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Outlining an eight-team College Football Playoff and responding to two criticisms of it

I thought I had outlined my plan for an eight-team College Football Playoff, but because I could not find it in the archives and I had been talking about it on Twitter again, I figured I should lay it out for you here in full detail. You won’t find a better playoff model than this one (unless you do, in which case thanks for reading anyway).

It still boggles my mind that the five power conferences signed off on a postseason championship format that guarantees one of the conferences is guaranteed to be left out of the playoff each year and leaves the door wide open for multiple power conferences to be left out. Honestly, how did this ever get approved in the first place? Did each conference think “Well this could be a problem but it will never happen to our conference?” I would totally believe that, because those in power tend to be a bit over confident about their standing in the national landscape.

The McGuire College Football Playoff Model

When the College Football Playoff ultimately decides to expand, it is very likely to go to eight teams. To me, that is the best number for this level of football. Here is how I would set things up for an eight-team playoff:

  • Five reserved spots for conference champions from the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC
  • One reserved spot for top conference champion from the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West Conference or Sun Belt Conference, as determined by the selection committee
  • Two at-large bids open to any school form any conference, to be selected by the selection committee
  • Selection committee seeds all eight playoff teams.
  • Top four seeds get to play first round at home. At-large teams may host a first-round game if in selection committee’s top four.
  • Second round games played under current bowl structure as they currently are and rotation for semifinal games can remain unchanged. Championship game may continue to be open for bidding as it currently is.

So now let’s address two criticisms that are common with such a model.

Criticism: Automatic bid opens the door for an 8-5 team in the playoff.

Response: I’ll take that chance.

The Big 12 championship game was played from 1996 through 2010 and will return in the 2017 season. InThe very first Big 12 championship game was won by the unranked Texas Longhorns, stunning No. 3 Nebraska to improve their overall record to 8-4. So the precedent for an eight-win power conference champion has been set. However, given the history of all power conference championship games, I’m willing to play the odds here.

Here is a list of all the power conference champions who entered the bowl season with eight wins since the start of conference championship games (60 in total):

  • 1996 Texas
  • 2005 Florida State
  • 2012 Wisconsin

In 2012, Wisconsin finsihed third in the Big Ten Leaders Division behind 12-0 Ohio State and 8-4 Penn State, but both the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions were ineligible for postseason play, thus sending Wisconsin to the Big Ten championship game. So you can arguably put an asterisk next to that one. Regardless, we have had just three teams since 1992 win a conference championship game going into the bowl season. Three out of 60, and one of those should never have been in the situation in the first place. Yeah, I’ll play those odds and deal with the one time it happens every 10 years or so.

Criticism: Expanding the playoff would devalue the regular season.

Response: Will it?

The College Football Playoff does reduce the impact a weekend like we just had ends up having on the national title picture, and it would seem to be the case doubling the playoff field may lead to a wider margin for error. But does it really? If we’re handing out six spots to conference champions, the importance of winning a conference chamionship is greatly increased, and makes what happens on a weekly basis even more important with just two at-large spots to fill.

For example, this season it appears that Louisville and Ohio State may end the season with an 11-1 record but not be able to compete for their respective conference championships. While they may not be in contention for an automatic spot, they can still be playing for one of the two at-large spots, and perhaps get a home game in the first round. So there is still plenty riding on the outcome of what happens in the regular season, and that is even more the case when you have a crowded field for playoff contention, which we most certainly have this season. Every conference has a race to get to the conference championship game, where all bets are off, while the prospect of grabbing an at-large keeps the interest alive for games that may otherwise be meaningless.

More intrigue in more games is good. TV partners will surely agree.


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About the Author

Kevin McGuire
Contributor to College Football Talk on Also a contributor to Athlon Sports and The Comeback. Member of Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. Follow on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.