Matt Hinton’s been one of the most rational playoff proponents in the college football blogosphere, so I was hopeful that there would be plenty to like about his postseason plan (or at least those parts worth stealing to make a better one). Alas, such is not the case.
He’s constructed a ten-team format, with byes and home field advantages, in pursuit of three goals:
• Creating an opportunity for every team with a plausible claim on a shot at the championship.
• Valuing the regular season with automatic bids for major conference champions and incentives (first-round byes, home games) based on the final BCS standings.
• Setting a high bar to filter fringe riffraff that threaten to water down the field and/or give ammunition to critics who like to argue (ridiculously, I think) that a playoff jeopardizes the importance of the regular season.
The problem I see is that there’s an inherent conflict between the first and third of those. And his own historical review of how things would have gone had his system been in place over the past few seasons goes to illustrate that.
… out of 50 teams here, only three finished the regular season with more than two losses: Wake Forest in 2006 (10-3), Virginia Tech in 2008 (10-3) and UConn last year (8-4), all major conference champions. All three would have also been forced to win a first-round game to get into the round of eight…
Well, yeah, but that simply begs the question of why three- and four-loss teams are deserving of a crack at that in the first place. And that’s the risk inherent in allowing a field as big as Hinton does. As Brian Cook, who’s also a playoff proponent, notes,
… DocSat’s still grasps the three-point tao of a college football playoff:
- Reward in-season success more heavily than most playoffs do by having byes and allow teams to play at home.
- Restrict the size of the field so 9-3 teams are told to GTFO.
- Create a system that guarantees the last team standing also has the best resume.
The more I think about that last one the more I think it would be hard to create a playoff that didn’t do this as long as you kept the field relatively small, but the byes and home games aid greatly.
I think that’s right.
The other problem I have with this is that Hinton is far too dismissive of those of us who worry about the impact of an expanded playoff on the regular season. The reason I say this is because it seems inevitable to me that a ten-team format is an invitation to grow, not just because it lets in those three- and four-game losers, but also because it’s easy to structure a twelve-team format (the top four teams get byes, which is justified by the increased size of the total field and a need to differentiate between the very best and the rest). That feeds in to a more games means more money and more opportunities for coaches to look good attitude that generates even more postseason expansion. Basically, we’re off to the races at that point.
Given D-1’s current structure, I still haven’t seen a playoff format I like better than this one.