Arguing for a playoff: Key issues

  1. The Current System is Unfair
  2. Criticisms of a Playoff and Rebuttals
    1. Money
    2. Bowls
    3. Regular Season
    4. Academic/Student-Athletes
    5. Miscellaneous

The Current System is Unfair

Currently, what happens in the polls on Sunday is more important than what happens on the field on Saturday.  This is simply wrong.  The current system is unfair to the players of the six major conferences who are not allowed to control their own destiny, unfair to the players of the five other conferences who are effectively frozen out of the national championship before the season begins, favors schedule over skill, subjective rankings over actual accomplishments, and style over substance.  Any system that can permit an undefeated, untied major conference champion from competing for a national championship, is just unfair.  It has already happened once (to SEC champ Auburn in 2004) and will eventually happen again.  And the elite teams of the mid-major conferences are long overdue for a fairer opportunity to play for a national championship.

Examples of undefeated teams in the FBS without a chance to play for a national championship in the BCS era:
  • 2004 Auburn Tigers – 14-0
  • 2008 Utah Utes – 13-0
  • 2006 Boise State Broncos – 13-0
  • 2004 Utah Utes – 12-0
  • 1999 Marshall Thundering Herd – 13-0
  • 1998 Tulane Green Wave – 12-0

Criticisms of a Playoff and Rebuttals

Money’s BCS Playoff Proposal:
  • Keeps the current BCS revenue distribution scheme intact;
  • Expands the pool of money to the BCS conferences by adding 4 games to the BCS’s current 5 game system; and
  • Will generate more money from the BCS’s existing games by adding greater fan interest

Let there be no mistake about it, money is the biggest concern.  Big-time college football is a cash cow for the major universities, allowing most of the big-time schools to pay for their other athletic programs, and a few even return a profit back to the university's general revenue.  No leader of a bureaucracy will be willing to cut their budgets unilaterally, and so any playoff proposal must keep at least the same amount of money in the system for each participant, and realistically should increase the amount of money in order to entice Presidents and Athletic Directors to overcome some of their objections concerning tradition and academics.

By keeping the opportunities for participation intact from the BCS system of the status quo,’s BCS Playoff Proposal also keeps the current revenue distribution arrangement intact, thus evading objections by administrators of the 6 automatic-qualifying conferences and Notre Dame who are reluctant to disperse a larger share of their current revenue distribution among the five other Football Bowl Subdivision conferences or with the NCAA.  Indeed, by adding 4 more high-profile games to the schedule the BCS Playoff Proposal actually expands the pie of money to be shared. estimates that these 4 additional games would bring in a minimum of $50 million in additional revenue, using the current figures for the SEC and Big 12 championship games ($13.7 million and $12 million, respectively) as reasonable proxies. Of course a series of playoff games would likely yield even greater revenues than the current BCS system does, thereby further expanding the amount of money available to all the conferences.

Bowls’s BCS Playoff Proposal:
  • Respects and preserves the uniqueness of the bowl system;
  • Does not impact the existing non-BCS bowl games;
  • Keeps the Rose Bowl playing on New Years Day, every year;
  • Creates more lucrative opportunities for the existing BCS bowls.

Criticism: A playoff would take away interest from small bowls

In fact, all the evidence points to the contrary.  When the BCS was introduced 10 years ago, it already effectively “demoted” all the other bowls to a second tier status.  The media spends most of the season hyping the inclusion of teams into a BCS bowl, creating “Chase for the BCS” segments, etc. while warning that a loss against XX team or YY team might have a team “fall out” of the BCS.  Yet, despite the “second-class citizen” status of the other bowls in the current system, they not only continue to thrive, but to grow, with more cities applying to host new bowl games every year.  Indeed, ACC Commissioner and BCS Coordinator John Swofford argued as much before Congress in May 2009 [see second to last paragraph of his statement].

