Why A Tournament Style Playoff Will Not Work in College Football

By Chris Mitra / @chrismitra

The NCAA Basketball Tournament.  It is the finest time of the year for college basketball.   Watch parties.  Office bracket pools.  Andy Katz going over brackets with President Barack Obama.  Viewers are through the roof.  Fun for Corporate America, fun for Main Street America, right?

This is also the time of year where a large group of college football fans ask, "Why can't we have that in football?"

I'm here to tell you: a tournament, playoff, whatever you want to call it, won't work in major college football.

A little background on me real quick.  Up until a couple years ago, I was one of the biggest proponents among my friends for a college football playoff.  I even organized a EA Sports NCAA Football tournament with my friends at my house, using the top 16 teams in the BCS that year and randomly assigning them to all of us and, from there, playing out a 16-team playoff.  I have the pics on Facebook to prove it.

But one day, I really thought about it.  A 16-team or even an eight-team playoff wouldn't work, not without losing a lot of what makes the Football Bowl Subdivision work.  Here are three of my reasons for thinking so.

The time of the year doesn't work at all

College basketball has March Madness.  It is pretty much the perfect time of year for that kind of a tournament to occur.  The first couple rounds usually land perfect with colleges' spring breaks.  It is after the NFL is finished with their season, before the start of baseball, and before the NBA and NHL ramp up for the playoffs.

For college football, the regular season ends the first week of December.  For a 16-team playoff, that would mean the games would have to begin the following weekend, a week usually reserved for award presentations and the Heisman ceremony.  For the FBS to avoid directly competing with the opening round of the NFL playoffs, the championship game will have to be played around where it is right now.  Oh, and there is a little holiday in there called Christmas that they would have to plan around.  Would they have enough time to play the games before competing for television sets with its professional brethren?

Travel would cripple lower seeded teams.

Assuming in the earlier rounds the higher seed would host games, lower seeds would incur extra travel cost if they advance higher in the playoff.  Let's say one of the lower seeds, a 12, wins all the way through to the national championship.  They could effectively visit four separate cities, no way to get anything out of ticket sales revenue.  So for them to win a national championship, they first have to be penalized with travel costs for the entire team, support staff, coaches, and pay for unsold tickets for the championship game (because let's face it, not all those tickets end up sold to the fans of the teams competing in the game).

A college football program isn't really like an NFL team.  NFL teams have seemingly limitless resources to send their teams where ever they need to play.  Some college football programs, the smaller ones, are in the red before they even play a single game.  So unless you are an Alabama or an Ohio State (or and Oklahoma, gotta mention them since I'm an alum), your school's athletic program will have to cut some sports in order to pay for your football team's success.

Say bye-bye to the bowl experience

I don't care what anyone says: anything more than a "plus-one" playoff would effectively kill the current bowl system.  Some of you think that might be a good thing.  Too many of those things anyway, right?  Yes, 35 bowl games is a little excessive, but what about 20 of them?  (I'm a big proponent for cutting back on amount of bowl games.)  I like the bowl system, and I'm sure most coaches and players especially do as well.  It is giving every bowl team the experience of a championship-like game.

There are parades, different tours and things, and lots of swag for the players.  It is one of the great rewards for a college player.  If they aren't going to pay college athletes, then they need to keep the bowls.  Nothing like getting an XBox 360 Kinect, iPad 2, and a Rolex gold watch just for showing up!  And it isn't just for the players and teams.  Much of the tours and parades are open to the fans as well, even giving some time for them to get to interact and meet the team.

Would they have something like that for anything other than the championship game?

The time between the end of the regular season and the bowl game also gives teams extra practice time to build moment toward the next season, something that would be lost if that time was taken up by playoff games.

I could go on and on with this subject, since it's college football.  But since it is still college basketball season, I'll leave you with those three thoughts while you enjoy watching to see if Cinderella goes to the ball or if the large big step-sister goes to the main dance.  But once programs start having their spring games, it's on!

