The college football bowl system is broken.
Some will say things are great due to tradition. If tradition is so cherished, how can you explain the constant conference jumping by teams or the broadcast of games during the week? There could be over saturation in the bowl system when you are struggling to find eligible six win teams to place in these games (Three 5-7 teams played in bowls this year. They all won their games but that doesn’t justify rewarding their mediocre seasons.). Also, the evaluation of teams is off kilter. A team high in the preseason rankings, a judgement based on potential, conjecture and limited past results, has a distinct advantage over a similar team facing a similar schedule but ranked significantly lower in the polls. Also, two teams with similar schedules at identical 10-1 records are judged differently because one team’s loss was in September while the other team unfortunately lost late in the season. Finally, teams main resume evaluation is based on strength of schedule but if the large schools don’t want to play schools outside of the “Power Five”, they don’t have to do so. Yet fans accept this significantly flawed thinking without batting an eye.
My suggestion is a radical overhaul that will add value to the postseason product presented by the NCAA, teams and broadcast partners while emphasizing results on the field instead of ambiguity and debate due to backroom decision makers. (There will still be room for debate in the playoff selection but that will only fuel the interest and media coverage.)
This one will take a second to sink in but with teams jumping conferences for money grabs, how beholden are we to traditional conference ties? Currently, there are 120 FBS football teams. That is a nice number to work with for scheduling purposes. Teams will be split into 15 8-team groups. Play the other seven teams, win your group and you are automatically in the playoff. Groups can be sorted any way you’d like but here are three of the easiest ways:
- Ranking: Teams are ranked 1-120 on a rolling 3-year basis. Each group will contain one team from ranking 1-15, one from 16-30, etc. This will be the perfect balance of top performers with bottom feeders.
- Geography: Similar to the origin of conferences, teams are grouped together with teams from within their region. This would limit travel costs and ensure solid ticket sales performance for each game.
- Random: Any 8 of the 120 teams can be placed together. This would create match ups that would otherwise never be seen. Just like the World Cup, some groups may be drastically more difficult than others with one so challenging, it would be referred to as the “Group of Death”.
The annual selection show could be aired in February, traditionally a slow month for sports, and would be “must watch” television programming. The NFL schedule release show draws decent viewer numbers and 14 of the 16 opponents for those teams are known years in advance. Do you think fans of Michigan, Alabama or Stanford would tune in to the college football pool selection show? ABSOLUTELY! They would hang on each dramatic moment as they wait for their school’s ping pong ball to appear out of the hopper and learn of their team’s upcoming season.
Don’t worry, I’ve thought about rivalry games. Each school will play a ten game season: 7 group games and 3 open games. This ensures rivalries such as Michigan-Ohio State and Alabama-Auburn will continue. You can still have your Kickoff Classic at AT&T Stadium in Arlington with high profile teams to begin the season and end the year with the amazing Army-Navy game. I’m sure some teams will claim they have more than three rivals but if you have that many, how special can those games really be?
24 teams will make the college football playoffs. Qualification will be through two ways:
- Win your group and you are in. Pretty simple and straightforward. (15 teams)
- At-Large – I promised you’d still have your chance to debate and complain about the validity of some teams making it into the playoff while others are left out. These teams can be decided by a committee similar to the NCAA college basketball tournament or maybe a weighted fan vote. The at-large process also gives value to the three open games played by teams. (9 teams)
The top eight teams will receive a bye (more debate included) while the other 16 teams will face each other in the first round. The winners of these games will move on to face the 8 bye teams and a typical knockout bracket will occur until a winner is decided. Want to appease the current bowl hosts? Hold these playoff games at the neutral sites of the current bowl games.
Some may say that this sounds like too many games for “student-athletes” but a playoff team competing in the first round and making it to the national championship game would play 15 games or the same as this year’s Clemson squad.
Currently, there are over 40 bowl games. 40 BOWL GAMES!! Outside of the national semifinal games, there are three types of people who watch bowl games: alumni of participating schools, gamblers, people who left their TV on in the background. So instead of 40 games where most carry little value, financially or competitively, I’m suggesting 23 games that would matter. Matter to sponsors, matter to the media, matter to schools and, most importantly, matter to the fans.