How will a playoff system affect the national championship?
Jonathan Woo breaks down the possibility of a four team playoff for college football and discusses how it will affect the NCAA.
With the system that college football currently employs to determine a national champion seemingly becoming less popular every subsequent season, there have been preliminary discussions in consideration of a new scheme that could change the way we look at the postseason.
A switch from the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) to a four-team playoff could be the most polarizing debate in the coming months as the efforts of the major conferences around the country look to force the argument into implementation.
The BCS system, while strong in its own right, has had its share of flaws. For instance, although Oregon claimed the head-to-head advantage over Stanford last season, the Cardinal was ranked ahead of the Ducks in the rankings even after the Pac-12 Championship Game. Stanford was ranked fourth in strength of schedule, while Oregon came in at 13, shining light on a problem that has plagued the BCS since its inception in 1998.
In the argument for a four-team playoff, the position of the Big 12 and the SEC seems to be leaning towards appointing a selection committee that would determine the top four teams to enter into a three-game system to filter a national champion. The Big Ten and Pac-12, however, look to be more partial to maintaining that the selections require a majority of conference champions.
For the Big 12, a four-team system would be perfect in every which way. For a conference that does not currently entertain a conference championship— hence the impossibility of an undefeated team losing to a lower conference opponent—the Big 12 would most certainly send its top member to the four-team playoff each season. As for the SEC, with its structure of high-caliber programs and competition, it is not out of the question that the conference could send two members through the playoff structure.
For Texas, or any other Big 12 team for that matter, this means that running the table puts it in a prime position to claim one of the four spots in the playoffs.
A Better Measurer
To be frank, the BCS sometimes determines a legitimate national champion, and sometimes it does not.
Beating a dead horse, a four-team playoff simply better defines a national champion. The system to select which programs for the playoffs adds more human elements and strength of schedule consideration, it adds a level of competition that reaches the peak of college football’s purpose and it sets a bigger stage for the sport.
Effectively, it will look to recognize the best four teams in the country, putting the spotlight, the pressure, and the reward on the top programs during the season.
But it is not like a transformation could be performed overnight. Implementation of the system would bring with it a litany of other complexities that could cause delays, but ultimately could bring a much better and well-defined set of matches.
A preliminary question would be where to play these final three games of the college football season. Should the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds be rewarded with home-field advantage for the semifinals as hosts for the No. 4 and No. 3 seeds respectively? How will college football determine the site of the national championship game? Will it take a Super Bowl or Final Four approach by entertaining bids from host cities? Should all of the playoff games be held at neutral sites? These are tip-of-the-iceberg questions that will fuel the debate in the coming months.
What about the Independents?
Lost in the puzzle of conference realignment and the BCS system are the Independents. How will they factor into this playoff system?
Effectively, programs like Notre Dame and BYU may face the same fate as teams from the Big 12. With no conference championship game with which to look forward, playing a strong schedule with a robust record heavily favors consideration into the playoffs.
If this is the case, then what is the rush for a program like BYU to join a power conference like the Big 12 or Pac-12? If the BCS attachments to the power conferences weaken or become obsolete, then there is little need or motivation for an Independent to reach out for affiliation.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line here is that we are still quite a ways from determining whether this four-team playoff system is to become reality. There are tons of nuances, complexities and other unknowns to factor into the equation, and we are simply in the process of uncovering the variables.
But if the idea starts to gain some more traction, it could snowball into a proposition that may change how programs approach the regular season and college football as a whole.