9 Replies to “Why A Tournament Style Playoff Will Not Work in College Football”

  1. I personally think it's kind of odd to have a sport that doesn't have a playoff yet crowns a champion ... however, I've been thinking for a few years now that college football is fine as is. I mean, no matter how you look at it, college football's regular season truly is the most important regular season in any sport anywhere. It keeps the intrigue from day one to the championship game. And then when you take into account all the points you laid out in the article, I think it's time we just accept that college football is a different beast ... and that's OK. I'm with you here. I really am.

    1. Everyone else in the NCAA's are mad that the SEC has won 6 titles in a row. Plus Alabama won the title without winning the conference. Folks are salty, that's it.

      I'd want a playoff just to see the chaos it would cause, then we'd have selection shows where teams would bitch about being snubbed. Just more for us to complain about.

  2. Well said.

    The six major conferences (and Notre Dame) would want to monopolize a playoff system just like they do the current BCS system. An 8 team playoff with six automatic bids is a joke. It's likely that every year a couple of teams outside the top 10 would qualify. A sixteen team playoff would require four wins - that's asking college kids to play an NFL season.

  3. I must admit I was ready to disagree with this from the onset but some very valid points were made that made me think. At the conclusion of said thinking, I still want a playoff. 8/ 16 teams would be excessive but a +1 would satisfy most of your points tho

  4. I feel the best solution would be a plus-one four team format. I hear rumors of a plus-one after this current ESPN-BCS contract is up. What troubles me is that once a plus-one comes to fruition there would eventually be a larger playoff to come, which would give the bowl system an expiration date.

  5. Tournament style may not work but I think that the folks are ready for something extra. Cutting the field would be tough some years but right now we need something different.

  6. I agree - I just don't think there's a way to ensure a playoff system that works in college football. It seems like a great idea in theory, but there will never be a "fair" way to do it.

    1. Strategically, how do you select teams? If it's an 8-team playoff field with 100+ schools and over 10 conferences... most likely you'll take the top team from each BCS conference, but that still leaves two additional spots. Who gets picked... and if you leave it up to a selection committee, what is the selection criteria? That will still leave room for error and total confusion.

    2. To JAG's point, that's an NFL season. A playoff system would mean extra practice time and extra responsibilities for these "student-athletes."

    I am tired of seeing the same schools compete for the BCS Championship though. There's definitely no parity in the current system, but who knows how to remedy that?!

  7. This is different than other arguments. The Bowls are under attack from too many Bowls (ESPN 9) there will be 39 next year. Then there is 1 too many regular season non-conference FCS opponent Patsy game.
    That makes the season too long. The best teams are concentrated in mega-conferences with unequal schedules making it impossible to measure teams in a non-subjective process.
    But there is a Perfect Playoff Plan 16, use the 1st Saturday in December as round 1 in home games then the 3rd Saturday use Bowl games as round 2 Regional Championship Games. Then all theses first 12 teams that are eliminated from the Playoff go back into the remaining Bowl games. 7 Bowl games in the playoff and 28 Bowl games in a Post Season Bowl Competition with conference ties. Keep the 3rd & 4th rounds on Saturdays the Championship on Saturday January 3 thru 9. Keep the Traditional Bowls on December 31st & January 1st with their traditional conference ties. See the Plan at http://ncaa2014.us

  8. So has anyone sat back and looked at this from a distance and just said, "We have 6 conferences"? Yes, we have the Power 5 and we have the Independent Teams (that could be conference 6). If their are too many Independent Teams, we can shuffle them between 3 brackets to give us a total of 8 brackets. We do a bracket of 8 to 12 games to find the conference champion of each bracket and then they enter a Playoff bracket (these would be your bowl games) to determine National Champion. Now, this might extend the season a few weeks, but I am sure the NCAA would not balk at all the revenue that this would generate. The idea is like that of basketball where some unknown team actually can have a chance of becoming the National Champion.

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