The story so far: A Modest Proposal, Part I :: We're All Wrong
Having weighed the arguments both in favor of and in opposition to a college football playoff, we can now lay out the basis for a playoff system that can answer at least some of the concerns -- though not all -- of the opponents of a playoff. Some sacred cows will have to be slaughtered; that's the nature of the exercise.
PROPOSED: That college football fans recognize these principles as the cornerstone for discussions of a college football playoff:
--Any system should, to the extent practical, do as little damage to the importance of regular-season games as possible.
--Any system must respect and in some way pay homage to the tradition of the old-guard bowls. (No, Insight Bowl, that doesn't include you.)
--Any system must minimize controversy.
--Any system must not involve reseeding teams once the postseason has begun.
PROPOSED: That college football fans support a six-team playoff format.
Why six teams? Because it maintains a good deal of the drama of the regular season. There would still be a lot on the line: Lose one game, and you might not get a first-week bye (see the bracket below). Lose two games, and you might not even make the tournament.
Why not four? Because it won't minimize controversy. Imagine the gripes -- some of them legitimate -- from Georgia fans had the spelling-challenged Dawgs been kept out of a four-team tournament last year when they dropped to No. 5 in the last BCS poll without taking the field.
Why not eight? Because then you get a bit too big and it starts to deflate the regular season. And the lower on the ladder for the final seed, the more likely you are to get a lopsided game.
Six is a good compromise.
Here is what the bracket for a six-team playoff would look like, with each team identified by its seeding:
If this bracket were to have been in place last year, and we used the BCS rankings to seed the teams, it would have gone:
1 Ohio State
3 Virginia Tech
So our first round games would be Virginia Tech vs. Missouri and Oklahoma vs. Georgia. All of those look to be strong games, though we could probably count on Oklahoma to choke against Georgia.
Then you would have VT or Mizzou against LSU and OU or UGA against Ohio State. Again, those look like good games, with the added intrigue in the LSU-VT rematch of a vengeance game.
But there's another way we could do it, one that might work out even better. This would take the six BCS conference champions and seed them according to their BCS rankings. If one of those champions fell outside the Top 10, then they could be replaced by the highest ranking non-champion. This would prevent the travesty of 2004 Pittsburgh getting in over 2004 Utah, for example.
That would produce this from the 2007 season:
1 Ohio State
3 Virginia Tech
5 Southern Cal
6 West Virginia
First-round games: Virginia Tech vs. West Virginia (a regional grudge match) and Oklahoma vs. Southern Cal (when media darlings collide!). Then you get Ohio State vs. OU or the other USC and LSU vs. either VT or WVU. Again, good games all.
Why limit it to BCS conference champions? Because, as Hawaii demonstrated last year, it is the rare mid-major team that can even take the field with a quality BCS foe. (And, in case you're wondering, 2006 Boise State would not have made it in unless there was a proviso that a mid-major champion in the Top 10 would get the right to go to the tournament in place of a sub-Top 10 BCS conference champ, which causes me no heartburn whatsoever.)
Why limit it to conference champions? It would actually have a few positive effects. It would strengthen the incentive to win one's league championship, enhancing the value of conference games. It might prompt Notre Dame to get off its high horse and join the Big Ten. It could make the Pac-10 consider adding some quality teams. To make this work and be fair, though, there would have to be a rule requiring all BCS leagues to have a championship game, regardless of how many teams were in a given conference.
And, since C&F has liberally used cliches throughout this proposal, he might as well resort to that grand old saw: You can't be the best team in the country if you're not the best team in your conference. (C&F is well aware of the argument that a championship does not always equate to being "the best team." That's why this is the least important argument in his mind.)
Which method for choosing the teams is best? C&F can see the virtue in both, so he's hesitant to choose. Feedback welcome.
As for the scheduling:
Ideally, the first week of bowl season would feature a daily postseason game, with the lower-tier bowls going this week and leading to the Saturday showdowns: Games 1 and 2.
That would be followed by mid-tier bowl games in the second week of the postseason, capped off by Games 3 and 4.
Finally, high-profile bowls would take center stage in the third week of bowl season, with the final game being a prime-time faceoff for the right to be the national champion.
But...hold on a minute. That means you'd probably only have 15-18 bowls, or 20-23 if you made the playoff games "bowls." Yes. Again, this would take place in an ideal world, and there are too many bowls -- cut some. Or, if we must have every last color-blazer, corporate-logo infested exhibition between the sixth-best Conference USA team and the ninth-best WAC team, schedule more than one bowl on some days.
This might not be the perfect solution. To be honest, it isn't meant to be the perfect solution. It's the best answer I, as a playoff critic, could come up with to the question: "If there were to be a playoff, how would I want it done?"
It's meant more as a discussion starter, a basis for a debate between those who want a playoff and those who don't that gets beyond the usual name-calling and hardened positions.
Again, any input is welcome. If this can start a new and more civil debate, so be it. If not, it's at least fun to think about.