As we sit back and watch the remaining insignificant college football games of the 2019 season, I propose an unpopular idea – scrap the bowl system and institute a 16-team playoff for the top division of college football. After all, the FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) or Division 1-AA to us veterans of college football fandom, hosts a 24-team playoff every December to crown its national champion. The FCS doesn’t use a bowl system to reward the remaining 6-6 and 7-5 teams that weren’t good enough to make the playoffs.
But, the FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision), or Division 1-A to us vets, has a playoff in addition to the bowls. Four teams are deemed worthy to play three games to crown a national champion. The remaining members of the 130-team division get to participate in 37 bowls from the Bahamas to Hawaii. Of the 74 non-playoff teams participating in the bowls, 40 of them finished the regular season with “Bowl-worthy” records of 6-6 or 7-5. Most of them finished conference play with losing records. Some of the bowl teams will finish with 6-7 records, a reward for an “outstanding” season. Three decades ago – before the bowl game explosion – teams usually finished 8-3 or better during the regular season and bowls were treated as rewards for a successful season.
Watching games in recent seasons, you see mostly empty stadiums. This is what the college football postseason has come to? Playing “important” bowl games in front of empty stadiums?
What if you took the best 16 teams each season and played a single-elimination tournament resulting in a championship game? Imagine eight first round games being played in sold-out stadiums on home campus sites in mid-December. Or, if you want to maintain a bowl relationship, you can have the games played at neutral sites around the country. Then, each ensuing playoff game could be played at neutral sites, including bowl patriarchs such as the Rose Bowl, Cotton Bowl and Fiesta Bowl.
A 16-team playoff would include each of the Power 5 conference champions, at least one Group of Five team and then wildcard teams from any conference. You could even require the Group of Five to improve their schedules to ensure one team finishes in the top 16.
If you employed this system during the 2019-20 season, you would have opening round match-ups of:
#16 Memphis vs # 1 LSU
# 15 Notre Dame vs. #2 Ohio State
# 14 Michigan vs. # 3 Clemson
# 13 Alabama vs. # 4 Oklahoma
# 12 Auburn vs. # 5 Georgia
# 11 Utah vs. # 6 Oregon
# 12 Penn State vs. # 7 Baylor
#9 Florida vs. #8 Wisconsin
Yes, one Power 5 team would likely be left out of the playoff. This season, it would have been #16 Iowa. While the Hawkeyes won their Holiday Bowl game over USC, the game was far from competitive. Iowa’s omission from the playoff would allow fodder for talk radio.
Second round action could include (barring upsets):
Wisconsin vs. LSU
Baylor vs. Ohio State
Oregon vs. Clemson
Georgia vs. Oklahoma
Again, these games could be played at neutral locations, such as bowls.
The semi-final round would be (again, barring upsets) what we had for the CFP playoffs: Oklahoma vs. LSU and Clemson vs. OSU.
Would the outcomes be the same? Possibly. Probably. But, imagine the fun fans would have to watch the first- and second-round games. Any of those contests would be more enjoyable than the “exciting” snooze fest of Western Kentucky’s game-ending win via field goal over Western Michigan in the First Responders Bowl.
Today, only three games truly matter. The College Football Playoff semifinals and then the national championship game. Is this really the best college football can do?
For the naysayers who complain about fans traveling? Fans would indeed need to determine how they would want to spend their money. However, I imagine most boosters and season ticket holders would find a way to make it work. But, how do fans in the FCS, Division II and III make it work? Based on bowl attendance, as seen during the televised games, not too many people seem that concerned about attending meaningless games.
I know bowl invitations give teams an additional 15 practices, equivalent to another spring practice. If ensuring players receive enough practice time, maybe college football leaders could consider an additional practice period. That’s never been the intent of the bowl system. It’s just another perk.
Regardless, I know 16 teams may seem too many, but if you want to reward teams for a successful season, that would do it. If you want it at eight teams, then let’s drastically reduce the bowls. Get rid of the majority of them. We don’t need half of Division 1 going bowling. Make the bowl season a true reward for a successful season. Realistically, scrap it and expand the playoffs. Imagine if the NFL had a bowl system for teams not making the playoffs – the Chicago Bears play the Dallas Cowboys in the Who Really Cares Bowl, while the remaining 12 true playoff teams battle it out for a berth in the Super Bowl.
So, which 6-6 teams are we watching today?