These 3 College Football Playoff ideas are superior to a 16-team format | Toppmeyer
College football conducts the most meaningful regular season in all of sports, while hamstringing itself with a persistently lackluster postseason.
As the postseason evolved from the traditional bowl era to the Bowl Championship Series to the four-team College Football Playoff, determining a national champion became a fairer process, but not a more compelling one.
Often, the best drama occurs in November, weeks before the postseason arrives.
Then came a brilliant proposal last summer: a 12-team playoff that would expand postseason access while preserving regular-season value by awarding automatic qualification bids to the six-best conference champions, along with first-round byes to the top four teams.
Squabbling among conference leaders got in the way of progress and rebuffed the savvy expansion idea.
Irked by the SEC's raid of Oklahoma and Texas from the Big 12, commissioners from the Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC rejected the SEC-backed proposal for a 12-team playoff.
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Now, in a move so galling it almost seems satirical, the Big Ten and Pac-12 commissioners are calling for playoff expansion, just months after standing in the way of the 12-team format. Some Big Ten leaders are stumping for a 16-team playoff.
College football should not expand its playoff at the expense of its best attribute – a drama-filled regular season during which each game is important.
In a 16-team playoff with no byes, what’s the incentive for going undefeated vs. 11-1? Consider last season’s SEC Championship between then-No. 1 Georgia and No. 3 Alabama. That game's outcome would have been trivial if a 16-team playoff were in place.
In November, attention would shift from the best teams and gravitate to the battle for the 16-seed. And what's the reward for earning the 16-seed? The opportunity to lose by 28 points to the No. 1 seed in the first round.
The current four-team playoff features enough blowouts. We surely don’t need No. 1 vs. No. 16 or No. 2 vs. No. 15.
Here are three formats that are superior to a 16-team playoff, if only conference leaders would put their pettiness aside long enough to collectively embrace logical postseason expansion.
Six-team playoff (no automatic qualifiers)
How it would work: Byes for the top two teams, pairing No. 3 vs. No. 6 and No. 4 vs. No. 5 in the first round
Regular-season drama would unfold along multiple fronts. Along with the battle for the coveted first-round byes, a handful of teams would jockey for the No. 6 seed. Last season, the debate over the final bid would have included Ohio State, Baylor and Ole Miss, a trio of two-loss teams.
Teams would be incentivized to play a tough nonconference schedule, because strength of schedule could be a top factor in deciding whether a team earns a top-two seed.
12-team playoff (six automatic qualifiers)
How it would work: Byes for the top four teams; automatic bids for the six-best conference champions
This is the format the Alliance rejected several months ago. I still like the idea, though.
It creates important conference championship races, preserves the valueof the regular season by awarding byes and provides access for at least one Group of Five team.
Plus, it sets up a first round ripe for upsets. No. 11 beating No. 6 no longer would be reserved for March Madness.
14-team playoff (six automatic qualifiers)
How it would work: Byes for the top two teams; automatic bids for the six-best conference champions
This is my favorite format. Same idea as the 12-team playoff, except with two extra bids, but two fewer byes.
By awarding only two byes, teams would be encouraged to play challenging nonconference opponents to beef up their schedule strength in a quest to claim a top-two seed.
At the other end of the spectrum, dozens of teams could spend November battling to be among the eight at-large selections that don't win a conference championship.
As a bonus: No time is wasted with a No. 1 vs. No. 16 playoff game.
Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at BToppmeyer@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.