The Coaches Trophy crystal ball. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

A College Football Playoff Plan That Works

Leave it to college presidents and athletic directors to bicker and quibble over a disagreement that is quite easily resolved. On one side, you have those who demand that only conference champions be included, while the other side wants no qualifications at all, other than that the top 4 teams be included. The solution, as is usually the case in such matters, is found in compromise.

It should be noted from the start that a pure “champions only” format is completely untenable. The reason for this is that such a model excludes independents, including such traditional powers as Notre Dame and Brigham Young. Also excluded would be both Army and Navy. While not traditional powerhouses, the exclusion of the two service academies would be a PR nightmare for the new playoff system.

Equally important to take not of, however, is that a pure “top 4″ would be nearly as untenable. As recently as last week, Big Ten presidents were making noises about returning to the “status quo” (read: old bowl system) if the “champions only” model is not implemented. While that seems more like petty pique than a true threat, it’s important that all parties feel listened to, and implementing a true “top 4″ model would not cause that to happen.

So, what then is a tenable solution? I call this the  “Champions Only, If X” format.  Substituted for “X” would be some negotiated qualification, such as “Top 6″, “Top 10″ or some other number. Below, I lay out my personal preference, which I think would also be viewed as a reasonable compromise by the current factions in the dispute.

A member in good-standing of any Division 1-A Conference (called “FBS” by the NCAA)  automatically qualifies for the Division 1-A Football Playoff (hereafter called “The Playoff”) if:

  1. they are the champion of their conference, and finish in the Top 4 of the BCS standings (hereafter “the BCS”); or
  2. they are the champion of their conference, and finish in the Top 6 of the BCS, provided there are no more than 3 other conference champions ahead of them in the BCS; or
  3. they finish in the Top 3 of the BCS, regardless of status as conference champion.

Additional rules:

  1. No more than two teams from any conference may be included in The Playoff. (This supercedes rule #3 above.)
  2. A team not winning their conference championship shall not be selected ahead of the conference champion, unless they finish ranked in the Top 3 of the BCS.
  3. Rematches are to be avoided in the semifinals, if possible.

A Division 1-A Independent may qualify only by finishing in the Top 3 of the BCS, or being the #4 team, if a fourth conference champion does not finish in the Top 6. If that occurs, then the top 3 conference champions, according to the BCS, will join that Independent in The Playoff, provided they satisfy the criteria listed above. If only two conference champions so satisfy the criteria, then the next highest-rated team will be taken.

As a point of reference, here is what last season would have looked like, given the above criteria:

Seeds:

1-seed = BCS #1 Louisiana State (13-0) – SEC Champion

2-seed = BCS #2 Alabama (11-1) – SEC At-Large (Top 3 auto-qualifier)

3-seed = BCS #5 Oregon (11-2) – Pac 12 Champion

4-seed =BCS #3 Oklahoma State (11-1) – Big 12 Champion

 

First Out: BCS #4 Stanford (11-1)

Semifinal match-ups:

1 LSU (13-0) vs 4 Oklahoma State (11-1)

2 Alabama (11-1) vs 3 Oregon (11-2)

Oklahoma State and Oregon are swapped in the seedings, based upon the rule about avoiding rematches in the semifinals, if possible. Also, Oregon is taken over Stanford, even though Stanford was higher-ranked, based upon Oregon having won the Pac 12.

It seems clear there would not have been much controversy about the exclusion of Stanford in the above example. Stanford was blown out by Oregon, and subsequently lost out on the Pac 12’s North Division title as a result. And lest you think that 2011-12 was an aberration, and that controversy would ensue with this type of model on a frequent basis, below are the semifinal matchups it would have created for every single year that the BCS has been in existence. (The records are prior to the bowls.)

1998:
#1 Tennessee (12-0, SEC Champ) vs. #4 Ohio State (10-1, Big 10 Champ)
#2 Florida State (11-1, ACC Champ) vs. #3 Kansas State (11-1, Big 12 at-large)
Note: KSU is taken over #6 Texas A&M (10-2, Big 12 Champ)  and #5 UCLA (10-1, Pac 10 Champ) based upon the Top 3 rule from above.