Furthermore, the BCS Playoff Proposal leaves open the week between Christmas and New Years, and the week after New Years, when the vast majority of the non-BCS bowls are currently played. Thus, their currently slotted television times would not even need to be altered under’s BCS Playoff Proposal

And for the fans of those teams not in the BCS Playoffs, they will still watch, attend, and root for their teams in their respective bowl games.  Fans of Navy are still going to watch the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl regardless of whether the top 10 teams are playing in a BCS bowl or a BCS Playoff.

Criticism: But the Rose Bowl is so cool and laden with tradition!  Do you really want to change the “Granddaddy of them all”!?!

The BCS Playoff Proposal provides special dispensation for the Rose Bowl, allowing it to continue to take place every January 1, by hosting a semi-final game every year, and adjusting the scheduling parameters of the regular season and playoffs accordingly.

Criticism: But the plan does get rid of the great Pac-10/Big Ten matchup that started in 1947!  Isn’t that a tradition worth keeping?!?

It’s hard to defend this position right now, given that the Rose Bowl game itself has been a total romp for the Pac-10, and specifically USC, in recent years.  Indeed, it’s been nearly 10 years (2000) since any Big Ten team won the Rose Bowl.  Admittedly, these things seem to go in cycles (the 1990s were a “down decade” for the Pac-10), but this matchup seems to have already lost some of its luster.  Moroever, only half of the Rose Bowl games in the past 8 years have even been the “traditional” Big Ten/Pac-10 matchups.  So we’ve already moved away from this tradition to a fair extent. 

In’s BCS Playoff System, the Rose Bowl would not only play a very prominent role, but an even more prominent role than it currently plays. 

Criticism: The other BCS bowls (Fiesta, Sugar, and Orange), will suffer in stature

On the contrary, their stature would be enhanced, given their role in a playoff.  Admittedly, every third year, one of those bowls will have to host a pre-New Years Day quarterfinal game instead of a semi-final or national championship game, but would that really be any worse than some of the boring matchups they’ve featured in recent years (see Cincinnati vs Virginia Tech in 2008-09, Louisville vs Wake Forest in 2006-07, or Utah vs Pittsburgh in 2004-05)?   Indeed, a playoff would be a major financial boon for these bowls.

Criticism: Traditional BCS Bowl matchups are too good to throw away

Except for the Rose Bowl, which has not even kept its “traditional” matchup for half of the past 8 years (see above), none of the other bowls have had any consistency at all in their bowl matchups since the inception of the BCS, nor are they guaranteed it in the current system.  This argument is not unique to a playoff proposal. 

Criticism: Bowls are much more than just a game, they are an event and several days full of festivities.  Moving bowls to playoff sites would eliminate that experience

While it is true that players of playoff-bound teams would not get a traditional “bowl experience”, in lieu of such an experience they would get a shot at a national championship not otherwise afforded to them in the current system.  If given the choice, they are almost all likely to choose the playoff opportunity.  For the bowls hosting the playoff games, however, they would still be able to engage in the same festivities and community activities leading up to the game.

Regular Season’s BCS Playoff Proposal:
  • Keeps the current regular season structure intact, including the existing conference championship games;
  • Adds importance to intra-conference games that are diminished in the current system;
  • Enhances the excitement of the regular season, by increasing the number of games that will impact the national championship race;
  • Emphasizes regular season performance by keeping the selection of playoff teams to a narrow and exclusive list of elite teams;

Criticism: Playoffs would devalue the most exciting regular season in sports

On the contrary, the BCS Playoff Proposal emphasizes regular season success and expands the importance of regular season games, especially pivotal intra-conference games. In the current system, with only 5-6 teams “in the hunt” by November, there’s usually only a small handful of games on a given weekend of “national championship importance”.  Under the BCS Playoff System, that number of teams “in the hunt” by November will expand to 15-20!  But just because the net is cast a little wider, doesn’t mean it will run deeper.  A one-loss team could easily still be left out of the playoffs given the right confluence of events, such as occurred in the 2008 season.  In the 2008 season, one-loss Texas Tech would have been left out of the playoffs under the current rules limiting only two schools from a single conference in the BCS games, but probably even without such a rule, given the presence of four other potentially more attractive “at-large” playoff teams at the end of the 2008 regular season (undefeated Utah and Boise State and one-loss Texas and Alabama).  And certainly a single loss for teams from one of the other five non-automatic qualifying conferences (e.g. TCU in 2008, BYU in 2007, etc.) would in most cases eliminate them from the playoffs.

