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A More Perfect College Football Playoff - New Playoff Format

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Chapter from "A More Perfect College Football Playoff (2017-18 Season)"

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A More Perfect College Football Playoff - New Playoff Format

  1. 1. New Playoff Format …is needed to improve the quest for the national champion On New Year’s Eve of 2017, the fourth edition of the College Football Playoff will kick-off. Four teams will clash with each other for the title of the national champion in a tournament that features two semifinal matches and a championship game. The semifinals will be hosted by Sugar Bowl and Rose Bowl on December 31st 2017, and the championship game will be held at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on January 8th, 2018. The team that wins the championship will be awarded a 35-pound trophy. The task of selecting four participants rests with 13 members of the selection committee that will examine the top 25 teams across the nation. The committee creates their ranking through an incremental process where several parameters such as relative head-to-head results, the strength of schedule, and conference superiority are examined. The four teams may come from any conference, and there are no limits to how many teams can be chosen from each conference. Since its inception in 2012, the College Football Playoff has evolved into one of the most watched sporting events in the country. The Chicago Tribune reported in 2017 that the latest championship game between Clemson and Alabama drew more than 26 million viewers, while the semifinals attracted close to 20 million viewers- an increase of 24 percent from the prior year. Nevertheless, many fans, coaches, and football administrators are
  2. 2. New Playoff Format 37 dissatisfied with the current format, mainly because it restricts the playoff to just four teams. Some want to increase the number of eligible teams to six, others want an eight-team tournament, yet others are rooting for a 16-team bracket. The Washington State Cougars head coach Mike Leach is even gunning for a 64-team playoff behemoth. A comparison with the NFL would suggest that the playoff field needs to be expanded. At the start of the season, 129 college teams are vying for a theoretical chance to make the playoff. This is about four times more than the number in the NFL (32). However, the NFL playoffs feature three times as many team as the college playoff (12 versus 4). If the goal is to improve the profile of the championship game, it makes sense to allow more than four teams into the playoff. *** The College Football Playoff committee is made up of… humans A second batch of criticisms is directed at the selection committee, in particular the way they choose the final four teams. The current process appears to be inconsistent and prone to bias, because members of the committee have friends among the coaches and athletic directors of the teams seeking a playoff spot. In that respect, the situation hasn't changed much from the era when the champion was decided by a vote. If you go back to 2012, you could easily see that Florida State didn't deserve to be part of the playoff. They were barely able to squeeze by in many of their games and eventually lost to Oregon by a score of 59-
  3. 3. 38 A More Perfect College Football Playoff 20. Many people who watched that game thought that Florida State were unable to put up a competitive display. Meanwhile, the #6-ranked TCU blew out #9 Michigan by a score of 42-3. Objectively, Florida State was not a better team than TCU, but the selection committee decided otherwise, because TCU hadn't won a conference championship. Last year, the top four teams were Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Washington. In one of the semifinals, Ohio State were defeated by Clemson 31-0. However, in the Sugar Bowl the #7-ranked Oklahoma defeated #14 Auburn 35-19, so the Sooners would have likely put up a stronger fight against Clemson than the Buckeyes. The rumor is that the selection committee had a bad opinion of Oklahoma’s defense. Penn State deserved a spot in last year’s playoff even more. Not only had they won the Big Ten conference championship, but they also beat Ohio State 24-21, so it looks ridiculous that Ohio State got into the playoff, while Penn State didn't. Since the Buckeyes weren’t even in the Big 10 title game, their selection begged the question about the relevance of a conference championship. *** “The Ultimate 2017 College Football Road Trip” – Sports Illustrated The biggest argument against increasing the size of the playoff bracket is that it may reduce the importance of the regular season. The regular season of college football has always been cherished for its uniqueness among American sports, but when the playoff was introduced, fans began to consider regular season games as mere
