Fixing the College Football Play-Off

I’ve never really been a huge basketball fan. It’s missing the two big things I look for in sport. Consistent physical violence, and the opportunity to regularly go and grab a beer without missing any of the action. College football has both, which is why I imagine it’s such a crucial part of America’s Saturdays. With that being said, collegiate basketball has something we college football fans can only dream of. March Madness. The bracket, the dreams, the yearly upsets from small schools facing their respective Goliath’s. The Loyola-Chicago’s of the world get their moment in the sun, and every fan is filled with that wonderful feeling of possibility. This year, it might be us.

College football’s post-season however is a horrendous nightmare that somehow leaves us simultaneously broken by the capitalist wasteland that is collegiate gridiron, and entertaining the idea that the 49ers might take Mac Jones third overall in the draft. It isn’t healthy. Just four teams, who are decided by a committee, get the opportunity to fight it out for the crown with no pathway for non power-five teams to make their case whatsoever. As seen with Cincinnati and Coastal Carolina in 2020. The leftovers get to play in seemingly meaningless bowl games, where the majority of the top players opt out to protect their professional interests, whilst the same teams fight for the title year after year. It’s just a massive disappointment at this point.

So let’s fix it. Right here, right now. I realise this seems like a big undertaking for a weekday evening but I’ve had two pink gin and lemonades and I feel ready to have a run at it. This likely won’t be a perfect solution for everybody, and I know that some of you will complain about it, so just remember. I’m right about everything.

Let’s get started.

First off I want to have sixteen teams in the tournament. Obviously somebody will miss out and be angry about it however many teams you add, but I think this way we can ensure that we get all of the teams we really want to see in the bracket. The teams that I propose be involved in the playoff would be…

The Power Five Conference Champions, which in 2020 would have been Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Oregon. Then the three best non Power Five Champions, decided by the playoff committee, which would have been Cincinnati, Coastal Carolina and San Jose State. Then we would have the winner of the Commander in Chief’s Trophy, because patriotism and the fun of triple option football, which was Army. Finally we would have seven invitational sides, again decided by the playoff committee, which this year would have been Notre Dame, Texas A&M, Florida, Georgia, Iowa State, Indiana and North Carolina.

The top eight ranked sides would then be placed in one pot, with the other eight in a second pot. A live draw would then occur on ESPN where the match-ups would be selected at random, rather than by traditional seeding, to add some extra intrigue to proceedings. That would be a huge money spinner in itself by the way. The four top ranked sides would be placed in different parts of the bracket, with the rest up to the free market.

Now here’s where I get really clever. The first eight games will all be played as part of the bowl calendar. For example the Oklahoma vs Army match up would be in the Armed Forces Bowl. I’ll come on to why this is shortly. The Quarter Finals will then be played at the home stadium of the higher seeded team to get the excitement of a home venue game in the play-off. Finally the two Semi-Finals will be played as two of the six rotating bowl games that the play-off format currently has.

With all that in mind, here’s how the playoff might have played out in 2020 if my model was in place.

Now as you can see I’ve left out any potential shocks here to provide the best vision of the format as possible, but it’s pretty easy to envision some exciting games early on. San Jose State get their shot against Alabama on the big stage whilst Coastal Carolina get to show off their unique offence against the Buckeyes. Finally we get some proper David vs Goliath match-ups. It also still gives us those blockbuster, blue-chip match-ups in the semi-finals that the current format provides. For me though the most exciting round is the Quarter-Finals. Lincoln Riley vs Steve Sarkisian would have been an absolute treat, two of the best defences in the country in the Fighting Irish and Bearcats get to go at each other for 60 minutes, Ohio State would get a proper test from the Aggies, and Mullen vs Swinney would have been fun as hell.

I love the potential match-ups this format gives us, but let me explain why the genius of this concept goes even further than that.

Firstly it safeguards the bowl calendar that we all know and love. Bowl Games are a huge part of college football history, and should be one of the highlights of the year for college football fans. Sadly it isn’t these days, because the games are meaningless and the best players opt out, but it’s fixable. I completely respect why players opt out of bowl games. They have families to provide for and a future to safeguard, I get it. So rather than whining about it, let’s incentivise them to play. Let’s give them games that really matter, that mean something. Nobody is going to opt out of a play-off game when the national championship is still on the line. This format will protect the bowl format, by giving the games meaning again and incentivising the stars of college football to turn up and play in them. The marketability of the games will shoot up again, and with less opt-outs from star players you may see less opt-outs from the other non-playoff bowl games as well.

Secondly, the idea of home games for the quarter-finals makes me so excited. The best part of college football is the game day experience and the incredibly unique fan bases around the country. So let’s bring that to the play-off. Imagine a Quarter-Final played under lights at Death Valley or Memorial Hill. The atmosphere would be absolutely electric, and that would really provide some energy to the play-off that it sometimes lacks at neutral site venues. Those games would be must watch entertainment, and it would provide an advantage to the higher seeded teams that I imagine would be required for the big programmes to get behind this new format.

Photo Credit: NBC Sports

Finally, and most crucially, it gives deserving teams their shot. If you were to bring up the idea of San Jose State vs Alabama in the college football playoff, so many people would laugh and say that it would be a one sided farce, and maybe it would be. Does that really matter though? Nobody complains when Alabama trample all over Arkansas every year, so why shouldn’t San Jose State get their shot at the Crimson Tide? So what if it turns out to be a bit of a mauling, it isn’t like Notre Dame or Ohio State put up much of a fight anyway. Ole Miss pushed Alabama as close as anyone in 2020, yet they lost to Arkansas on their way to a 5-5 record. Florida also came close, but just like Ole Miss lost to LSU who were in turn absolutely demolished by Alabama. It isn’t about talent, it’s about heart and execution. I don’t see why the smaller programmes shouldn’t get their shot at the king.

Some will also point to how Georgia beat Cincinnati in the 2020 Peach Bowl even without their key opt-outs. The Bearcats put up more than a good fight in that game though, likely winning the game if left tackle James Hudson hadn’t been ejected for targeting. You would probably back the Bulldogs if they had their opt-outs playing, but it shows that the talent gap really isn’t as big as people think. Cincinnati may be a smaller school, but they deserve that shot. Those upsets aren’t impossible, and they’ll happen more regularly than we think. Once we start getting those upsets and unlikely semi-final runs, everybody will be dreaming of their team’s historic play-off wins. Then we’ll have a format that really represents college football, and gives us fans what we deserve.

Hopes, dreams, and triple option football on the big stage.

So, there you have it. That is how I would fix the college football playoff. If anybody from the CFP wants to get in touch about royalties and the like my twitter handle is @Farrardise

For now, I’m going to have another drink. I deserve it.

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