Criticism: But look what happened in college basketball, where the regular season is virtually meaningless now

A 10-team playoff system is completely incomparable to the 64-team playoff for college basketball.  In college basketball teams that are sub-.500 in conference play routinely make the 64-team field, which could mathematically never happen in college football.  Under the BCS Playoff Proposal no conference could send more than two teams to the playoffs, just as is the rule under the current BCS system.  The limitations and exclusivity of the BCS Playoff System will enhance, not diminish the college football regular season.  What happens on the field on Saturday will finally become more important than what happens in the polls on Sunday.

Criticism: Rewarding teams who do the best all season is better (and a more unique system) than just rewarding those teams who get hot at the end of the season and make a long playoff run

While it certainly is unique, this argument is also misrepresented.  The current system really rewards teams that have the best “cosmetic success” during the regular season, especially at the end of the regular season, and appear to be the best according to pollsters and computers.  This is the part of the system which is unfair.  Under the current system, a major conference team can go undefeated and still not get a chance to play for the national championship, as happened with SEC champion Auburn in 2004, and mid-major teams have virtually no shot at earning a national championship. What the BCS Playoff Proposal does is eliminate “style points”, running up the score, and media subjectivity from being decisive factors in who gets to play for a national championship.  In the BCS Playoff System every team from the six major conferences will control its own destiny and teams from the other five conferences will have a MUCH improved opportunity to compete for a national championship than they do in the current system.

But for those that argue that “style points” and incessant subjective arguing about who’s better and who’s not and which conference could beat up the other conference in a bar fight, the BCS Playoff System still incorporates this part of the current system as it applies to the four “at-large” teams.  As previously demonstrated, one loss can still knock you out of the playoffs, and hence a shot at a championship. 

Criticism: Under this system, you could have a 4 or even 5-loss conference champion winning a national championship! 

Good for them! If such a team can win three games against the best teams at the end of the year after losing to West Tennessee Polytechnic and getting clobbered by Powerhouse U. in September, it deserves it!  Does anyone complain that the 2007-08 NY Giants lost 6 games en route to beating the previously undefeated New England Patriots who hadn’t lost any up until that point?!? (other than rabid Patriots fans, of course).  Or does anyone care that the 1997 Men’s Basketball Champs were a 10-loss, 4th seeded Arizona Wildcat team and beat the 4-loss, 1st seeded Kentucky Wildcats?!?  After the games are played, nobody remembers your record coming in!

Criticism: Under your plan, big non-conference games would become irrelevant and less frequent

On the contrary, the current system incentivizes weak non-conference scheduling by rewarding teams that run up scores in their early non-conference mismatches (see Florida in 2008 and most of the SEC for the past decade).  Under the BCS Playoff System, marquee non-conference games will become low-risk, high-reward as a loss in such games would not preclude a playoff berth, but a win would likely ensure higher seeding and would be critical to securing an “at-large” playoff berth.

Until recently, when some schools (especially in the SEC) began scheduling for “BCS positioning,” the primary goals of marquee non-conference games were to drive TV ratings, ticket sales, and recruiting via increased national exposure.  Under the BCS Playoff System, such goals will return to the forefront of considerations in scheduling marquee non-conference games.

Academics/Student-Athletes’s BCS Playoff Proposal:
  • Keeps football to a single-semester sport, just as it is now;
  • Is no more demanding of the student-athletes’ time or bodies than other divisions of college football;

For the most part, supposed concerns about academics and the health of student-athletes are laughable when presented with the many contradictions behind such arguments, but as they are invariably brought up by university administrators every time conversation of a playoff emerges, they must also be addressed.

Criticism: Playoffs would be too disruptive to student-athletes, especially as they would occur during final exams!

