Tuesday, July 11, 2006

the Modified Season

the setup: tMS 2005, Weeks 1 & 2, Week 3, Week 4, Week 5

If you’ve read the “Defining a Champion” sections, you know that I’m not in favor of a playoff. At the same time, I do think there are ways to improve college football and make it easier to crown a true national champion. Some of my ideas are a bit out there, but my main goal is to produce a system that is actually workable and realistic as opposed to simply a "perfect setup". It’s a work in progress, evolving as college football changes, so if you see anything you’d like to comment on or have a suggestion about, let me know and I’ll incorporate it.

(I do not claim to be an expert on all things college football, though I think my understanding of it from a fan's perspective is thoughtful and well balanced. So when it comes to specifics regarding some of the following issues, if my facts are incorrect, please let me know - again, I hope this site can be used as a resource for other people, so above all I want to be able to post correct information and facts.)

Overview of How the System Will Work

The goal of this proposal/system is to modify the current college football season setup so that…

● 1) There are more competitive (and thus entertaining) games;

● 2) There is more parity amongst all Division I-A teams when it comes to qualifying for a National Championship game;

● 3) There is a system in place which lessens the National Championship controversy.

The basic setup employs the Evolved Playoff , my idea for improving a traditional post-season setup. For college football, the premise is this: In September and October, teams play their conference schedule, crowning a conference champion by the last week of October. November is reserved for non-conference play, with the top teams in the country facing off against each other each Saturday of the month. The teams ranked #1 & #2 after the first Saturday of December will play on New Year’s Day in a bowl game for the National Championship.

The Rankings

The Official Rankings will start in the beginning of October and be comprised of two factors: human polls & computer rankings. The human polls will consist of a panel of voters who have been given a specific charge and guidelines as to what criteria to use to rank teams. These votes are to be made public each week that the Official Rankings are released. The computer rankings will stay much the same as they are in the BCS now, except that Margin of Victory shall be added in to each computer as a factor. The human polls and computer rankings shall each comprise 50% of the Official Ranking.

An Official Committee, made up of NCAA officials, conference officials, and school officials shall oversee the administering of the polls. They will have no say in determining the actual rankings, but will use the rankings as a tool once Part II of the season starts.

The College Football Season, Part I: Inter-Conference Play

Late August, September, and October constitute Part I. These months will be reserved for no less than 8 and no more than 9 games per team. 8 Conference games must be played, and teams have the option of scheduling 1 more non-conference game. At least 4 of these games (half the conference schedule) must be played away from home field. Conferences with less than 9 teams in their conference are allowed to supplement their schedule with extra non-conference games. Independent teams are exempt from having to play in-conference games, though they still must play a minimum of 8 games. Conference play will end by the last weekend in October, with conference champions crowned and conference titles awarded according to each conference’s present bylaws and regulations.

The College Football Season, Part II: Non-Conference Play

At the end of October, the Official Committee will be tasked with making the pairings for the first two weekends of November games. Throughout November, the committee will pair teams based on ranking and conference, making sure that teams are not paired with teams from their conference or teams that they’ve played previously in the season. Every team will go into one of two evolving groups, Group A or Group B. The top 32 teams in the Official Rankings will go into Group A and be paired up #1 vs #32, #2 vs #31, #3 vs #30, etc. These 32 teams will have a bye weekend the first Saturday of November to prepare for their game. Teams ranked #33 and lower will be put into Group B and paired with other teams for the first week of November. They will have their bye weekend the second week while the teams in Group A are playing their first games. Teams in Group B will be paired with teams within 10 ranking spots of them to maximize competitiveness.

After the second weekend of November, all of the teams will be re-ranked and re-paired, taking into account how they performed in their first November game as well as how they performed throughout the whole season so far. This time, the top 16 teams in the rankings will go into Group A and be paired up, #1 vs #16, #2 vs #15, etc. Any team ranked #17 or lower will be put into Group B and paired with another team ranked within 10 spots of them. The Committee should again use their judgment to make sure that there are no re-matches from the previous week or the first part of the season.

After the third week of November, teams will be re-ranked and re-paired with the top 8 going into Group A (#1 vs #8, #2 vs #7, etc). Group B will consist of teams ranked #9 or lower.

After the fourth week of November play, teams will be re-ranked and re-paired with the top 4 going into Group A (#1 vs #4, #2 vs #3). Group B will consist of teams ranked #5 or lower. As usual, the Committee should make sure re-matches don’t occur from previous weeks in the season, but games between members of the same conference are now allowed in Group A if necessary.

The College Football Season, Part III: Bowl Play

Teams will be re-ranked one final time after Part II and accept bids for bowl games, which will start around the third week of December and end of New Year’s Day. The two teams ranked #1 & #2 in the rankings at the end of Part II will play in a bowl game on New Year’s Day to determine the National Champion, while teams ranked #3 and lower will be paired according to ranking, conference, and bowl history.

