Playoffs Moving Ever Closer: Solving The Semifinals & Preventing Creep


A meeting of all 11 Bowl Subdivision conference commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Swarbrick in Florida reportedly has college football moving closer to a playoff.

The most sensible model of those being discussed is the plus-one, a four-team format that dictates participants using the current points rating. A four-team playoff generally maintains the integrity of sport’s most exciting regular season. The 2005 season that culminated in Texas meeting USC is a rare exception, and formulating a new system off the exception would be silly.

A few recent seasons have necessitated a six-team format, though. Boise State in 2009 and Utah the season prior were both ranked No. 6 in the final BCS standings. The power conference elitist could argue that them’s the breaks when you play in a lower tier conference, but considering UU beat as many ranked opponents as eventual champion Florida, such skepticism loses weight.

Six teams with Nos. 1 and 2 earning byes is about as large as it can go without watering down the season too much; maybe eight. Of course, when you begin weighing adding a little more, and a little more, and a little more, every drop adds up.

Preventing it from gaining momentum and size like a Bugs Bunny snowball as it rolls downhill is critical. While there is precedent for it not being perfect, the plus-one does placate those who seek a more legitimate champion than the BCS currently offers, without sacrificing everything worthwhile about the bowls.

The maintenance of historic bowl games is important for preserving the unique history of college football, while keeping postseason outlets for lower tier FBS members continues the flow of revenue bowl qualification provides.

Take the Sun Belt and MAC, typically regarded as the two lowest level FBS conferences (predating the WAC’s restructuring). The MAC sent five teams to bowl games in 2011, and the Sun Belt three. That’s four and two more than even a 24-team playoff model akin to what the Championship Subdivision is implementing in 2013 would allow for those leagues. Payouts for those eight teams were as follows:

MAC: Ohio, $325,000; Temple, $375,000; Western Michigan, $750,000; Toledo, $862,500; Northern Illinois, $750,000

Sun Belt: La.-Lafayette, $172,500; FIU, $500,000; Arkansas State, $750,000

A fledgling program like FIU has been able to make over $1.2 million in two seasons by reaching bowl games, and that money is spread through its entire athletic department. This is old hat for frequent readers of the blog, but this is a point worth harping on because it’s so valuable. Were the power brokers of college football to break away from the Sun Belts, MACs and Mountain Wests to form an NFL Lite complete with quasi-professional postseason, all athletics at those schools would suffer. Bowl payouts for games like the Bowl are as lucrative as they are because they are packaged in television rights with the power conference bowls.

Refocusing on the playoff format itself, the primary topic of conversation at present is handling location for a four-team tournament. Possibilities kicked around for as long as the debate’s existed include incorporate the BCS bowls on a rotating basis. One of the proposals on the table is allowing seeds 1 and 2 to host. Some have tossed out completely arbitrary locations.

The Final Four is on a pretty consistent rotation of Houston, Atlanta, Indianapolis, San Antonio, and New Orleans with a Detroit appearance thrown in recently. Minneapolis has not hosted recently enough, nor is slated in the foreseeable future thus is not considered part of the mix. The possibility of one location, with semifinals played on say, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day and a championship one week later isn’t that unrealistic.

If anything, it might be more reasonable for ardent fans dedicated to following the teams through both its championship games. One hotel for a week in the same city vs. multiple flights and reservations, the former sounds better. A five city rotation similar to the Final Four’s is worth exploring in this scenario, though doesn’t necessarily have to be the current BCS locations.

Regional semifinal locations would have to be determined much further in advance than one month for booking purposes, so going that route isn’t without risk. If regionals are established in say, Los Angeles and New Orleans and the top four includes a Big Ten, an SEC and two Pac-12 members, it does not cut down on travel expenditures for everyone. However, such risk does not seem to factor too heavily into NCAA tournament decisions. One cross-country trek for Stanford would prove worth it after the monumental payment is doled out.