This concern is truly laughable.  Where is this concern for the football players in lower divisions that are already playing playoff games?  Do the academics of student-athletes at Amherst, Georgetown, Carnegie Mellon, or Cal Poly really take a backseat to the academics of students at Florida State, West Virginia, or Arizona State?!?  And where are these concerns for student athletes competing in the far more time consuming March Madness, which occurs either during midterms or finals, depending on whether a school is on the semester or quarter system?!?  Student-athletes in major college football already manage all sorts of crazy scheduling all season long, including Tuesday games, Thursday games, trips to Hawaii, etc.  This claim is such a ridiculous red herring that even NCAA President Myles Brand, himself an opponent of a playoff in big-time college football (he thinks a playoff would diminish the bowls – see discussion above), stated to the Senate Judiciary Committee on October 23, 2003:

“I have mixed feelings about the argument that such a tournament [an “NFL-style playoff”] would have severe academic consequences. Only a few schools and a limited number of student-athletes would participate, and the impact would not be greater than football championships in other divisions or championships in other sports.”  [Source]

Criticism: An expanded schedule would be too physically demanding on student-athletes

High school teams that reach their championship game can play up to 15 games a season in a number of states, while teams in other divisions of college football can play 16 games a season if they make it to the national championship game.  Bowl-bound teams already play 13 games each under the current system, and 10-teams every year play 14 games.  Under the BCS Playoff Proposal, most teams in the championship game will play between 15 or 16 games, depending on whether they play a conference championship game.  Teams that lose their conference championship game, but still receive an at-large bid and play their way into the national championship game could play a rare 17th game.  

Criticism: Football should remain a one-semester sport

The BCS Playoff Proposal would not lengthen the season beyond its current schedule.


Criticism: Moving playoff games from bowl site-to-bowl site won’t work.  College football fans won’t follow and games won’t sellout

This isn’t a problem in college basketball, which routinely sells out their Regional Finals (quarterfinal equivalent) despite an even more acute problem, namely that there is less than 48 hours lead-time before the game participants are even known.  In 2009, the men’s basketball national semi-final games in Detroit sold over 73,000 seats!  And yet if TV ratings are any guide (and they are), we can estimate that college football is about 2.3 times as popular as college basketball, given comparable ratings for the 2008 NCAA basketball championship (6.1) and the 2007-08 BCS Championship game 3 months prior (14.4).  The notion that such games would not be well attended is ridiculous!

Criticism: Your plan doesn’t really level the playing field for “mid-major” teams outside the six main conferences

Don’t let ‘the perfect’ become the enemy of ‘the good’.  The BCS Playoff Proposal dramatically improves access to the national championship game for “mid-major” teams, although it does admittedly stop short of “leveling the playing field” for these conferences.  See the discussion regarding money above for an explanation of why a plan that splits the same pie among more teams would not be tolerated by the university administrators of the six main conferences. is very sympathetic to the objections of teams from the five non-automatic qualifying BCS conferences.  It should be noted, however, that the BCS Playoff Proposal provides even better access to BCS playoff games than the March 2009 BCS Reform Plan proposed by the Mountain West Conference.

Criticism: Why change a system that’s worked for so long?

Ignoring the question of whether the current system actually “works”, what is certain is that the landscape of college football is significantly different today than it was even 10 years ago, let along 30 or 40 years ago.  Scholarship limits, advances in health and fitness, diffusion of coaching talent, and natural population growth are all long-term trends that will only serve to advance parity in College Football over the next several decades.  Even if you are among the minority of fans, coaches, players, or administrators who believe the system isn’t broken, all these unstoppable demographic and economic forces mean that the system cannot exist in perpetuity. 

Criticism: Why not a “Plus-One”?

