How the 8-team playoff can work

The fans want 8 teams (or more). The coaches, athletic directors, presidents, and schools want to keep it at 4. They use excuses like “it cuts into school”, or “it wears on the player’s bodies to play more games than they already are.”

The answer is simple – cut at least one week out of the regular season.

When the playoff was first put out there, some people said it would diminish the regular season. This year showed that was a dumb accusation. Would taking just one game out of the regular season hurt? Absolutely not.

Who is going to miss the cupcake games? Maybe the cupcakes will, but I’ve always found it sad that for one athletic program to succeed (such as at the FCS level), it needs a Power 5 school to pay it hundreds of thousands of dollars to come get beat up. Basically, all the Power 5 schools buy a couple of wins a year and fund some random, smaller athletic programs.

Taking just one cupcake game away, and there you have another week open for a quarterfinal round.

Alabama doesn’t get their 48-14 win over Western Carolina. Auburn doesn’t get it’s 31-7 win over Samford. Oregon doesn’t get it’s 62-13 win over South Dakota.

No one will miss those games. The FCS schools need to hold a bake sale or something and stop relying on other schools buying wins off them. If this is big time college football, then it needs to be big time college football. The Atlanta Braves don’t pay the Birmingham Barons for a few easy games that year, so that the Barons can afford to pay off Regions Field and buy new uniforms. That doesn’t need to be how the system works.

So with 11 regular season games, that leaves plenty of dates for conferences to play who they need to within the conference. Take the SEC for example – they play 8 conference games – 6 in-division, 2 out of division (1 rotating, 1 same). So they need to fill 3 spots. Most teams have at least one marquee game they try to schedule against another Power 5 school, and most schools stop after that.

This season, of the 4 playoff teams:

Oregon played – 1 P5, 1 G5, 1 FCS
Ohio State played – 1 P5, 2 G5, 1 Independent
Alabama played – 1 P5, 2 G5, 1 FCS
Florida State played – 2 P5, 1 FCS (not counting Notre Dame as P5 since that is a “conference” thing)

So while Florida State arguably had a better schedule due to two Power 5 games (Oklahoma State, Florida) along with Notre Dame, they still had an FCS game that they could get rid of.

Next season:

Oregon – 1 P5 (@ Michigan State), 1 G5 (Georgia State), 1 FCS (Eastern Washington)
Ohio State – 1 P5 (@ Virginia Tech), 3 G5 (Hawaii, Northern Illinois, Western Michigan)
Alabama – 1 P5 (neutral vs. Wisconsin), 2 G5 (Middle Tennessee, Louisiana-Monroe), 1 FCS (Charleston-Southern)
Florida State – 1 P5 (@ Florida), 2 G5 (Texas State, South Florida), 1 FCS (Chattanooga)

So if all those teams dropped their FCS game (and Ohio State drops a G5 game, such as Hawaii or Western Michigan), then that frees up a week.

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If there was an 8-team playoff, the first round would definitely have to be at the high seed’s home field. The schedule would have to put rivalry week the weekend before Thanksgiving. The conference title games would be the weekend after Thanksgiving, allowing the majority of teams a break for that holiday week.

Then the first two weeks of December would be off for exams. If academics are really an excuse to not bump it up to 8-teams, then I just poked a hole in that.

Let’s lay it out. Thanksgiving in 2015 is on November 26. Labor Day is September 7. Teams only get one off week this season because of the schedule, so this works out even better with less games.

September 5 – Opening Saturday
September 12 – Week 2
September 19 – Week 3
September 26 – Week 4
October 3 – Week 5
October 10 – Week 6
October 17 – Week 7
October 24 – Week 8
October 31 – Week 9
November 7 – Week 10
November 14 – Week 11
November 21 – Week 12 (Rivalry Week)
November 28 – Week 13 (Conference Championships)
December 5 – Off (Heisman trophy ceremony)
December 12 – Off
December 19 – National Quarterfinals (Saturday)
December 21 – Bowl Season Begins (Monday)
January 1 – National Semifinals (Friday)
January 9 or 11 – National Championship (Saturday or Monday)

I’m honestly in favor of the championship being on Saturday like most college games. I think it works better for travel too. The 11th is a Monday and when it really is next season.

