A favorite topic among college football fans every year is the need for a “playoff” system. I’ve read some good concepts over the years but when you take each concept and apply real situations, they all have some type of flaw. Bottom line, you’re not going to satisfy everyone but clearly there is a better method than the current BCS system. The match up of Auburn and Oregon this past season did not draw much controversy unless you were a TCU fan. For the most part, the majority of college football fans were satisfied with the match up. The fear is having three undefeated teams from a BCS conference like 2004, which normally stirs up the most debate.
Here are some of the options, which are commonly discussed.
1) 16-team format: This sounds good and would insure that no “quality” team would be left out. In terms of practicality, it just would not be possible. By the end of the playoffs, the two teams in the championship game would have played 4 playoff games not to mention the 5th game to settle the actual championship. With 12-regular season games, we’re looking at 17 games. A SEC team would have a conference championship, making it an 18 game season. This would be way too many games, which would require a 10-game regular season and the dropping of conference championship game. Even then, we’re still looking at a 15-game season. I just don’t see a 16-team format being a realistic option.
2) 8-team format: This version would involve the 6 BCS conference champions along with 2 at large teams or the 2 most highly ranked teams. Looking at the 2010 season, here is how this format would have looked…
The 6 BCS conference winners would have been, No. 13 Virginia Tech (11-2), No. 6 Ohio State (11-1), No. 7 Oklahoma (11-2), No. 25 Connecticut (8-4), No. 2 Oregon (12-0) and No. 1 Auburn (13-0). The two at large teams would have been No. 3 TCU and No. 4 Wisconsin (11-1). On face value, this appears to be a great set of playoff teams and some great possible match ups except for the Big East winner, Connecticut with an 8-4 record. It becomes worse when you consider, No. 5 Stanford (11-1), No. 7 Michigan State (11-1) and No. 8 Arkansas (10-2) were left out. Also left out was No. 10 Boise State (11-1) and No. 13 Nevada (12-1). This is the primary flaw to giving an automatic bid to all 6 BCS conference winners.
3) 8-team format involving the highest ranked teams: Once again, looking at the 2010 season you would have a possible match up of… No. 1 Auburn (13-0) vs. No. 8 Arkansas. No. 2 Oregon (12-0) vs. No. 7 Oklahoma (11-2). No. 3 TCU vs. No. 6 Ohio State (11-1) and No. 4 Stanford vs. No. 5 Wisconsin (11-1). I would have rather seen this 8-team format than the previous 8-team format involving the 6 BCS conference winners. However, there are some quality teams left out, including No. 9 Michigan State (11-1), No. 10 Boise State (11-1), No. 11 LSU (10-2) and No. 13 Virginia Tech (11-2).
4) 4-team format or Plus One: This has always been my favorite mainly because it would only require one extra game and it could easily be implemented. Since 1970, there has only been six seasons where 3 teams from a major conference finished the regular season undefeated and untied. Though there would be a higher number of “quality” teams left out, the primary dispute is normally over the top 3-4 teams in terms of, “who is the best?” The 2010 4-team playoff picture would have been No. 1 Auburn (13-0) vs. No. 4 Wisconsin (11-1) and No. 2 Oregon (2) vs. No. 3 TCU (12-0). This format would eliminate the issue of having 3 undefeated teams from a BCS conference (2004) but would not address the issue of having multiple 1-loss teams left out of the playoff picture.
The 4-team format would be the simplest system to implement but an 8-team format would leave less controversy if it were formatted properly. If the NCAA went to an 8-team format I would not mind 6-BCS conference winners and 2 at large teams with a stipulation placed on the 6 BCS conference winners. The requirement would be that you earn a playoff slot as a BCS conference winner as long as you are ranked in the BCS top 15. This would eliminate conference winners with an 8-4 record and would permit a 3rd at large team, more highly ranked to participate in the playoffs. I believe most college football fans would rather see a 12-1 SEC or Big 12 team that lost the conference championship in the playoffs over an 8-4 Big East champion.
There is no perfect system but some of the possible formats have fewer flaws than others. I believe we are very close to a “plus one” format, which would be better than the current system in place. All 5 formats described above would still involve the current bowl system and an 8-team format would fit nicely in the BCS Bowl Games. Until a change is made, it does make for great discussion.