The Perfect College Football Playoff System – 2014 Version

Long ago I came up with the Perfect College Football Playoff System.  Actual college football has since taken a baby step towards this system, but as was shown today, it is still very flawed.  Ohio State was given a pass on what I believe to be reputation over teams just as, if not more, deserving of a spot in the playoff.

So let me briefly review the Perfect College Football Playoff System yet again:

A 16 team playoff.
Champion from each conference gets a spot.
At large teams chosen from top teams on AP poll after conference champions are removed.
Teams are ranked 1-16 by a committee and paired 1 vs. 16, etc.
Higher Ranked Team is home team in first round.
Subsequent rounds are played at neutral sites and paired by committee as bowl games.

This is the perfect system.  How would this system look this year (with some assumptions)?

(16) Georgia So. at (1) Alabama
(15) Northern Ill. at (2) Florida St.
(14) Memphis at (3) Oregon
(13) Marshall at (4) Baylor
(12) Boise St. at (5) Ohio St.
(11) Kansas St. at (6) TCU
(10) Georgia Tech at (7) Michigan St.
(9) Mississippi at (8) Mississippi St.

This year deserving teams like TCU and Baylor get their shot.  We would also get to see just how good teams like Memphis or Marshall are against more traditionally powerful schools.  No teams would be protesting since they did not even win their own conference.  Teams like BYU and Notre Dame would need to be ranked in the top 6 after conference champs are removed which would not be hard for a championship level team.

On the downside teams like Mississippi and Georgia Tech get second (or third) chances they do not really deserve, but they serve as a measuring stick for teams from smaller conferences.  The NCAA should adopt this system at once.

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10 Responses to “The Perfect College Football Playoff System – 2014 Version”


  1. 1 ChrisJ December 8, 2014 at 7:00 pm

    Question: What’s your evidence that Ohio State got into the playoff because of reputation? Why are TCU or Baylor more deserving? By my observation (and I’m not a fan of any of the three teams), they seem pretty equal, and one could justify ranking them in any order. The biggest problem was the committee issuing weekly rankings, which led many to assume that TCU would get into the playoff if they won their last game, not the committee’s final rankings.

    Enough about the rankings, though. Your system is far from perfect. First, it adds two weeks of games to the schedule, which has been one of the main sticking points that prevented a playoff from happening until now. You can argue that a larger field is more fair, and you’d probably be right, but there are also good arguments against adding too many games to the schedule. There are also good arguments as to why turning the college football playoffs into a replica of the NFL playoffs is a bad idea – I’ll let you look those up.

    Also, basing the playoff on the AP poll is a bad idea. It uses pre-season rankings, which are meaningless, as a baseline for all subsequent rankings. Voters pre-season assumptions effect the rankings throughout the year. This is one area in which the current system is superior to the old one – rankings teams from scratch at the end of the year is the best way to do it.

  2. 2 Eric Nielson December 8, 2014 at 7:15 pm

    It matters not whether or not OSU is thought of as being better than TCU or Baylor. What matters is that subjective selection is what it comes down to,

    My system is perfect. Adding games was not a big deal when a game was added to the schedule of all teams a few years ago, nor was it an issue when conference championships were added. Additional games is a red herring. A couple of games could easily be removed from the regular season without notice. And all these teams would be playing a bowl game anyway. Remove one game from the schedule, and you would only be affecting 4 teams. This objection is absurd.

    No arguments stand up to this at all.

    These playoffs are not based upon AP rankings. The base is winning your conference. Only a few at large spots are given. Which works out well for NCAA basketball.

    If you do not think this is perfect, then I invite you to propose your own. It will be inferior to this system.

  3. 3 ChrisJ December 9, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    First, there is no perfect system. Reorganizing the FBS (128 teams) into a system that perfectly determines the correct playoff teams and the correct champion is impossible.

    There are some obvious flaws in your proposed system. First, as I pointed out in my first comment, is that the at-large teams are based on AP rankings. The AP poll is flawed, as I’ve already argued, which carries over to your system. There would still be controversy over which at-large teams make the playoff.

    Second, the inclusion of all conference champions is problematic. While there are years where some group of 5 teams appear to be top-16 , under your system, every year 4-5 teams will be included in the playoff who clearly do not belong. For example, this year, the conference champions include Memphis, Marshall, Bowling Green, Boise St, and Georgia Southern. Only Boise St is ranked – the other four are nowhere near the caliber of the teams ranked in the top-25.

    Last, there is no point in proposing a system that will never be adopted. Propose something that has a chance of becoming reality.

    Here’s my proposal, which I acknowledge is not perfect, but would be an improvement over the current system, and superior to yours:

    Keep the CFP Committee rankings. While not perfect, these ranking are superior to the AP and Coaches polls. However, the committee should only release the rankings once, at the end of the season.

    Expand the playoff to eight teams. In any given year, there are never more than six or seven teams that are considered to be championship-caliber, so expanding beyond this is pointless.

    Require uniformity in scheduling among the conferences. Require that all conferences play the same number of conference games, and either require that all conferences play championship games, or require that all do not. Require that teams not play FCS teams, and either limit the number of non-conference games against non-power-5 conference teams, or eliminate them altogether. Require that independent teams join a conference in order to be eligible.

    Teams ranked in the top-8 would make the playoff. In years where a group of 5 team is ranked in the top-15, it would be included as the 8th team.

  4. 4 Eric Nielson December 9, 2014 at 1:49 pm

    Yes there is a perfect system. And this is it.