The question is, how to format the round of 8. The week before New Year’s Day (which would be the ideal time for the semi’s) is obviously Christmas, so that’s out of the question. But with an extra week of rest in December, could it be played before Christmas? If the games need to be played at home anyway, isn’t it better to go ahead and get them done before the holidays?

So I’ve put it at December 19th, the Saturday before Christmas. This gives the teams that are moving on more of a chance to rest and enjoy the holidays a bit before returning to practice. There would be three weeks between the final week and the quarterfinals. Then there would be 13 days (so practically two weeks) between the quarterfinals and the semifinals. Then if the championship is on the 11th, that gives 10 more days between those games.

This way, there are less cupcake games, but the same amount of maximum possible games as now with 15 (11 regular + 1 conference title + 3 playoff). There is also time off for almost three weeks in December for exams. Then the bowl season starts with important games and ends with important games. None of these random bowls no one cares about at the beginning of bowl season.

I don’t see how this isn’t a win-win situation for all involved. The schools get what they want academically, the NCAA, coaches, AD’s and others get what they want for the players, and the fat cat executive types get even MORE games to make money off of. And of course, the fans get what they want. Everyone wins!

Now the question is…who to put in those 5-8 spots.

This season it would have been easy for 5-6 with TCU and Baylor. TCU clearly belonged this year after their destruction of Ole Miss. Baylor lost to Michigan State, but could have been in that typical “consolation bowl” phase that many teams get in when they miss out on the big dance.

The only question comes at 7, 8, and 9. There were three deserving teams in my opinion – Michigan State, Mississippi State, and Boise State.

I think you have to make it where the conference champions get automatic bids. That’s 5 spots gone right there.

1. Alabama
2. Oregon
3. Florida State
4. Ohio State
5. Baylor

Then the whole country will agree on the 6th seed:

6. TCU

But where to go from here? All three teams can make a case to get in, but all three have counter-arguments on why they should stay out. Remember, this is pre-bowl games, so what happened there doesn’t matter for this scenario. Michigan State would have lost to two playoff teams already. Mississippi State would have lost to one playoff team already. Boise State isn’t a Power 5 school, so they are inferior in many people’s minds, and they had losses to Air Force and Ole Miss already.

However, what other teams have a case to get in? Ole Miss beat Alabama, but collapsed late in the season. Arizona beat Oregon, but then got destroyed when they faced off again. Everyone else has 3 losses or worse. So it seems to me that the committee’s only job would be to figure out how to rank 7, 8, and 9 to avoid Michigan State meeting Ohio State or Oregon or Mississippi State meeting Alabama, and then which team to leave out.

If you wanted to look at it logically, then Mississippi State and Boise State should have been 7 and 8 respectively. Why? If the regular season matters, then Michigan State had their chance twice against teams that are already in. Mississippi State had a chance against Alabama, but 2 is greater than 1. Boise was a good team and won that coveted Group of 5 spot in the bowls. I don’t think we’re quite ready to give an auto bid to the Group of 5 top ranked team, but you can’t leave them out of the discussion if they belong there.

7. Mississippi State
8. Boise State
9. Michigan State

So the match-ups would be:

#8 Boise State at #1 Alabama
#5 Baylor at #4 Ohio State

#7 Mississippi State at #2 Oregon
#6 TCU at #3 Florida State

Sounds like a good group of games to me.

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Jon Lunceford is a sports media broadcaster and digital professional. Jon is a graduate of the University of Alabama school of journalism, and played football at Birmingham-Southern College. He has also won two AHSAA Football State Championships while at Homewood High School and was a two-time World Cyber Games Team USA representative. He currently hosts Primetime on WJOX 94.5 and runs the high school athletics site JoxPreps.