College Football Playoff: Four-Team Tournament Imminent, But How Do We Create It?

ESPN's College Gameday Is Great Now -- Imagine It On Campus for a National Semifinal

As you probably know by this point, it appears we, the fans of college football, have finally been heard. There’s now a pretty good chance we’re headed toward a four-team college football playoff. And while it’ll never be perfect, anything is better than keeping the status quo of the old system — which BCS executive director Bill Hancock officially declared “dead” late Wednesday.

Our big issues now, however, are how this thing’s constructed. The four-team model appears to be what we’re going with (though not official yet, of course), but there’s still tons of uncertainty on who’d play in it and where. Some of our key questions:

Would only conference champions play in the tournament?

Dear God, I hope not. And that’s removing myself completely from rooting for the ACC to place a team in the playoff. ESPN has already told everyone that our league would be much better off with the model being pushed by Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott. And though this fact is true (since the ACC hasn’t had a team in the top four of the final BCS standings since the 2007 season), a champs-only format wouldn’t really help decide the country’s best team.

Consider this: Had the champs-only plan existed for last season’s results, two of the top four would not have been invited to the playoff (including eventual champion Alabama, along with Stanford). They’d be replaced by Pac-12 winner Oregon and Big Ten winner Wisconsin. Meanwhile, five of the nation’s top eight teams are OUTSIDE of a four-team playoff, including the teams ranked second and fourth, respectively. You’re telling me the teams left out don’t have their own playoff that creates a groundswell of support when the fourth-best team in the playoff wins it all? At the same time, the number-two team (who didn’t win their league) wins the alternate playoff. Media and coaches are faced with quite a quandary, while the systems becomes even more flawed than the current one (if that’s even possible).

Top four should mean top four, irregardless of conference affiliation or conference title in the proposed setup.

Okay, but then how are those four teams selected?

That’s easy, the BCS, with tweaks for strength of schedule, and re-adding the margin of victory element that was foolishly removed after the formula’s first iteration. Now, Larry Scott would like to stir things up in this regard, too. He’d prefer a committee like the NCAA basketball tournament has, because it’ll keep things “objective.” I beg to differ. Anyone on this committee comes with their own biases, which will likely shine through during the select process, no matter how hard they try and shield the teams’ true identities. Yes, fans get ticked off when they feel the committee messes up the seeding/selection of 68 teams. The backlash on just four (with nearly zero margin of error) would just be so much worse.

If we made the formula changes outlined in the last paragraph, there are a lot less gripes with the BCS, and we’re okay with selections, because teams played it out on the field, and played their way into a tournament. If you injected a selection committee, now teams aren’t playing it out on the field once again — they’re playing it out in a board room, with folks getting far too creative, and possibly messing the whole thing up based on the shear number of variables, coupled with a small sample size. Trust me, the BCS, especially if tweaked, is far better than this. And again, it’s worth pointing out an anti-committee tournament much like the one outlined above, that challenges the official system’s results.

And where are they playing?

If we’re going with a four-team tournament of the best four teams decided by BCS rankings, then we’ve got to get a handle on where they’ll be staging these semi-final games. The two possibilities are campus sites or neutral stadiums, each with problems and advantages.

Campus Sites

  • Pros: Capture the pageantry and tradition of on-campus college football, award successful teams with playoff revenue and exposure, award home fans of successful teams, high-seed means something, most sell out for regular season home games so why not a playoff game?
  • Cons: Some stadiums are larger than others, some colleges don’t have the infrastructure (hotels, transportation), could create emphasis on southern schools (says the Big Ten)

Neutral Sites

  • Pros: More luxury boxes available, money still goes to bowl honchos (positive for BCS, not fans), likely avoids home-field advantage, allows different fanbases to experience playoff atmosphere, infrastructure not an issue since all will be at sites that can support this type of event
  • Cons: Home fans robbed of playoff experience, home teams robbed of playoff receipts, high-seed means nothing, money still goes to bowl honchos, bowl games already struggle to sell enough tickets to sell out, distance issues

As you can see, a litany of problems, whichever you choose. While I’d love to get behind the campus-sites movement, I couldn’t help but think of the infrastructure issues as a giant factor. But when I reconsider the neutral sites proposal, I don’t like keeping the money with the bowls, and want to give season ticket holders (as I was for four years of college) a shot to see their team host a playoff game. Plus, imagine College Gameday for two national semifinal games. A fantastic joyride for any college football fan. The choice, despite hotel concerns, is campus sites.

Is everyone on-board for the four-team playoff setup we proposed? Feel free to disagree below.

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