Home-Field Advantage

In Group A, the higher ranked team always has home-field advantage throughout Part II of the season. In Group B, home field advantage is determined first by attendance records during Part I of the season. Teams will be ranked according to their per game attendance average, with the top 10 teams guaranteed home field advantage throughout Part II of the season when they’re in Group B. Teams ranked 11-25 will be guaranteed no more than one away game throughout Part II of the season when they’re in Group B. Every team in Group B is guaranteed at least one home game during November. All other decisions about home field will be made at the Official Committee’s discretion, with the goal of balancing competitiveness, financial gains, and achievement.

Positive Points of the Modified Season

● All teams will play full 12 or 13 game seasons, regardless of whether they win or lose during November (the second part of the season)

● The whole season is taken into account when determining who will play for the national championship. The first part of the season (conference play) is still of major importance, since where you finish in your conference standings will partly determine your ranking for the second part of the season. Higher ranked teams will have an easier road during Part II of the season.

● Unlike a traditional playoff where if you have a bad, fluky game you’re done, this is not single-elimination. The National Champion is not the team that has an average regular season then plays well in the tournament. The national champion is the team that has the most successful year overall, from start to finish. Because the November matchups are between the most successful teams, there will be ample information for polls and computers to compare when trying to fairly rank teams.

● In this system, a single loss will not make or break a team until the very end of the season. Even if a team loses one or two conference games, they’re still going to be ranked fairly high in the standings and will have a chance to make it up in the second part of the season. On the same hand, if a high-ranked team goes through the first part of the season undefeated but then loses their first game in November, they’ll still be in the hunt because their high ranking will probably not drop them out of Group A. As the season goes along, the later you lose the less chance you have of making it to the national championship game.

● This system gets rid of the cream-puff, easy September games versus Division I-AA opponents that nobody wants to see. Teams can choose to play one non-conference team during the first two months of the season – that’s it. Because the season starts right in with conference games, teams better be prepared to hit the ground running.

● The system pits the best in each conference against the best in other conferences, as well as the worst in each conference against the worst in other conferences, giving better indications of relative conference strength.

● Yes, there are computer rankings and human polls involved, but matters will be settled on the field, much more so than they are now.

● It keeps the bowl system (possibly even the old bowl system, hint hint) fully intact – no plus one, no turning certain bowl games into playoffs for another bowl game, no waiting nearly eight weeks to play the NC game (like Ohio State or Michigan will most likely have to wait for this year.)

● Rewards are based on achievement – win and you’re rewarded with a higher ranking, home-field advantage, a better bowl game, etc.

● Teams can secure themselves up to 8 or 9 home games each season by either being in the top ½ of Group A each week or being in the Top 25 of the overall attendance rankings. Schools who are able to fill the stands each week earn more home games, leading to an overall surge of total attendance at college football games and higher revenues for all involved.

● It doesn’t cut into class time or most schools’ finals

● Rivalry games are kept in place, albeit some may have to be moved to earlier in the year. Even non-conference rivalries, like USC-Notre Dame and Georgia-Georgia Tech will have that one extra game in Part I of the season to schedule the game.

●More competitive games, especially in November, should enable conferences to sign more lucrative television contracts, increasing the overall revenues of the sport.

● Imagine how amazing November football will be with 4 weeks of the top teams being matched up against each other for the right to play in the NC…

Potential Problems

● The main drawback to such a system is that teams, schools, and fans do not know who they'll be playing during the month of November until the week before the game. This shouldn't be too much of a problem for the fans – the excitement and anticipation of "Who are we gonna play next?" should even out the uncertainty. The problem will be with the teams and schools having to logistically coordinate travel in such a short period of time. But there are two things that would lessen the impact of this problem.

First, the Official Committee could make all of the Part II pairings for the teams in Group B at the end of October. This would give those schools more time to make their travel arrangements and it wouldn’t affect the national championship race at all (since teams in the bottom 3/4 of the rankings have no chance of making it into Group A). Second, travel arrangements could be made in advance and simply held until teams are determined. For instance, schools who know they’re going to be playing a majority of their Part II games at home could arrange for hotel rooms for whoever their visitors are going to be for those weeks, and teams don’t have great winning percentages or attendance records could book their charter flights since they know they’re probably going to be on the road a lot.

Top > the setup: tMS 2005


David said...

I like the idea in principle, although, as you said it will be very complicated.

I thiink the biggest problem for Universities and ADs is not the "Who are we going to play next?" but the "Where are we going to play next?"

Ed Gunther said...