1999:
#1 Florida State (11-0, ACC  Champ) vs. #4 Alabama (10-2, SEC Champ)
#2 Virginia Tech (11-0, Big East Champ) vs. #3 Nebraska (11-1, Big 12 Champ)

2000:
#1 Oklahoma (12-0, Big 12 Champ) vs.  #3 Miami (FL) (10-1), Big East Champ)
#2 Florida State (11-1, ACC Champ) vs. #4 Washington (11-1, Pac 10 Champ)

2001:
#1 Miami (12-0, Big East Champ) vs. #3 Colorado (10-2, Big 12 Champ)
#2 Nebraska (11-1, Big 12 at-large) vs. #4 Oregon (10-1, Pac 10 Champ)
Note: Nebraska qualified based upon their Top 3 finish, and the semifinal matchups were shifted to avoid a Colorado/Nebraska rematch.

2002:
#1 Miami (12-0, Big East Champ) vs. #6 Washington State (10-2, Pac 10 Champ)
#2 Ohio State (13-0, Big 10 Champ) vs. #3 Georgia (12-1, SEC Champ)
Note: Washington State is taken over USC (10-2) and Iowa (11-1) based on their Pac 10 championship over USC, and their Top 6 finish in the BCS standings.

2003:
#1 Oklahoma (12-1, Big 12 at-large) vs. #4 Michigan (10-2, Big 10 Champ)
#2 Louisiana State (12-1, SEC Champ) vs. #3 USC (11-1, Pac 10 Champ)
Note: Oklahoma makes it despite their 35-7 loss to K-State, given their Top 3 finish in the BCS standings.

2004:
#1 USC (12-0, Pac 10 Champ) vs. #6 Utah (11-0, Mountain West Champ)
#2 Oklahoma (12-0, Big 12 Champ) vs.  #3 Auburn (12-0, SEC Champ)
Note: Utah is taken over #4 Texas (10-1) and #5 California (10-1) based upon winning their conference championship and finishing in the top 6.

2005:
#1 USC (12-0, Pac 10 Champ) vs. #4 Ohio State (9-2, Big 10 at-large)
#2 Texas (12-0, Big 12 Champ) vs. #3 Penn State (10-1, Big 10 Champ)

2006:
#1 Ohio State (12-0, Big 10 Champ) vs. #5 USC (10-2, Pac 10 Champ)
#2 Florida (12-1, SEC Champ) vs. #3 Michigan (11-1, Big 10 at-large)
Note: Michigan is selected based upon the Top 3 rule, while USC makes it over #4 LSU (10-2) based upon winning the Pac 10, and finishing in the Top 6.

2007:
#1 Ohio State (11-1, Big 10 Champ) vs. #3 Virginia Tech (11-2, ACC Champ)
#2 LSU (11-2, SEC Champ) vs. #4 Oklahoma (11-2, Big 12 Champ)

2008:
#1 Oklahoma (12-1, Big 12 Champ)  vs. #5 USC (11-1, Pac 10 Champ)
#2 Florida (12-1, SEC Champ) vs. #3 Texas (11-1, Big 12 at-large)
Note: USC is taken over #4 Alabama (12-1) based upon winning the Pac 10 championship and finishing in the Top 6.

2009:
#1 Alabama (13-0, SEC Champ) vs. #4 Texas Christian (12-0, Mountain West Champ)
#2 Texas (13-0, Big 12 Champ) vs. #3 Cincinnati (12-0, Big East Champ)

2010:
#1 Auburn (13-0, SEC Champ) vs. #5 Wisconsin (11-1, Big 10 Champ)
#2 Oregon (12-0, Pac 10 Champ) vs. #3 Texas Christian (12-0, Mountain West Champ)
Note: Wisconsin is taken over #4 Stanford (11-1) based upon their Big 10 championship.

2011:
#1 LSU (13-0, SEC Champ) vs. #3 Oklahoma State (11-1, Big 12 Champ)
#2  Alabama (11-1, SEC at-large) vs. #5 Oregon (11-2, Pac 12 Champ)
Note: Oregon is selected over #4 Stanford (11-1) based upon having won the Pac 12 championship.

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