    There is no additional problem with a group ranking teams. Whether it is the AP or some other body. There is no more of a flaw here than any other system. The beauty of this is that only a small number (6 out of 16) will be based on a vote. No flaw here, it is a feature. Any controversy would be minor. The team left out this year would be Kansas St. Nobody would shed a tear over this, and any complaint would not deserve to be listened to.

    Including all conferences is not a problem either. Part of the point is to allow every team a shot. Just win your conference. Year after year there are teams that the only criticism you can give is a subjective strength of schedule. Whether this excludes a Boise St. or a BYU or a Marshall – it happens all the time. Giving the conferences with less reputation is a benefit, not a burden of this system.

    There is no legitimate reason why this system could not be implemented next year. It works just fine in the NCAA Basketball tournament. The only reason not to implement this is that the teams that benefit from reputation will not want it. Because it shares the wealth and opportunity which they desperately do not want.

    You system is nothing more than a beauty contest. Why bother playing if we can just vote on who we like. In such a system, about half the teams would never have a shot at playing for a championship no matter how good of a team they assembled. Your system would only serve to keep the power where it is. Expanding to 8 teams (all at large) is only another baby step.

    There is no real need to be heavy handed in scheduling. Conferences could decide for themselves who their representative would be. But any system that only includes those teams voted on will never be much more than a subjective popularity contest. There is no need for this, other than to keep the power where it is.

  5. 5 ChrisJ December 9, 2014 at 4:17 pm

    “Yes there is a perfect system. And this is it.” – Wow, this is arrogant.

    “There is no additional problem with a group ranking teams. Whether it is the AP or some other body. There is no more of a flaw here than any other system.” – Committees are superior. The members are more knowledgeable than AP members. The NCAA basketball tournament, which you’re such a big fan of, uses a committee to select the at-large teams.

    “Including all conferences is not a problem either. Part of the point is to allow every team a shot…Giving the conferences with less reputation is a benefit, not a burden of this system.” – This is a very unique point of view. I don’t know of anyone else arguing that the conference champions of the Mid-American, Mountain West, Conference USA, Sun Belt, and American Athletic Conferences all deserve a chance to win the NC. They clearly don’t. There is clearly a large gap between the power 5 conferences and everybody else. Including all conference champions does not improve the playoff, if your goal is to determine who the best team is. But it seems pretty clear from your comments that your real goal is not to devise a system that most effectively determines the best team, but one that more evenly distributes the power in college football.

    In the example you give, Kansas St would be left out, and you argue that this would not be controversial. But it would be when you consider that they would be left out in favor of Memphis, Marshall, Bowling Green, and Georgia Southern. KSU is a good team that would have a chance to win 1 or 2 games in a 16-team playoff, and they would be replaced by a team that was sure to get blown out in the first round.

    “You system is nothing more than a beauty contest. Why bother playing if we can just vote on who we like.” – Yes, this whole season was pointless. After everything we’ve seen this year, it’s still unclear as to whether or not Marshall is as good as Oregon and Alabama, and it’s a travesty that they didn’t get the chance to prove it (sarcasm). Again, there is a big, wide gulf between the good power-5 conference teams, and the good group-of-5 teams, and it’s obvious to everybody but you.

    “In such a system, about half the teams would never have a shot at playing for a championship no matter how good of a team they assembled. Your system would only serve to keep the power where it is.” – I think at this point we’re talking past each other. I guess your system is closer to perfection if your main goal is to make college football more equitable. But if your purpose is to determine the best team, it’s far from perfect.

  6. 6 Eric Nielson December 9, 2014 at 6:46 pm

    It matters not who the committee is. Use a committee or the AP. It really does not matter and is independent of this system.

    There have been years where traditionally weak conferences have been snubbed. recent examples include Boise State and Utah, who were luckily involved in BCS bowl games and won. How good was the Alex Smith Utah team? How good were recent Boise St. teams? Could they have won a National Championship game? We will never know because in spite of going undefeated and winning their BCS bowl game they did not get their shot. This will happen once in a while, and we will never know. If the power conferences are so great, why do the need protection in the form of automatic seats and benefits of the doubt. But this is what they get.

    This system will systematically determine the best team. The best team will never be left out of this. If they were the best, they would win their conference, or at least be a top 6 ranked team after conference champions are removed. The best team will survive and win, or at least get the chance. Do you honestly think that this system would leave out the best team? Your arguments do not even make sense.

    This year Kansas St. might win a first round game, but not the championship. Their gripes would be irrelevant. Better to give Marshall or Memphis a shot than the third best team in the Big 12 (or so).

    There is usually a big gap between the power conferences and other conferences. But this will not always be the case. Better to give the other conferences a shot. Again, Boise St. and Utah were prime recent examples of this.

    My system would always systematically allow the best team to earn the championship, without ever leaving anyone out. How you think that this system is lacking in determining the best team is a large part of why you objections should not be taken seriously. Other systems, including the current one and yours, would occasionally leave out a potential best team because they did not pass the popularity contest. There is no good reason for this.

    You also seem to want to create the false idea that I am all alone in this. Dan Wetzel proposed an nearly identical system about the same time I did:

    here

  7. 7 Eric Nielson December 9, 2014 at 6:51 pm

    http://sports.yahoo.com/ncaa/football/news?slug=dw-playoff120208

    I forgot the syntax of the html code. But the article is still there.

  8. 8 twitter October 23, 2016 at 1:52 am

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  1. 1 Reina Michelle Bluth Trackback on February 5, 2015 at 10:37 pm
  2. 2 affiliates Trackback on March 20, 2017 at 7:26 pm

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