Thursday, May 7, 2009

the playoff that i want and that the nation needs

OK, I said I'd hold off on this til October or so, but I have this problem keeping my flap shut, which is why this blog is here in the first place, really. This is my playoff idea, and yes, I realize everyone and their aunt and their aunt's gerbil has an idea. Which is why I expect a lot of very disappointed football fans when they do get around to making a playoff. Lot of folks going, "This isn't what I signed up for."

The reason for that is because most people don't take into account any of the realities of the situation, they just toss ideas out there that they think would be pretty cool. Hell, even the President of the United States is guilty of this. This idea of mine strives to take into account all the realities of the situation (or at least, the ones I know of) as well as keep folks like me happy. Folks who still like the bowls and still like the regular season with a little drama to it instead of having teams yawn through the end of the season because their ticket is punched for the playoffs.

Keep in mind, now, the Two Truisms I put forth earlier. 1, a playoff will be big (that is, four, six, or eight teams = nonsense) and 2, a playoff will be played primarily on home-field sites. That in mind, here is what I propose:

- The playoff should be sixteen teams.

Look. You can get the sorry notion of a six or eight team playoff out of your head right this instant. Here's why: autobids, duh. Once you institute a playoff like that, it will suck up 90% of the dollars invested in the college football postseason. TV contracts will be huge. Participants will get exposure aplenty. Dollars will fly everywhere. There is absolutely, positively no way a conference commissioner whose conference is already in snug with the BCS, bringing in all that dough, is going to agree to any system where in the future, his conference might be left out. Ever.

That means autobids. And once you have autobids, and you exclude somebody, we-he-hell, Mark Shurtleff will be on line 1, stat. The prospects for an antitrust case as it stands now are shaky at best. Nobody is "left out" of the championship because nobody has any kind of automatic bid to it. Once you do autobid to the championship, you have to have everyone. It will never, ever fly otherwise.

That means 11 teams, minimum. If you just add one at-large, to make it 12, you have solved absolutely nothing. If adding one at-large could solve anything, they'd have a three-team playoff and that would be that. Add five at-larges and you have the nice even number of sixteen.

Now, how to set up the bracket?

- The playoff should use the Big East system.

Check out how the Big East does it in basketball. It's a great idea. They're not the only conference to use an uneven bracket, but they're the biggest to do so. The 9-16 seeded teams play in the first round, advance to face the 5-8 seeded teams, and the winner of those games advance to play the 1-4 seeded teams. Two byes for the best teams.

This is a fantastic idea for football too. It keeps the regular season extremely valuable. You're playing for byes and you're playing for home field advantage all the way through. The best teams only have to win three times to win the title; the lower seeded teams must win five. It would put a stop to the specific playoff criticism I have; namely, that it's too easy for a lower-seeded team to get hot and play its way through, like, say, the Arizona Cardinals. It forces the lower seeded teams to play one more game than they'd have to in a standard bracket, and immensely rewards the higher seeded ones. And there are other advantages too.....

- The playoff should be played on home fields.

They do this in the lower divisions for a reason: because fans aren't going to travel four and five times to go see their teams. Especially not around the holidays when they're trying to make sure Santa doesn't pass their kids by. You want to fill the stadium, you put it close to where the fans are, and that's at home stadiums.

And here's the part that should appeal to the powers that be: Under a standard bracket, played at home fields, only eight teams would be guaranteed a home game. In the Big East system, twelve teams are guaranteed that extra week of sweet sweet revenue. Naturally, of course, there would be fierce and acrimonious discussions about how exactly all that money is split. No matter how you slice it though, spreading the wealth like that (or the pain-in-the-butt of having to host a home game that you get no real benefit from) is something the commissioners are going to prefer.

So the first three rounds would be at home fields - that's how they do it at the other levels too. And then, for maximum hype and maximum sponsorship dollars, a Football Final Four, bid on by cities in the same manner that they do for the basketball one.

- The playoff should be in December.

Or more specifically, the first three rounds should be in December. This is for a lot of very good reasons:

- First, the NCAA and the TV stations could market the everloving shit out of Thanksgiving weekend as the final weekend of the regular season. The regular season doesn't need to creep up into the first week of December like it does now. Make Thanksgiving weekend the weekend in which playoff berths are won and lost, and hold the selection show on Sunday evening the same way they do for basketball.

- Second, it's just too unwieldy otherwise. Extending this thing into mid-to-late January makes a mess of coaches' recruiting calendars and makes the whole damn season too bloody long.

- Third, it would mitigate the excuse that a team had too long a layoff for the championships. They play right away. Three weeks is the longest a team would go without playing, which is plenty long enough to rest up and practice and short enough to stay sharp.

- Fourth, and most importantly so sit up and pay attention: The losers can be invited to bowl games. I don't want to lose the bowls so this, to me, is a really elegant and simple way to work this out. It's one of the things at the heart and soul of this whole idea. Because the first three rounds would wrap up by mid-December, there's plenty of time for the twelve losers to make travel plans for a bowl two weeks later. The bowls are a terrific reward for a good season. You go somewhere warm (usually), you have a good time, get a free schwag bag, and your fans make a trip out of it. It's a system too good to lose. Some of the sponsorship dollars would dry up and the smaller, weaker bowls might get picked off, but if we lose the New Mexico Bowl I'm not gonna lose any sleep over it. 20-25 bowls could still be played, and going to the playoffs doesn't have to mean you don't get to participate. The only teams who don't play in bowls would be the Football Final Four, who would play after the bowl games wrap up. It'd be a bowl-like atmosphere anyway.

