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Ten-Team FBS Playoff: A Proposal in Two Parts

In today's Three-point stance, Ivan Maisel makes note of how the IRS is taking a look at the non-profit status of the major bowls. As he notes, this is not the first time such a thing has happened. Back in the early 90s, the IRS made a similar push, but nothing came of it. Now, the Playoff PAC has four U.S. Representatives on their side, as they push for an equitable playoff system in the highest level of college football. I am really starting to believe that some form of a playoff that includes the current non-AQs is inevitable. As such, I've put together what such a playoff system might look like. It includes automatic bids for all 6 of the current Big 6 conferences (yes, even the Big East and ACC), as well as one automatic bid for the Independents/Non-AQs. I will go into more detail after the jump.

First, a graphic that illustrates how this 10-team playoff would be structured:

(Click to enlarge)

The only real changes this would require in regular-season scheduling is that it would be necessary for all regular-season games to end by the last Saturday in November. You will also notice that one qualifying slot is reserved for the top-rated team of the currently Non-AQ/Independent schools. This spot would be determined solely by the computer rankings, so as to take out any bias, perceived or real, on the part of sportswriters and coaches against the Boise States and TCUs of the football world. There would be no requirement that the team receiving this automatic bid be in the top 12 of the BCS rankings, that they be undefeated, or anything like that. It would be automatic, and awarded every year to the best of the Non-AQ/Independent schools. The three Wild Cards would be given out by a committee similar to the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, but would be required to be more transparent. Most often, these bids would simply go to the next three teams that were rated most highly.

One major feature would be that no team participating in a league championship game could play in the Week 1 play-in games, since these games would take place the Thursday and Friday before the League Championship Games (LCG) were played. For instance, this year the LCGs are being played on December 4. This means that the "Week 1" games from above would take place on December 2-3. (I know that there are currently regular-season games for this year scheduled that weekend, which is why I noted above that regular season games would need to end by the last Saturday in November.) Week 1 games would have to consist of teams who were playing in leagues without a championship game, or teams who qualified as a Wild Card, but did not make their league's championship game. For instance, two years ago, when Texas qualified for the BCS, but didn't play in the Big 12 Championship, they may have found themselves playing in a Week 1 game. Because no team playing in a league championship could play in a Week 1 game, and (as of 2011, anyway) there are 4 AQ leagues sponsoring a championship game, it would put a much greater emphasis on winning that game, since there probably won't be any Wild Card spots open for the Week 2 games. In other words, after KSU throttled Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship, the Sooners would possibly have not have been in the playoffs. How much more exciting would that make the LCGs? (As a side note, this would also require that Non-AQ leagues like the MAC and C-USA hold their LCG the week before the "big boys", if they wanted their champion to be eligible for the automatic qualifier for the top Non-AQ/Independent bid.)

The champions of the two AQ leagues that won't be sponsoring LCGs starting in 2011 (Big 12, Big East), as well as the Non-AQ/Independent automatic qualifier, would either be given a top-6 seed, in which case they wouldn't need to play until Week 2, or be seeded amongst the bottom 4 qualifiers. Only two of these three teams could possibly be placed in the top 6, though, since the winners of the 4 LCGs would, by necessity, be seeded into the Week 2 games. A top-6 position in the final BCS standings would guarantee entry into Week 2 for these teams, unless all 3 of them were ranked in the top 6, in which case the lowest-ranked would be placed into a Week 1 game against the weakest Wild Card team.

Seeding of the four Week 1 teams would take place on the Sunday before the games were to be played. This would be an exciting day for all involved, as it is when it would be determined whether the two league champions, plus the Non-AQ/Independent automatic bid would be playing in Week 1, or whether two of them would be placed straight into Week 2. If all three were placed into Week 1 games, then one Wild Card team would be selected to play in these two games against them. This would result in two of the three Wild Card spots being placed directly into Week 2. Any time this occurred, these places would not be awarded until after the LCGs, meaning that a team could potentially lose the LCG and still make the playoffs. However, if two spots in Week 2 were awarded to the leagues without LCGs or the Non-AQ/Ind top team, then the LCGs take on an even larger significance, since they would be lose-and-go-home games for the teams involved.

Each Week 1 game would be played on the campus of the higher-seeded team. After these Week 1 games were concluded, and the LCGs played, the remaining 8 teams would be re-seeded, with the top-seed playing the lowest seed, the second seed playing the next lowest seed, and so on. These Week 2 games would be played on the second Saturday in December (earliest possible, December 8; latest possible, December 14). The games would be an overlapping "quadruple-header" on that Saturday, starting with 4/5 game at 2:00, then the 3/6 game at 4:00, the 2/7game at 6:00, and the 1/8 game at 8:00 (all times Eastern). The 2:00 and 6:00 games could be on one station, and the 4:00 and 8:00 games on another. Can you imagine the bidding war this would set off between CBS, NBC, ESPN, et al?

One of the unique features of my proposal is that after these games were played, the highest remaining seed would play the lowest remaining seed, and the second-highest would play the third highest. These semifinal games would be played on New Year's Day, with the current BCS bowls taking turns hosting these two games, while the other BCS bowls could invite the earlier-round losers or LCG upset victims to fill their slots. The two semifinal winners would play on the next weeknight that fell at least 8 days after January 1. In other words, the latest the National Championship Game could be played would be on January 11, if January 1 fell on a Friday. This would give both teams a real chance to prepare for each other, and tiven that last year's championship game was on January 7, having it in a January 9-11 window each year doesn't seem like too much of a stretch.

In this format, no team would ever be required to play more than 16 games, and most would never play more than the current 13 or 14. Two teams each year would play either 15 or 16 games, while every other team's length-of-season would remain unchanged. If the fact that two teams would play 15 or 16 games presented a problem, the NCAA could simply scale back the allowed regular-season games to 11, as it was in years past.

Well, I'm going to conclude this exercise for now, but in part 2 I'm going to take a past season (or maybe this season), and apply this format to it, so we can see how it hypothetically might have played out. I will try to have part 2 ready to publish by this Friday or Saturday, after I've recovered from whatever happens during the game Thursday night! Write up your own playoff ideas here in the comments.