Commentary: My Unique College Football Playoff Proposal
by Jonathan Hodges

Well, the end of the regular season in college football is in sight so you know what that means: talk about bowls, rankings, and the BCS.  And every year there is almost undoubtedly a debate about who should or shouldn't be in the title game, except in cases where there are just two undefeated teams left among the 120 teams that play FBS level football.  Which leads me immediately to my proposed college football playoff system:

My Playoff Proposal

This playoff system would include EVERY undefeated team, and ONLY them.  Basically, it would be a quest for a perfect season.

Zero undefeated teams?  No playoff.  No national champion.  Yes, still play the bowls and still do post-bowl rankings, but nobody is the national champion.

One undefeated team?  They can play in a bowl, but must win in order to win that championship.  If they lose, it will be like the situation above: no champion.

Two undefeated teams?  That's easy enough: the current system can definitely handle such a matchup, and this system will ensure that non-BCS conference teams get into such a game and can play it out for the championship.

Three unbeaten teams?  Now, it's a tad more difficult.  In this case, I would support a playoff with one team getting a bye (using rankings to determine seedings).

Four or more unbeatens?  This is where it becomes more complicated.  In this case I would advocate a more traditional playoff structure, with rankings determining the seeds and byes coming into play if needed depending on the number of unbeaten teams.  (Alternatively, one could play a random-draw round robin with any unbeaten teams then put into one of the scenarios above; a;though this would provide an opportunity for no unbeaten to emerge.  One could also easily play such a round robin with three teams.)

Save the final game (between two unbeatens) for the current BCS national championship time slot (second week in January).  If more teams are required, work backwards in order to play games.  These days, with the 12 game schedule and many NCAA rules legislating equity into the game, there are rarely enough unblemished squads to push such games earlier than late December.  Play these games at the higher seeded team's home stadium except for the final game between two unbeaten teams, in which case it will be at a bowl location (if there are four or fewer teams one could also employ bowl games for earlier rounds).

Keep the bowl system in play as it is now except without the unbeaten teams who will be vying to remain undefeated for the ultimate crown.  If there are no undefeated teams, play the bowls as they are now but without a title game in the second week of January.  Again, nobody is undefeated and nobody gets the crown, even if someone ends up ranked first - they just happen to be the best team at that moment.

Further Explanation

I call it unique because I haven't seen such a proposal anywhere and because it would keep intact things that keep college football truly different than virtually every other sport.  Every season is indeed different and this proposal would acknowledge that by adjusting the playoff based on how many teams make it through unscathed.  Also, it keeps a lofty goal that can be attained by anyone - all you need to do is win every game and you'll get your shot if you can finish the deal.  And it acknowledges that some seasons, there just isn't a team that is in fact better than everyone else.  Yes, that's a bit disappointing, but there are still the bowl games and final rankings to keep you interested.

Below are the number of undefeated teams (after bowl games) by year over the last 20 seasons (note that only 4 years would have resulted in a vacant championship):
2009: 2
2008: 1
2007: 0
2006: 1
2005: 1
2004: 3
2003: 0
2002: 1
2001: 1
2000: 1
1999: 2
1998: 2
1997: 2
1996: 0
1995: 1
1994: 2
1993: 1
1992: 1
1991: 2
1990: 0

Yes, such a system would likely never happen, especially given that arranging things like game locations and TV coverage have to be ironed out far in advance and the number of games would remain unknown until the final games of the regular season are played in early December.  Also, there is likely no way that NCAA members would allow any kind of playoff under the current situation, as the expansion of the season beyond one potential bowl game for each team would require a successful vote of FBS football playing schools; right now, the BCS conference schools wield too much power and money to give the little guys a piece of the pie (and there is no way that the "little guys" will let such a proposal fly without themselves getting some of that money and power).


I believe such a system would give everyone a very fair shot at the title and would keep many college football traditions intact and would make the sport even more unique than it already is.  And, depending on the year, it could be quite a ride to the true championship.  Even if there is no champion, we're left with our current situation but with every team knowing that they had their shot at going all the way and that they can't complain about lacking a shot at a title.

Go 'Cats!!!

e-mail: j-hodges@alumni.northwestern.edu

Previous jhodges commentary

jhodges is the primary content provider of HailToPurple.com.  His commentary and game analyses appear regularly during the season and occasionally in the offseason.