Many journalists, pundits, talking heads, and even some university presidents and conference administrators have expressed support for a “plus-one” model for a quasi-playoff.  The most common iteration of this model has the two competitors for the national championship game being selected after the bowl games for a single championship game a week later.  Another iteration proposes to select the top 4 teams prior to the bowl games, pair them in two bowl games as semi-final games, and then hold the national championship game a week later. opposes these models for two reasons.  First, it completely skews the timing for the coaches and competitors.  What sense does it make to have 4-6 weeks to prepare for a semifinal game and then one week to prepare for a championship game?!?  Second, this model remains fraught with too many problems.  Who gets to decide the top 2?  In 2008, how would this have played out?  Undefeated Utah and one-loss USC & Texas all would’ve had strong arguments to play against Florida.  In 2007, two-loss USC & Georgia both had equally strong arguments to take on two-loss LSU.  No, a “plus-one” would be just as bad, if not worse, than the current system.

Criticism: Why 10-teams instead of 8?  10 is kinda weird.

University administrators have made it clear that they will not give up access to bowls (and money) they already have negotiated.  The six major conferences will not risk having their champions left out of a system they’re effectively part of today.  The current BCS system already is open to 10-teams, so this is any easy transition in that regard.  Furthermore,’s 10-team BCS Playoff Proposal gives conference champs a week off to rest, to further add to their advantage, which makes conference races, and hence the regular season, even more important.  This is particularly important for the ACC, SEC, and Big 12 conference champions, which already play what would effectively become a playoff game under the’s BCS Playoff System.  Those conference champions deserve a bye week, and that is best accomplished under a 10-team playoff system.  A 10-team system, by allowing for 4 at-large teams instead of 2, offers the non-automatic qualifying conference schools an even greater chance at making it in.  In an 8-team playoff system, they would stand little chance.  Sorry, President Obama, but 10 is better than 8 in this case.

Criticism: Why not include Congressional representatives in your database of decision-makers, given their recent interest, including the vocal support of President Obama? appreciates the moral support of all our elected representatives and hopes that they will use this website and their personal influence to effect change on this important issue… on their own does not support the use of taxpayer-funded time, money, or resources to what is and should remain an issue outside the purview of government.

Criticism: This seems like a slippery slope to bigger and bigger playoffs.  Where do we stop!?!

Given a priori concerns to keep the 12-game regular season schedule, not lengthen the season farther into January, start the season earlier than school starts, keep the bowl system intact, and keep 1-2 bye weeks for teams during the regular season, 4 weeks of playoffs would be the maximum.  In that time, no more than 16 teams could be included in a playoff, so that would be the outside limit.  Given the current landscape of college football believes 16 teams would be too many.  Of the five non-automatic qualifying BCS conferences, only the Mountain West Conference is competitive enough against the six automatic qualifying BCS conferences (see page 4) to warrant inclusion.  However, as the U.S. population expands, the number of Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS, formerly known as Division 1-A) teams increases (there were 112 teams in 1998 and are already 120 teams in 2009), parity across the FBS will also increase.  So, in 20 years or so, maybe the system would need to expand again, to 12 or even 16 teams, but that would probably be the outer limit.

Criticism: Your playoff plan would make college rankings irrelevant

Yes!!!  That’s the idea.  Take the power out of the hands of a handful of coaches, retired coaches, and computers, and put it on the field!  Now, rankings would not become completely useless, as they would still be used in seeding and as a component in the selection of the four “at-large” teams to include in the field of 10, but certainly their role in the sport will be remarkably diminished!  Rankings may also still be used by conferences as tie-breakers just as they were used to determine the Big 12 South champion during the 2008 season.

Criticism: With the continued use of polls or committees to decide the four “at-large” teams, there will still be some controversy over who gets included in the playoffs

Good!  As the opponents of a playoff often reiterate, some degree of controversy is good for business, as it stirs interest and inflames passions.  Nonetheless, the BCS Playoff Proposal does remove the greatest degree of controversy in college football, namely the selection procedures for the BCS National Championship Game. 

Criticism: Playoffs will make college football too much like the pros

Are you kidding?!?  How is this is only a concern for big-time college football and not to college baseball, which has the “College World Series”, any of the other three divisions of college football, which all have extensive 16+ team playoffs, or of course the 64-team college basketball tournament?!?  This argument is truly specious.