So by now we’ve heard about a few other possible playoff setups - 6 teams and 16 teams.
Let me just tell you, those setups - plus the existing 4-team playoff - are wrong.
The obvious - and only - answer is an 8-team playoff. So, why don’t you just ruminate, while I illuminate the possibilities!
It all stems from the single biggest flaw of the current system - in the best case scenario any given year, one of the Power 5 conferences is left out of the playoffs. That’s not even including years when multiple teams from one conference - or Notre Dame - get in. How can a playoff be “fair” when 20% of all Power 5 teams are just straight up excluded from the playoffs? Makes no sense!
And let’s take that flaw one step farther - what about the Group of 5 teams? Sorry AAC! Sorry MAC! Sorry Mountain West! No matter how well you play, you will never sniff the playoff. Ever. That’s not right.
So how do we A) accommodate all P5 conferences, and B) give the G5 a chance at the natty?
An 8-team playoff of course!
Here’s how I would lay out the system:
1. All Power 5 Conference Champions Get an Auto-Bid
If you win your conference as a member of the ACC, Big Ten, Big Twelve, Pac-12, or SEC, you make the playoff. Congratulations! You went through the gauntlet of a P5 schedule, won your division, and won your conference, and you are rewarded with a spot in the playoffs! Easy peasy. This fills the first five slots in the playoff.
2. The Highest-Ranked Group of 5 Team Gets an Auto-Bid
Every year, there are a couple of G5 teams that make an outright statement to be in the top 4, let alone the top 8. Yet every year, these teams are excluded from consideration. No more! The highest ranked G5 teams gets an auto-bid. Every team in America should have the opportunity to play for a national championship - as it stands right now, over half of the teams nationwide start the season without that chance. Now everyone can start the season 0-0 with the realistic chance to raise the trophy at the end of the year. This fills six slots in the playoff.
3. Two At-Large Bids Will Be Given to the Next Highest-Ranked Teams
So we’ve handed out six auto-bids, and are left with two spots left. Quite simply, the highest-ranked teams that didn’t fit the first two criteria will then get at-large slots in the playoff. This is where the also-rans will end up - the 1- or 2-loss losers of some P5 conference championships, Notre Dame, perhaps even a second G5 team depending on the year. With that we’ve filled all eight slots in the playoff.
So, now that we’ve gotten past the basics, let’s get down to the nitty gritty. How are these teams seeded? What goes on with the first round? What if the top G5 team is unranked? Let’s discuss!
So I don’t know about you, but I’m frankly a little tired of simply resorting to the polls to sort out playoffs. But you know what? So far those polls have been pretty dang good at getting it right. At least, the top 4. I would make a slight change to the playoff committee, and essentially remove the actual committee from the discussion. Let’s stick with more of a BCS format, and simply combine a handful of computers and the AP/coaches polls.
Here’s the twist: I’d slot the G5 team into the #6 seed as an auto-bid. I’d be willing to debate this point, but pollsters are notorious for under-ranking G5 teams. I’d put the G5 rep at #6, and then the last two at-large teams get #7 and #8.
For the first round, I’d have the top 4 seeds play host at their home venue for the quarter-finals. This keeps up the “reward” of being one of the top 4 teams that exists today, both in competitive advantage and financially. For the sake of the schedule, I’d move the first round up about a week to the last week of December. This is especially fun if you envision teams from the south or southwest having to come play in State College, Columbus, or Ann Arbor in late December.
Right now, the NY6 bowls rotate on a 3-year schedule for the semi-finals, and I’m fine with that setup staying in place for round 2. These games would still take place on or around New Year’s Day. And then the championship would proceed as a standalone game later.
What If a Group of 5 Team is Unranked?
Don’t care. For one thing, polls go well past the top 25, so figuring out who the best G5 team is wouldn’t be a problem. For another, since 2014, there has always been at least one G5 team in the final top 25, so it hasn’t been an issue thus far.
The point of a playoff is that on any given Saturday, anything can happen. Every time a P5 team gets slotted against a G5 team in a New Year’s Six bowl, the P5 team is secretly crapping their Underoos. They don’t want to have to play a “lesser” team - what if they lose? Everyone will think worse of them! If they win, they were “supposed to” anyway!
Good. Be afraid. Fear the little guy. He’s desperate to mess you up, and prove that the G5 deserves a spot at the table. If you, as a 3-seed in this scenario, are truly afraid to play a 6-seed G5 team at home in late December, then you don’t belong in the playoff anyway. Pack up your cleats and let someone else have a crack at it.
So there you have it - the best playoff scenario is an 8-team format, with auto-bids for all P5 champs, the top G5 team, and then two at-large teams.
First round is played at the venue of the top 4 seeds in late December, preserving some competitive and financial advantage for the “current” playoff seeds. Second round is played on New Year’s Day in New Year’s Six bowls, and the championship is played about a week later.
Bada bing bada boom.