There are still a few people on this planet who like the Bowl Championship Series. Hey, nobody’s perfect.
The much bigger remaining tension point among college football fans and pundits involves Team Four and Team Eight, the groups that think four or eight teams belong in the College Football Playoff.
Team Four doesn’t want the value of the regular season to be diluted. One of the best thinkers on College Football Twitter, veteran author-podcaster Tim Hyland, made the most salient point in defense of keeping the playoff field at four and avoiding an expansion to eight:
I mean, do we really want 3-loss teams playing for the national title? Because if you go to eight, 3-loss teams enter the discussion.
— Tim Hyland (@IntelligentCFB) December 7, 2014
Know something? He’s right — no three-loss teams should be part of the playoff, and there will be a decent chance of a three-loss team finding the eighth playoff spot in cluttered seasons. Team Four has a strong point.
However, Team Eight has a strong point as well: TCU was a playoff-worthy team, and did not get included. Had Baylor not gacked away a 20-point fourth-quarter lead in the Cotton Bowl, the Bears would have had every right to say that they should have been included, too. Yes, they failed in the most immediate sense (on the scoreboard), but they still demonstrated that they were — and are — formidable.
Given that a six-team playoff field (with byes for the top two seeds) would give the first-round teams a chance to play semifinal games with a game already under their belts — and hence, more rhythm than a potentially rust-addled bye team — that would not seem to be a preferred system. The evennness of eight makes more sense than six.
How, though, can one get an eight-team playoff and preserve the sanctity of the regular season? There seems to be no real good answer… until you arrive at the counterintuitive realization that if you want more teams in the playoff, you need to reduce the length of the regular season. Less is more… and more is less.
Waiting for the punch line? Here it is:
The scheduling solution right in front of college football’s nose — the one which would appease many (though not all) members of both Team Four and Team Eight — is to reduce the regular season from 12 games to 11… and then put in place an eight-team playoff.
The solution, as great solutions tend to be, is surprisingly simple and doesn’t require a great deal of unpacking. It’s not confusing to fans or viewers, and it addresses the need to cap the growth of the season for playoff teams, limiting the extent to which players subject themselves to concussions and the other injuries that are part of football.
You do see how and why this is an ideal solution, right?
Shaving the regular season from 12 games to 11 will essentially wind up removing one cupcake game in non-conference play from each team’s schedule. Yes, you’re removing a home game from eight teams’ schedules. That’s the cost here, the price each team must pay in this process.
However… with the season being limited to 11 games (12 for teams that play in conference title games), the 12th (or 13th) game lopped off by this scheduling revision essentially becomes the playoff quarterfinal in an eight-team field.
The season is basically being reduced for non-playoff teams, but for playoff teams, it would remain the same in terms of length — not expanded, just kept the same as it is now.
The trick here is that the “12th game” — which would have been a cupcake in an official “12-game season” — becomes a playoff quarterfinal added to an 11-game season. You’re really just moving the pieces around and little more. Plus, with a seeding system in place, the higher seeds would host quarterfinals at campus sites, getting back the lost gate from the “12-game season” and then some.
This is how college football can have the appearance of an eight-team playoff, but essentially take the current 12-game season model and basically bake the 12th game into the playoff quarterfinals.
The four semifinal teams (the quarterfinal winners) would wind up with strength of schedule ratings far better than what they’d have under the current 12-game setup, laden with cupcakes as it is.
This is the right way for college football to go. We’ll see what the sport chooses to do in the coming years.