Yeah, along with the money that's the big one. There's an argument in the fact that all the other divisions do it for their football playoff, but the point against that is that they do it with a lot less teams and for less time. Any suggestions as to how to make this part of the system more appealing or workable?

Arathon said...


In a very real sense, it's a dream season. Obviously, it's been designed from the ground up, to be the ideal way of crowning a National Champion.

Just as obviously, and as you point out yourself, the 'switch' to this system would be....frankly, it's pretty hard to conceive of a scenario in which this scenario could be agreed upon by all of the people who have control over such things.

All in all, it's a really good plan that basically makes the whole BCS thing even more painful, now that I have seen a really, really, really good solution to the stupidity that is Division I-A football. =P

Webmeister said...

Overall, it would be a very exciting last 4 or 5 weeks of the season, but I think it's way too complicated thus not very realistic. It was like pulling teeth to get the current two team playoff system. A three team playoff system is probably the next step, but I'd like to see it expanded to 8. I think your system takes alot of emphasis out of conference play. Winning a conference now means very little. I have come up with my own system, which has 8, 12 and 16 team versions. I think the 8 team playoff of the three is the most realistic, but I put out three versions.

vr, Xei

Anonymous said...

You say that independent teams must still play 8 games during Aug/Sept/Oct. How can they do this if all other teams are restricted to conference play during this time? If USC has 9 weeks in which to play the rest of the Pac 10, when will they play Notre Dame?

Ed Gunther said...

8 conference games in 9 weeks - the extra week is reserved for non-conference (rivalry) games. That extra week can fall anywhere in the first months of the season for each team.

For instance, Notre Dame can play Navy in week 1, Michigan in week 2, USC in week 3, etc, and Notre Dame would serve as their 1 non-conference game. This way independent teams still have a full slate too.

Turf Toe said...

Love the idea of the modified playoff. One thing I don't like is that a lower ranked team can win in Group A and not "advance." One way to mitigate is instead of decreasing the number of teams in group A by half (32 to 16), keep more teams for each round. Every team that wins continues in Group A plus a couple of losers (or potentially an outside game could play in.) I would start with 28 teams. 14 winners plus 4 highest ranked to make 18 teams (might be group A losers or a 29 vs 30, 31 vs 32 winners, etc). Next round is 9 winners plus 3 to make 12. 4th round is the 6 winners plus 2 to make 8. From 8 teams standard cut # in half after each round to get to the final 2.

Douglas said...

I am also actually opposed to a playoff. While imperfect, I think the college football regular season and bowls is by far the best in team sports, college or pro. It gives the greatest good to the greatest number. (Embrace the chaos!)

So we don't have a definitive answer to the (ridiculously over-simplified) unqualified question: "Who's really #1?". So what? What do we lose? The only thing we lose is the opportunity for a pack of obnoxious jerks aligned with one team or another to stick their index finger in everyone else's face with absolute authority. That, and we lose the sports networks and casual fan's the excuse and the means to ignore all but a couple of teams and games by elimination.

Douglas said...

...that said.

I think November playoff and non-conference games probably make a lot more sense than doing a lot of them in December and January, particularly if non-qualifiers ('Group B' teams) are included.

I also think all playoff systems proposed would be greatly improved if there was always at least two weeks between playoff rounds for Group A teams, rather than playing each week solid. This would allow more time to work out travel logistics, preparation, etc. and address some of the concerns regarding academic disruptions.

The intermittent week could be a bye week for Group A teams and allow Group B teams to play, or some pre-arranged non-conference rivalry or other game.

Douglas said...

...of course, even if we could tweak this system to perfection, it is unlikely to fly because:

a) the 'Have-nots' (50-70% of the members of the current Bowl Subdivision members) would object because they would be eliminated from significance much earlier

b) all members would be unlikely to want to face the prospect of possibly giving up two to three home games. Especially the 'Haves' of college football, where these games (especially the early season 'cupcake' games) are nonetheless near sell-outs, and a huge source of revenue for their athletic departments.

dWj said...

Particularly in the early rounds, rather than have #1 against #32 etc., I think it would make sense to take some account of geography. (This is a practical concern.) If USC is #1, Notre Dame is #2, Fresno State is #31, and Purdue is #32, pair up the California schools and the Indiana schools.

Also particularly in the early rounds, it may be possible at least to schedule which teams will play home games at what days and at what times, which makes arranging stadiums and to some extent selling tickets at least logistically possible. Designate half of the teams to host games in the first round and the other half in the second, and match up the top home team with the #16 road team and vice versa instead of worrying purely about #1 vs #32.

Particularly in the late rounds, I don't think a rematch, especially from early in the season, should be completely precluded. There should be a preference against it.

In any case, while I can argue against some of your specifics, I do think some kind of "adaptive season" should be adopted for the end of the season.