The SUPER 72: A VIABLE NCAA DIV. 1 FOOTBALL PLAYOFF SYSTEM - Patrick McCarthy July 2011

Almost everyone wants a playoff system for NCAA Division 1 football.  Determining a national champion using computers that incorporate biased voting results is a poor approach.  Oddly, the high-profile university (you’d think the brightest minds would be there) NCAA Division 1 football selects their champion this way.  Routinely, the result leaves a bad taste in many people’s mouths.

 

In virtually every other team sport in the world, champions are crowned via playoffs or similar elimination systems.  Imagine Major League Baseball, the NFL, NHL, or NBA voting in their champion rather than using a playoff system.

 

The challenge with NCAA football lies in its size (119 teams), its tradition, a sense of entitlement among some groups, and financial gain for individual programs.

 

 

STEP 1: Reducing the number of teams

 

NCAA basketball uses a 64-team playoff format.  Because university basketball can play a lot more games than once-a-week football, it is a lot easier to for university basketball to determine the deserving teams for the playoff.  Because football teams only play about 12 games each autumn, there is no simple way to filter out the cream of the crop among the many teams and conferences.  Some teams traditionally play specific, often perennially weaker, teams.  Some conferences are populated with traditionally weaker programs.  Voting makes the least sense because it lacks objectivity due to individual bias.  Sophisticated computer determination is ineffective due to the limited seasonal play and limited inter conference matchups.  Oddly enough, the NCAA Div. 1 football incorporates both voting and computer assessment into its BCS ranking system.  To compound matters further, the BSC removes any remaining sense of objectivity by giving some conferences preferential eligibility into bowl games.

 

Reducing the number of teams will allow more inter conference play.  Removing weak programs will also allow for easier inter conference comparison.  Fewer teams could also reduce the number of conferences which would only foster easier inter conference assessments.

 

To achieve this reduction, the following approach was taken:

 

1) assess program strength

 

The seasonal record for each current Division 1 team was assessed over the past 20 years.  Two points was given to a win and one point was given for a tie.  Since some teams are newer and haven’t played the full 20 seasons in Division 1, the overall seasonal points average was pro-rated.  This approach is very simple and no “strength of schedule” was applied.  It was assumed that the length of period used should overcome this deficiency.

 

2) choose the ideal number of teams

 

The 119 teams needs to be reduced.  The total number should be small enough to allow for a relatively short playoff yet big enough to allow for the inclusion of most competitive programs while allowing for an effective number of inter conference games.   A total of 72 teams were chosen.  All teams must agree to be affiliated with their conference.  Any team choosing not to join will be replaced by the 73rd ranked team, and so on.  Using the program strength assessment above (excluding the 2010-11 season), the top 72 teams were:

1 Florida  FL   SEC

2 Ohio State OH   Big Ten

3 Nebraska NE   Big 12

4 Boise State (1996) ID   WAC

5 Florida State FL   ACC

6 Miami (FL) FL   ACC

7 Virginia Tech VA   ACC

8 Texas TX   Big 12

9 Tennessee TN   SEC

10 Michigan MI   Big Ten

11 Georgia   GA SEC

12 Penn State PA Big Ten

13 USC CA Pacific-10

14 Oklahoma OK Big 12

15 Alabama AL SEC

16 Utah  UT Mountain West

17 Auburn AL SEC

18 Wisconsin WI Big Ten

19 Kansas State KS Big 12

20 Brigham Young UT Mountain West

21 Oregon OR Pacific-10

22 West Virginia WV Big East

23 LSU LA SEC

24 Texas A&M TX Big 12

25 Notre Dame IN Independent

26 Marshall (1997) WV Conference USA

27 South Florida (2001) FL Big East

28 TCU TX Mountain West

29 Texas Tech TX Big 12

30 Toledo OH Mid-American

31 Boston College MA ACC

32 Clemson SC ACC

33 Air Force CO Mountain West

34 Frenso State CA WAC

35 Iowa   IA Big Ten

36 Louisville KY Big East

37 Colorado CO Big 12

38 Georgia Tech GA ACC

39 Southern Miss MS Conference USA

40 Bowling Green OH Mid-American

41 Virginia VA ACC

42 UCLA CA Pacific-10

43 Troy (2002) AL Sun-Belt

44 North Carolina NC ACC

45 Colorado State CO Mountain West

46 Miami (OH) OH Mid-American

47 North Carolina State NC ACC

48 Syracuse NY Big East

49 Washington WA Pacific-10

50 Arkansas AR SEC

51 Mississippi MS SEC

52 Western Michigan MI Mid-American

53 East Carolina NC Conference USA

54 Cincinnati OH Big East

55 Nevada NV WAC

56 California CA Pacific-10

57 Connecticut (2000) CT Big East

58 Hawaii HI WAC

59 Arizona AZ Pacific-10

60 Michigan State MI Big Ten

61 Purdue IN Big Ten

62 Kansas KS Big 12

63 Missouri MO Big 12

64 UCF Uni. Central FLA 1996 FL Conference USA

65 Central Michigan Mid-American

66 Oregon State Pacific-10

67 Pittsburgh Big East

68 Washington State Pacific-10

69 Louisiana Tech WAC

70 Middle Tennessee (1999) Sun-Belt

71 Oklahoma State Big 12

72 South Carolina SEC

 