  4. 4. New Playoff Format 39 stepping stones to the playoff. Some reckoned that it was better to stay at home in the regular season, so they could save up and make travel plans for the playoff to be held later. Indeed, the Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlby suggested that expanding the playoff would reduce the audience for the conference championship games. Another argument against a bigger playoff may be that it is wrong to subject college kids to the same punishing regimen as experienced by the NFL professionals. If another round is added to the playoff, some teams would have to play 16 games in a season. Such schedule would not only affect the students’ academics, but also increase the physical demands on their bodies. For instance, the 2016 defensive MVP Ben Boulware said: "I would literally die if I were asked to play one more game". Like with other controversies in college football, there is a lot of money at stake here. The bowl games that host the semifinals have seen an increase in the viewership, while mid-December bowls have suffered. Former Director of the Foster Farm Bowl Gary Cavall blamed the playoff format for diminishing the value of minor bowls. *** The Power Five conferences are the elite of college football The current playoff format guarantees that at least one Power Five conference will not get an entry. For instance, USC will not be among
  5. 5. 40 A More Perfect College Football Playoff the final four this year, although the PAC-12 champions have some of the most exciting players in the nation on their roster. If the goal of the playoff is to find the best team, one can’t automatically assume that, for example, SEC is a better conference than PAC-12. The regular season doesn’t feature enough inter-conference games to determine the ranking of conferences, and that is a real problem. A solution could be to give all Power Five conference champions automatic berths in the playoff, a view shared by the NCAA President Mark Emmert. Here's another scenario: if all Power Five winners go undefeated in the regular season, there would be no way to select the top four teams among them. The chance of that happening is small, but it can't be ruled out. In many ways, the current process of a committee selecting only four teams for the playoff is not optimal- not for the teams and not for the fans. So how can it be improved? *** The rankings are an integral part of the postseason First of all, it is important that we understand and keep the positives that we got from the four-team playoff. College football had traditionally been regionalized, until BCS (the precursor to CFP) turned it into a national event. The weekly rankings of the selection
  6. 6. New Playoff Format 41 committee raise the profile of many games that would otherwise not pull crowds; for example, see the Miami vs Virginia Tech contest earlier this year. The college football rankings are a vital foundation for the playoff and must be preserved. In the format we are recommending, the Power Five conference champions would automatically qualify for the playoff and be seeded #1 through #5 based on their ranking. That is, if a team wins their conference, they are guaranteed a chance to become national champion. That would maximize the status of conference championships, making them as relevant as they can be. The Power Five winners would be supplemented by up to three wildcard teams, selected from the ranking of the remaining teams by the selection committee. If less than three wildcards are selected, some the higher ranked Power Five champions would be given a bye. This between-5-and-8 teams format would require an additional round of quarterfinals, which would take place around Christmas Eve as part of the bowl system and secure its future in the process. *** How the 2017-18 College Football Playoff should look like To get a better grasp of the proposed format, let’s illustrate how the playoff should look like this year. According to the selection committee, the ranking of the Power Five Champions is as follows:  Clemson (ACC) #1  Oklahoma (Big 12) #2  Georgia (SEC) #3  Ohio State (Big 10) #5
  7. 7. 42 A More Perfect College Football Playoff  USC (PAC-12) #8 These teams would be seeded #1 through #5 in the same order as in the ranking. The rest of the top eight teams are:  Alabama (#4)  Wisconsin (#6)  Auburn (#7) Since Alabama and Wisconsin are one-loss teams, but Auburn has three losses, the only playoff-worthy teams would be Alabama and Wisconsin. They would be given wildcards and seeded as #6 and #7, respectively. Thus, the quarterfinals of the expanded 2017-18 College Football Playoff should be:  USC vs Ohio State  Alabama vs Georgia  Wisconsin vs Oklahoma  Clemson – bye In the second round, one of the semifinals would feature the lowest seeded quarterfinal winner against Clemson, while the other semifinal would be between the two remaining quarterfinal winners.
  8. 8. New Playoff Format 43 *** When the BCS was being replaced with the four-team CFP format, there was a lot of resistance from the presidents of major conferences. Everyone wanted the change, except the people who ran college football. Although the sentiments have now changed, the changes were adapted grudgingly and slowly. You can expect a similar situation if the current format is ever to be expanded to a larger playoff. As things stand, the consensus of the people who control college football (coaches, players, TV executives, bowl executives, and commissioners) is that the four-team format is doing well. They say that in most departments, the format has met or even exceeded their expectations. If the matter was left entirely up to them, we may not see an expanded playoff anytime soon. As it happens, we at SportFiction have a sophisticated college football simulation engine at our disposal and decided to use it to demonstrate the value of the expanded playoff. Without further ado, we give you an Alternate Reality version of the 2017-18 College Football Playoff that features Wisconsin, Alabama, USC, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Clemson. Enjoy!

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