Listen Now App store Play Store

Solving The NCAA Football Playoff Problem

Solving The NCAA Football Playoff Problem
  • Scott Engel

By Cam  Giangrande

Don’t hate the player, hate the game. In this case the player is The Alabama Crimson Tide, and the game is the NCAA football playoff series. Over 20 years ago, people began clamoring for a definitive system to establish college football’s number one team in the nation. Due to contractual obligations with various Bowls, (Rose, Orange…etc), the best teams didn’t always play each another on January 1st.

What was born in 1992 was the first “Bowl Coalition”. This was intended to put the two top ranked teams together in an elite Bowl on January 1st. It ran until 1994, and morphed into the “Bowl Alliance”, which ran from 1995-1997. It was basically the same, with the goal of pitting the top two ranked teams together. Finally, there was The Bowl Championship Series, which ran from 1998-2013. Each of these systems varied slightly in their methodology, but all produced what they believed would be the ultimate game between the top highest ranked teams, to establish a singular and undisputed champion.

Unfortunately, short of a true playoff system, where multiple teams have the ability to vie for a championship, there is bound to still be debate. For many of those seasons during the Bowl Championship Series, a third team would emerge as a viable alternative to play in the championship game.

In 2014 NCAA Football finally developed a true playoff system. A committee established the four top teams in the nation and they would play two semi-final games, followed by a championship game.


Not Really, just as a third team often popped up in the prior formats; in this format, a fifth team can stake its claim on cracking the top four and playing in one of the semi-final games. That is the case for Ohio State and Wisconsin this season. They emerged as the top two teams in the Big 10 Conference and played in their conference championship game. Heading into the game, Ohio St. sat at 10-2 and Wisconsin was 12-0. Ohio St. won the game 27-21, spoiling Wisconsin’s undefeated season. With two losses Ohio St. still couldn’t crack the top four, but coming off a loss, it would prove tough to place Wisconsin into the playoffs, especially considering each of the other four teams were each 12-1, with Clemson playing Alabama, and Oklahoma playing Georgia.

The main debate is, should Wisconsin be penalized for making their conference championship game and losing; versus Alabama losing an earlier game and missing their conference championship game; and each having the same 12-1 record. The committee ruled in favor of The Crimson Tide over The Badgers.


Although it’s unrealistic and frankly unnecessary to expand a playoff system to the extent that NCAA basketball has with March Madness; where 68 teams now play, some expansion is needed. They made great strides expanding from two to four teams, but they need to expand one more time. Some have said to expand to eight teams, where the number one team plays number eight, two plays seven, three plays six, and four plays five. That would be better, but it’s still not perfect and somewhat unfair to the higher teams. Whether a team is ranked number one or number eight, they have to win three games in this scenario. Unlike college basketball, where no 16th ranked team has ever defeated a number one team in the first round, it wouldn’t be that uncommon or surprising for a number one team to lose in the first round. Like MLB, where it’s more difficult for the Wild Card team to emerge, it should be more difficult for the lower teams to move forward in the tournament.


Instead of eight teams, expand to 12 teams. Usually there are always 10-12 teams who have no more than two losses on the season, and in some cases, a smaller conference team is undefeated. This season, the University of Central Florida of The American Athletic Conference is 12-0, but only ranked 10th in the nation. In my scenario, teams like this can make the playoffs. Give the top four teams a first round bye. Have the other eight play a first round game. Then have those four winners play the top four teams. From there, the teams are shaved from eight to four, then four to the two finalists to play in the championship.

Emerging from the playoffs will establish a true and worthy champion. If one of the top four teams emerges, they will have to win three games. For one of the lower seeds to win it all, they will need to win four games. And, with 12 teams in the playoffs, enough viable teams will be given a fair chance to prove they are the best team in the country. This season, the eight teams who would be in the tournament under my rules would be Ohio St 11-2, Wisconsin 12-1, Auburn 10-3, USC 11-2, Penn St 10-2, UCF 12-0, Miami 10-2, Washington 10-2.

People love tournaments and expanded playoffs. The colleges would love it. The various fan bases would love it. Television would love it. Advertisers would love it. Who wouldn’t love it?

Any of those 12 teams could go on a run and emerge as a worthy champion. Would it be that outrageous to see Auburn win four games and end the year at 14-3 and as a National Champion? Or Wisconsin to end the year at 16-1 to raise the trophy? Or UCF stays undefeated, going 16-0 on their way to the title?

Unfortunately, we won’t get to find out this season…because those teams are shut out of this year’s tournament, even though Auburn beat Alabama, and Wisconsin was undefeated until this past Saturday, and UCF scored 49.41 per game.