At long last, this season will be the first college football season ever with a real playoff system. It is far from perfect, but here is how it will work.
At the end of the regular season, and after the conference championship games, a 13-person committee will pick the nation's top four college football teams. On New Year's Day, two of them will play in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans and the other two will play in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
Then on January 12th, the winners of those two games will square off in the championship game in Dallas' AT&T Stadium.
While this is a big improvement over the former Bowl Championship Series system, it is still fundamentally flawed. There are five major conferences: the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Southeastern Conference, the Big Ten, the Big 12, and the Pacific 12. That means that every year at least one champion of a major conference will be left out of the playoff. And since the SEC is often dominant, there is a good chance some years will see two SEC teams make the playoffs, and two major conference champions left out.
And the winners of the minor FCS conferences are virtually guaranteed never to be invited.
This needs to be fixed. Here are two possibilities.
Option 1: The Big 4
The five major conferences are already considering adopting their own special rulebook for basketball and football players. They are pretty much a separate division as it is already. Why not go all the way? Why not expand and merge the existing five major conferences into four conferences each divided into 10-team divisions? Here is how the merger might look:
East: Boston College, Connecticut, Syracuse, Rutgers, Notre Dame, Penn State, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Miami.
South: Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Clemson, South Carolina, Georgia Tech, and Florida State.
This conference combines the traditional ACC schools with what was the Big East, plus Notre Dame and Penn State. The Pitt-West Virginia rivalry would be restored, Maryland would be back in the ACC, and the ACC would maintain all of their current major TV markets.
East: LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Alabama, Auburn, Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Georgia, and Florida.
West: Arkansas, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, SMU, TCU, Baylor, Houston, Rice, and UTEP.
This conference combines the old SEC with old SWAC into one football and ratings powerhouse. All the old great Southwest Conference rivalries would be back (Texas vs Texas A&M, SMU vs TCU, etc.) and all the SEC teams would get to play each other every year again too.
East: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Northwestern, Indiana, Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State.
West: Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas State, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Louisville, and Cincinnati.
Combining the original Big Ten and and Big Eight (plus Louisville and Cincinnati) would restore a slew of rivalries (Nebraska vs Oklahoma, Nebraska vs Colorado, Missouri vs Kansas, etc.) while letting the Big Ten Network keep a bunch of its new television markets. They would lose the DC market without Maryland, and the New York market without Rutgers, but neither Maryland or Rutgers have big followings in their regions anyway, and the Big Ten would be gaining the Denver, St. Louis, Kansas City, Louisville, and Oklahoma City markets.
Pacific: Washington, Washington State, Oregon, Oregon State, California, Stanford, USC, UCLA, Arizona, and Arizona State.
Mountain: BYU, Utah, Nevada, UNLV, Fresno State, San Jose State, San Diego State, Hawaii, Boise State, and Colorado State.
The WAC is back! And this time they will be paired with the original Pac-10. Admittedly there is not a ton of upside for the existing Pac-12 schools here, but they don't really lose anything either.
On New Year's Day, the ACC champion would meet the SEC champion in either the Orange or Sugar Bowl, while the Big Tens and Pac Tens champions would meet in the Rose Bowl. A week or so later there would be a national championship game.
Option 2: The Big 8s
If the NCAA is determined to keep almost all of the current FCS teams in one division, the existing schools can also be divided into 8 smaller conferences. Here is how those conferences could look:
East: Syracuse, Rutgers, Connecticut, Boston College, Pitt, West Virginia, Temple, Miami
South: Maryland, Virginia, Wake Forest, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Clemson, South Carolina
East: Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Memphis, Virginia Tech, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Florida, Florida State
West: Arkansas, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Alabama, Auburn, Kentucky, Louisville
East: Notre Dame, Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State
West: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Northwestern, Indiana
East: Arizona, Arizona State, BYU, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado State, Air Force, New Mexico
West: Washington, Washington State, Oregon, Oregon State, California, Stanford, USC, UCLA
North: Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State
South: Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, TCU, SMU, Baylor, Houston, Rice
East: Toledo, Bowling Green, Akron, Kent State, Marshall, Buffalo, Army, UMass
West: Western Michigan, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Northern Illinois, Ball State, Miami of Ohio, Cincinnati, Ohio University
East: Troy, Old Dominion, Navy, East Carolina, South Florida, Central Florida, FAU, FIU
West: Western Kentucky, Middle Tennessee, Lousiana Tech, Louisiana-Lafayette, Lousiana-Monroe, Southern Miss, Southern Alabama
East: Arkansas State, Texas State, UTSA, North Texas, UTEP, Tulsa, New Mexico State, Utah State
West: Fresno State, San Jose State, San Diego State, Hawaii, Nevada, UNLV, Boise State, Idaho
With eight conferences, there would be 8 conference champions, so there would have to be another round of games. Finding four existing pre-New Year's Eve bowl games willing to host the quarter final round of the college football playoffs should be easy though. And the NCAA could seed the teams just as they do for the NCAA basketball tournament.
Neither of these options are likely to be adopted anytime soon, but college football fans can always dream.
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