bowls rotating.
- Bowl system would remain the same (except that the 16 playoff teams would not play in them) and all bowls would be played on weekdays (to ensure they wouldn't conflict with playoff games).
- First and second rounds of the playoffs would be Saturdays, with a break on the Saturday during Christmas week. Semifinals would be played on New Year's Day and the championship would be played the following Saturday.
So, let's take a look at how things would play out this year if this system was used, using the rankings that the committee unveiled today:
Automatic Bids (Conference Champions):
AAC - Memphis (selected based on ranking); ACC - Florida State; Big 12 - Baylor (selected based on ranking); Big Ten - Ohio State; C-USA - Marshall; MAC - Northern Illinois; Mountain West - Boise State; Pac-12 - Oregon; SEC - Alabama; Sun Belt - Georgia Southern
At-Large Berths (Highest-Ranked Non-Champions):
TCU (ranked #6); Mississippi State (#7); Michigan State (#8); Ole Miss (#9); Arizona (#10); Kansas State (#11)
First Round: December 13th (school locations)
Second Round: December 20th (school locations)
Semifinals: January 1st (Pasadena/New Orleans)
Championship: January 10th (Arlington)
#16 Northern Illinois @ #1 Alabama
#9 Ole Miss @ #8 Michigan State
#13 Marshall @ #4 Ohio State
#12 Boise State @ #5 Baylor
#15 Georgia Southern @ #2 Oregon
#10 Arizona @ #7 Mississippi State
#14 Memphis @ #3 Florida State
#11 Kansas State @ #6 TCU
Why Would This Be Better?
Every team in the country would be able to go into fall camp saying, "we have a chance to win a national championship." Football is the only major collegiate sport where that currently isn't possible. Teams like Georgia Southern and Marshall would finally get a shot.
Regular season games would become even more important. Conference games would help decide conference champions and non-conference games would be crucial to keeping at-large berths alive. Additionally, fans of schools would become more interested in other games around the country because of possible match-up implications.
Finally, the weeks of meaningless bowl games would be punctuated with four action-packed days of playoff football. Bowls would be the games to help pass the time until the ones that mattered, just like now. Two Saturdays in December would feature 12 playoff games played in front of packed college stadiums across the country.
That's the playoff we could have.