ACC

Clemson  

Florida State  

Georgia Tech

Louisiana Tech

Miami (FL)  

North Carolina  

North Carolina State  

Virginia

Virginia Tech  

 

SEC

Alabama

Arkansas

Auburn  

Florida    

Georgia    

LSU  

Mississippi

South Carolina

Tennessee  

 

Big East

Boston College  

Cincinnati

Connecticut

East Carolina  

Louisville  

Pittsburg

South Florida   

Syracuse

West Virginia

 

Big Nine

Central Michigan

Iowa   

Michigan  

Michigan State

Ohio State

Penn State  

Purdue

Western Michigan

Wisconsin  

 

Conference USA

Bowling Green

Marshall  

Miami (OH)

Middle Tennessee

Notre Dame

Southern Miss

Toledo

Troy

UCF Uni. Central FLA

 

Great Plains

Kansas  

Kansas State

Missouri

Nebraska

Oklahoma

Oklahoma State

Texas  

Texas A&M

Texas Tech

 

Mountain West

Air Force

Arizona

Boise State (1996)  

Brigham Young

Colorado  

Colorado State  

Nevada

TCU

Utah  

 

Pacific-8

California

Frenso State

Hawaii

Oregon

Oregon State

UCLA

USC

Washington

Washington State

 

 

 

3) Redesign the conferences

 

Removing 47 teams has a huge impact on the existing conference system.  Some conferences are nearly eliminated while others remain mostly intact.   The realignment takes into consideration existing conferences, traditional rivalries, and geographical distribution.  In addition, the total number of conferences was reduced to eight to better fit into a traditional playoff format.  This results in 9 teams per conference:

3) Regular season play

 

Each team will play every other team in their conference once, for a total of 8 games.  Each team will also play one team from four of the other conferences.  Therefore, the total regular season games per team will be 12.  

 

The inter conference games will  count towards each team’s overall record within their own conference.  The conference’s overall inter conference record will rank the conference’s playoff representative throughout the playoffs.

 

4) Conference championship bowls

 

The top-ranked conference team will host the conference championship against the conference’s second place team.  These will the first eight bowl games.  The name of these bowl games will be up to the conference and their sponsors.

 

The bowl winner will be the conference champion and will represent the conference in the following eight-team playoffs.  The conference championships are essentially the first round of a 16-team playoff system.

 

5) National Championship playoffs

 

The eight conference champions will meet in a traditional bracket playoff system.  The eight champions are ranked according to their conference’s regular season inter conference play.   These 4 games will be played in 4 major bowl venues as determined by the league.

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1

8

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2

3

7

6

4

5

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Round 1

Round 1

The four winners of the first round will move on to the next round.  The  same ranking used in the first round will be used to determine the team match ups in this round.  These 2 games will be played in 2 major bowl venues as determined by the league.

 

 

The winners of these two games will meet in the national championship.   The host city and sponsor will be determined by the league.

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1

2

3

4

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Round 2

Round 2

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National

Championship

Game

Other considerations

 

The above system is designed to stand on its own.  The following thoughts are intended to explore ideas beyond what was presented above.

 

1) what about the other teams?

 

There are 47 left out of the loop.  Some have had stronger programs in the past while others have traditionally been higher-profile teams or have interest for nostalgic reasons.  Teams ranked below but close to the 72 team threshold are basically one or two good seasons from breaking into the top 72.  

 

The approach above was intended to be purely objective.  However, growing or rebuilding programs may need a venue to enter the top 72.  There are a number of approaches for this.  One popular approach is to treat the “Super 72” as the “premier” or “championship” league and the next tier league as a “division two”-type of league.   The top performers in the tier two league could be promoted into top league, replacing the lowest performing teams.  

 

This promotion could be done in a number of ways.   For example, the winner of the “division 2” league could play the lowest ranked “”premier” league sometime during the league playoffs.  The champion gets or keeps the “premier” league 72nd spot.  The whole NCAA Div. II system could be redesigned to incorporate the 47 displaced teams and their existing programs.  The 47 teams could also just exist alone.  However, that’s not the point of this article.

 

2) Why not a 16 team playoff?

 

The system above describes a 16 team playoff with the first round being the conference championships.  The system was designed to avoid a very long season, which is a concern for many.  However, some may argue that 16 teams could still make it.   One approach may be to add 8 wild card teams to the mix.  This would be done by giving the 8 conference champions entry into the “sweet 16” round with the remaining wildcards chosen from remaining 64 teams.  The wildcards would be chosen based upon overall performance and with ties broken by the team’s and team’s conference’s inter league play.  The conference champions are ranked as are the wildcards.   The top ranked team plays the 16th ranked, and so on.

 

 

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Thanks for reading!