- The playoff field should be decided by competition committee.

It works great for basketball.

Edit as of December 6, 2011:

This used to say: "So with the bylaws thing, a slightly revised way is needed to set up the field. Can't just autobid a team from each of the 11 conferences."  Actually yes you can.  "The bylaws thing" was the idea that at least half a playoff field had to be made up of at-larges, upon which some of this idea was based.  Actually it is the other way round.  Half the playoff field must be made of autobids, not at-larges.  I checked this.  It is true.  Either they changed it since I wrote that, or I totally read everything wrong, or the media sources I read totally read everything wrong.  Either way, someone's a dumbass.

At any rate, it has little effect on this proposal.  We're still going with eight autobids and eight at-large bids.  Why?  Because it's a better playoff that way.  Are some people still gonna be pissed off?  Yes.  I didn't say we were going to please everyone.  That's impossible.    So how to do this?  Create an at-large pool. The three conference champs that don't get autobids are automatically entered into the at-large pool, along with ten or twelve or however many of the remaining highest-ranked teams from the newly-created RPI, that the committee must choose from. This would give these conference champions a little bit of a boost, and it would mean that the eight autobids are earned on merit instead of an agreement in a room.  And it would cause the committee to think things like, "hey, Southern Miss actually looks more deserving than West Virginia this year." You could further help the mid-majors that missed out on autobids by stipulating that no conference can have more than two teams in the playoff. This isn't an idea I'm married to, just a suggestion, but it is some food for thought.

Alright, so what of it? Arguments against it? I have some, and I have rebuttals too:

- Final exams? Are these student athletes ever going to be students?

I'm about as worried over this as the NCAA is, which scheduled JMU to play in the I-AA playoffs on December 12, which happened to be the last day of JMU's final exams: Dec. 8-12. They already do this and it's fine. I've never liked this particular anti-playoff argument.

- It's too hard to work the travel arrangements.

Nonsense - basketball teams have a week to figure out how they're getting to Dayton or Greensboro or wherever they find out they're going on Selection Sunday and they do it just fine. The same goes here. And, I envision that many of these teams will have their bowl invite nailed down before actually being eliminated. Bowls and teams will probably know in advance who's going where and have plenty of time for contingencies should a team not be eliminated as planned. Bowls could easily plan to invite the loser of a particular playoff game. Or, they might be, say, the Liberty Bowl and keep their contract with C-USA to take the conference champion, anticipating their elimination - or if that team makes the Football Final Four, plan to invite the team they beat.

- The Rose, Orange, and Sugar Bowls would all be very likely to not get the conference champion they're used to.

True. As a Big Ten fan, the loss of the traditional matchup in the Rose Bowl would be annoying. But less annoying than listening to all these asshole pundits whine about not having a playoff. And the matchups would still be great.

- The season could be as long as seventeen games.

Yes, but highly unlikely. That'd mean a 9-16 seed winning its way to the title game. Chances are excellent the longest season would be fifteen games, and only for two teams. This system actually improves the too-many-games situation by offering up byes and trying to ensure the lower-seeded teams are eliminated before playing too many games.

- This crams up the regular season and doesn't allow any rest afterwards.

Not even true. Most regular seasons are long enough for two bye weeks. Nothing would change here. A lot of teams, Big Ten specifically, finish up the weekend before Thanksgiving and thus would get an off week before the playoffs.

So, to sum up:

- Sixteen teams.
- Big East bracket.
- First three rounds in December at home fields.
- Losers invited to bowls.
- Football Final Four played in neutral city after bowl season.
- Competition committee determines the participants.
- Autobids go to the champions of the eight highest-ranked conferences.

It's brilliant.

Now, keep in mind, my proposing this doesn't mean I actually want a playoff, because I'm not going to kid myself they'll do things my way when the time comes. And I like things more or less the way they are; the BCS needs a serious reworking (for which I have ideas but have not self-vetted them yet for workability) but that doesn't mean I think it can't be fixed. But I think a playoff is coming. And when it does, this is the one I'd want to see.


Bird said...

Historically speaking and competitively speaking, F the bowls. If you lose in the 16 team tourney, you're done. In basketball/baseball/tennis/swimming/golf/etc., if you lose, then you're team goes home. If you didn't do it during the regular season, then don't complain.

Logically, the sponsors/bowls have too much power to simply let themselves fade away. Hence, I'd think a sponsorship of the games in the playoffs would make sense. "This Quartfinals game is brough to you by Tostitos!"

I guess it's sad that, when talking about the playoffs, we sometimes worry more about what the companies/bowls think than actually crowning a champion. The business is more important than the game even though the game could go on without the business.

John Montague said...

I like your system. One small change. I think teams need to be ranked in the top 25 of the BCS to receive an auto bid. If your conference doesn't have a team in the top 25, you don't get a bid. That's perfectly fair, and it will make the playoff that much more competitive.

Brendan said...

John - that's basically taken care of by the at-large pool idea. You can set the bottom limit of the pool wherever and only choose the teams above it, whether it's in BCS standings, RPI, or whatever the system. I include the top eight conference champions so that in my imaginary world, there's buy-in from as many conferences as possible. Besides, most years, there already are eight conference champs in the top-25. Probably will be this year. The other three go into the at-large pool and they can be selected, or not. Probably not, but it's a clause that's there to keep everyone eligible (every conference, that is) and therefore happy.