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Monday Musings: Let’s Talk Playoffs

In which I talk about the thing that literally everyone who breathes around College Football talks about

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CFP National Championship Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

With the Playoff rankings coming out soon, I figured now is as good a time as any to share with y’all what I think the ideal Playoff system is. I’m not the first person to do this, nor will I be the last, but that’s not gonna stop me. Let’s blade.

First, why change the Playoff at all? I have a few main reasons for why the current Playoff system is annoying:

  1. The rules are ambiguous. Each year we think we’ve figured out what the committee rewards, and each year we’ve been wrong. At times they favor strength of schedule, at times they favor conference championships, at times they favor margins of victory, at times they favor being Alabama. The problem with this is that the path to the Playoff isn’t clear. Outside of a P5 team going undefeated and winning their conference, most other (more realistic) scenarios are less clear. It’s tough for a team to control their own destiny within such an amorphously-defined system. And god help any G5 team that has Playoff hopes.
  2. The system is inherently subjective. At its core it’s run by a committee of humans, and there are problems that come with that. The weirdest one in my opinion is the idea that you can definitively rank the four supposed best teams. How can you take two teams that didn’t play each other (or any common opponents) and say “oh yeah, team A is #3 and team B is #4 for sure”. In a four team playoff, the seeding matters a lot. And I think it’s ridiculous that the seeding is entirely determined by a committee of humans making subjective decisions. Additionally, the idea of choosing four teams means that it is technically possible that an undefeated P5 champion gets left out, which is ridiculous.
  3. “Strength of Schedule” is a sham of a metric. College football is the wild west with less rules. Anything can happen any given weekend, and I think it’s ridiculous to try to split hairs between who played harder schedules. Furthermore, scheduling is fairly out of the hands of the schools; they can’t help their conference schedule. They shouldn’t be penalized because a team they have to play sucks.

Examples of recent weirdness:

  • Alabama getting in last year despite losing to Auburn and not even playing in their conference championship, solely because of their program culture or whatever.
  • The TCU/Baylor fiasco from 2014
  • Anything involving Ohio State and the Big 10
MEME: georgia tech: Brutus, virginia tech: the drum

Because of these reasons, I favor a system that involves automatic bids and removes the burden of choice from a subjective committee. Here are my main tenants:

  • 8 team bracket
  • 5 P5 conference champions get automatic bids
  • Highest ranked (AP Poll) G5 conference champion gets a bid
  • 2 at large bids to highest ranked teams that didn’t win conference championships

First off, this system gives automatic bids to conference champions which makes the path extremely clear: win your conference and you’re in. This helps to further incentivize conference championships as well as makes sure that all P5 conferences are represented.

Secondly, it provides automatic inclusion for the G5, something that a lot of people have been complaining about. Under the current system, I firmly believe a G5 team will never get a spot.

Third, it rewards two teams that had strong seasons without winning their conference. Think how last year’s Auburn beat two Playoff teams and barely lost to a third. This alleviates some concerns around including the champions of “weak conferences” over teams that may be considered “better” (can you imagine the riots if a team like a one-loss Washington ever made the current playoff over a SEC team?). This also provides an extra way for another really good G5 team to earn a spot.


That’s the basics, now for some more details.

To get rid of the concept of seeding and how it may impact the Playoff matchups I propose a rotation-based system where the first four games are the old top tier bowls (Orange, Sugar, Cotton, Fiesta) and the teams that play in them are rotated each year based on which type of bid they received. For example if in year one it was:

ACC Champ vs Big 10 Champ

G5 vs At Large 1

At Large 2 vs PAC 12 Champ

SEC Champ vs Big 12 Champ

The next year it would be:

Big 12 Champ vs ACC Champ

PAC 12 Champ vs G5

At Large 1 vs SEC Champ

At Large 2 vs Big 10 Champ

Across 7 years, each spot will play each other spot. It’s math and it’s wonderful and it’s fair. The bowl that these matchups occur at could also be rotated each year so that there aren’t any real conference ties. Conference ties are dumb.

After this round there will be four teams remaining. In round two, the bowl winners will also rotate. So year one might be:

Orange vs Fiesta

Cotton vs Sugar

And the next year would be:

Cotton vs Orange

Sugar vs Fiesta

This again ensures that no particular conference, seed, etc. gets an easy path through anything other than shear luck. The two victors then play in the National Championship as you might have guessed.

Now, I realize there are a couple shortcomings with this system. For one, it doesn’t entirely eliminate subjectivity. The G5 spot and the two at large bids are still determined by the AP Poll rankings. At some level this has to happen though. I’m not thrilled that it has to, but I think it’s still less subjective than a committee just choosing four teams. There will always have to be subjectively (unless we do something wild like a 32 team playoff), and I think this system has the least.

The other issue is that this does involve additional games over the current four team system. I get that, but at the same time I don’t think it’s a huge problem. There’s room in the calendar for it and I don’t think one game is an egregious player safety issue.

Allow me to talk directly to TStan now (if you didn’t know he was on the CFP Committee you should). Hey Todd, sup? You know I’m right. Use your influence to make this happen. And then get Adidas to make helmets with the Wreck on ‘em. But this first.

It’s not exactly perfect but I think this system solves a lot of pains of the current system. It removes a ton of ambiguity, provides clear paths, provides more opportunities for non “blue blood” schools, and would be generally more interesting to watch in my opinion. What do y’all think?

Unrelated note, if you missed the story of Tyler Trent from Purdue last weekend you need to check it out. If you’d like to donate to his cause, here’s the link.