The time has come to talk about an expanded playoff system. When the format for this playoff was announced, nearly everyone except for the people who created the system knew four teams wasn’t enough. With the craziness of this year, and the stupidity of conference championship games, expanding to at least eight teams is the right move. The number can be argued, and while I prefer 12 teams, most other people prefer eight. My argument for 12 is to give the top two teams a bye week and have the others play the first week. That incentive to be the first or second seed is real because of the bye week. Many will argue that having a bye week hurts teams, but under the current system, teams will have roughly 40 days off before they play their first playoff game anyway.
The first, and most important thing to do is eliminate the conference championship game. The game serves no purpose but to hurt the conference and its probable best team. For example, if Missouri beats Alabama next week in Atlanta, does Missouri automatically get placed in the top four? No, of course not. But, does that mean Alabama really isn’t one of the best four teams in the country? No. And let’s not be stupid about that.
The argument for an eight-team playoff is that each of the power conferences would get an automatic entry to the playoff. I think that’s terrible. And it isn’t because I think the SEC has “more better” teams than the Big Ten, Big 12 or anyone else, it’s just that I think the playoff is supposed to be about the best teams in the country. Obviously having a full tournament isn’t going to happen, so select the best teams. The argument I made above about eliminating the conference tournament applies here directly. So, we’ll take Missouri over Alabama in an eight-team playoff because that’s the conference champion? Georgia Tech over Florida State? Wisconsin over Ohio State?
To take those three winning teams, and trying to find a way for the other teams that are clearly better, but lost their championship games is the same problem I have with the NCAA basketball tournaments. Teams shouldn’t have automatic bids based on winning their conference.
I’ll be real with you, I hate Cinderella. I’m sure she’s a great person, but she does nothing for me. The underdog story is nice, but George Mason ruining my basketball tournament a few years ago isn’t something I’m interested in seeing on a regular basis. And to say that the basketball and football tournaments should be the same or similar is a farce. Again, too many differences between the sport and layouts. Automatic bids kind of work in basketball, but they don’t work in football.
Most Deserving vs. Best
While we’re being real, let’s agree that “most deserving” vs. “best” can’t be an argument when we’re limiting the number of teams in a playoff. If you want most deserving, then keep the conference champions and figure out a way to get the best teams in. What you’ll have is a bunch of first round games that are generally bad.
What would you rather see in the first round of the playoff, No 8 UCLA vs. No. 1 Alabama or – pretending that Alabama loses – No. 8 UCLA vs. No. 7 Missouri?* So if you take the conference champions, who do you take as the other three? How are all the teams ranked?
What if you leave Alabama as No. 1 and Missouri as No. 17?
Do you see why most deserving is such a terrible standard? Unless we’re playing 25 teams, then simply take the best eight or 12 or whatever number of teams and be done with it. Ideally those teams are ranked 1 through whatever and that solves the seeding problem. Best is better than most deserving in limited tournaments.
Argue with me, I dare you.
*based on 11/15 rankings [pdf]