Did you hear? Barack Obama supports a college football playoff! He wants to "get...the top eight teams right at the end. You got a playoff. Decide on a national champion." Obviously this rolls right into my wheelhouse, and it gives me a chance to survey the landscape for my college football playoff proposal.
(How about McCain and his call to root out steroids? When you think about it, a playoff is a bit frivolous for Obama to be advocating; McCain talked about a more serious issue that can be life or death. It's something that actually would be plausible for him to do as president, rather than get ridiculed by everyone outside sports, if Obama even had the power to do it at all. I read one comment that said "McCain wants make [sic] things back to the way they used to be. Obama is looking fix [sic] a broken system by making change." Um... are you saying you think the proliferation of steroids is just "the way things are" now?)
Barack. I love ya. I voted for ya. I completely agree on the need for a playoff. But you're not ambitious enough, man!
This happens every year at this time: wannabe playoff pushers ruin the good name of the playoff idea by proposing playoff schemes that's whatever would be the ideal scheme for that particular year with a minimum of teams (to Protect the Sanctity of the Regular Season(tm)). Last year the big proposal was an eight-team playoff with automatic bids for the BCS conference champions. At least one place proposed also including an automatic bid for the best non-BCS conference team, leaving only one at-large. That would have worked last year, when there were only one or two non-conference champions with a claim at the BCS (Kansas and Georgia) and an undefeated non-BCS conference team (Hawaii).
It would be an unmitigated disaster this year. The Big 12 South is a clusterbleep, and leaving an odd team out between Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State would be rather inherently unfair, especially if everyone in that division has at least two losses. That would get amplified if you threw in the SEC Title Game loser or kept the non-BCS automatic qualifier. And if you junked the latter, what happens to what could still be as many as three undefeated non-BCS conference teams? And what about USC, which would get screwed if Oregon State wins out? And all this to keep the conference champions of the crummy ACC and Big East (highest-ranked teams in the BCS #19 and #25 respectively, and not much higher in my rankings)?
So now the big proposal is throwing in just the top eight teams regardless of conference affiliations, which might be unfair to leagues with a lot of parity, not to mention non-BCS schools that never really get that high. As Jay Mariotti said recently on Around the Horn (paraphrased), "this would be a good year for a playoff because we have eight championship-caliber teams". Am I the only one who thinks that would make an eight-team playoff a bad idea? If the top eight teams are bunched up at the top, they have basically zero motivation to play for seeding, only to get into the tournament! It's the same no matter where they're seeded or who they play, so why bother?
As it turns out, at least this year, more really is more.
The 16-team system that has been gaining a lot of traction - all 11 conference champions, plus 5 at larges - is one system that would have worked last year and this year. Five at-larges was more than enough for everybody; Kansas and Georgia were both rewarded for their strong seasons with at-large berths in my simulated playoffs. (Five may in fact have been too many, as Florida and Boston College both got in, but as both were seeded ahead of teams that were seriously considered for the real-life title game it may have been deserved.) Missouri and West Virginia, after last-day upsets, were forced to go on the road in the first round against real-life championship contenders (but at least Missouri got in after their two losses both came to Oklahoma). 3-loss Virginia Tech was my 1 seed on the basis of their schedule; Arizona State, Cincinnati, and Texas had 3 losses but didn't get in at all. (And remember, only two teams - Kansas and Hawaii - had one loss or fewer.)
This year? I'd like to point any doubters to my case for a playoff - my system specifically - from the leadup to last year's simulation.
Why, the 8-team proponents say, should I award spots in the tournament to every mid-major conference champion? No way are they better than potential at-large teams that would make for a true top 16. But this is actually a strength. Sure, the MAC, C-USA, and Sun Belt champions might not be real threats to win the national championship. But you can't tell me it's not incredibly valuable to pick up a top 3 seed and, basically, a free pass to the second round. The four seed, on the other hand, might be at risk of an upset against one of the better mid-major champions, or if it's a really strong year for mid-majors, an at-large. The five and six seeds get stuck with either the lower-rated at-larges or the "BCS Buster" du jour.There's still a lot for the eight top teams to play for:
- "The MAC, C-USA, and Sun Belt champions might not be real threats to win the national championship"? Not anymore! Before last week the Sun Belt was the only non-BCS conference without an undefeated team! Even now facing any conference champion from any conference that's not the Sun Belt brings the very real possibility of an upset of Appalachian State-esque proportions! Suddenly there's a huge incentive for one of the top teams to strive for a 1 seed; anything less would be risking an upset, but with a 1 seed you can rest your starters and coast. (If Conference USA is not a factor anymore, we can extend that privlege to the 2 seed, releasing some pressure to be #1, but that's the same as the BCS we have now anyway.) If we went by the BCS standings a BCS conference champion could be seeded as low as 14, meaning even a 3 seed might have to contend with a BCS team!
- After getting someone to pound on in the first round, the 1 seed will be tanned, rested and ready for the next round. You want to avoid the 8 seed so you're not risking having to face a far more rested team in the second round! If we extend the above privlege to the 2 seed, the 7 seed becomes off-limits as well!
- Not to mention, if the BCS standings are any indication, if you sink too close to the 8 you risk the Mountain West champion (maybe even Boise State) bumping you down a spot - possibly all the way to 9 and a first-round road game! If we went by the BCS standings the top 11 teams would all get in right now (assuming Oregon State loses), meaning a seed as high as 6 puts you up against a legit national championship contender!
- Depending on how we set up the details, we haven't even mentioned the importance of getting a seed of 4 or higher for a second-round home game!
There's a possibility that an Alabama-Florida SEC title game would be a coastfest for both teams under a playoff, but with the winner almost guaranteed a top three seed and the loser probably condemned to a 5 or worse (6 or worse for Florida), there's still quite a bit to play for. Penn State doesn't want to lose another game, because they're probably getting a top three seed right now. Sure, it might be cold comfort to have a small number next to your name if you're playing Tulsa or West Virginia, but look on the bright side: they wouldn't be sinking so low as to be staring at Ohio State, Ball State, or even Boise State, not to mention the possible second-round home game.
It's not perfect. Maybe I could reduce the field a little. But it provides meaningful incentives to increase your standing within the playoff, which is more than can be said for most smaller systems. I guess this is one place where I ever-so-slightly disagree with the new President-Elect of the United States. (Well, aside from some places in my platform examination.)
To learn more about my system and the criteria for my simulation of it later, click here.