Beyond the Bowl Championship Series: Realigning College Football Playoffs

A Football
A Football

For all of the obvious reasons, (realignment, $, tv, a real championship, $, tv) the College Football Bowl games and BCS need to be realigned. A playoff systems should emerge. The current system of conferences is also unsatisfactory (a future post will solve that problem), but working with the existing conference framework, we should be able to generate a playoff structure. Clearly this is politically difficult for some reason, or it would have already been done. On the other hand, a playoff should generate satisfaction from players and fans, and financially and psychically reward the universities participating at least as well as the existing system. The purpose of end-of-season/post-season games are many, and include a trip for the players and fans to a desirable location as well as the immediate financial payoff from television.

We need to consider FBS “Division I” Conferences: ACC, Big East, SEC, Big 10, CUSA, Big XII, MWC, MAC, WAC, Pac 12, Sunbelt, and the Independents

And we should consider the active, continuous, long-lasting bowl games (using their real names, not corporate sponsorships):

  • Rose Bowl (1902) Big 10 vs. Pac 10 (Pasadena, CA)
  • Orange Bowl (1935) Big 12 vs (Miami Gardens, FL)
  • Sugar Bowl (1935) SEC vs. (New Orleans, LA)
  • Sun Bowl (1936) (El Paso, TX)
  • Cotton Bowl (1937)SWC vs. (Arlington, TX)
  • Gator Bowl (1945) (Jacksonville, FL)
  • Tangerine (1947) (Orlando, FL)
  • Liberty Bowl (1959) (Memphis, TN)
  • Peach Bowl (1968) (Atlanta, GA)
  • Fiesta Bowl (1971) (Glendale, AZ)
  • Holiday Bowl (1978) (San Diego, CA)

A full list of the 35 active bowls (in which 70! teams play) can be found here (The wikipedia list of bowls with some history is here). Clearly that is too many for a bowl-playoff system, having the rest operate as they do now (post-season exhibition) is fine, so long as those games do not conflict with those in this proposal.

The Proposal

As of 2011, there are 12 BCS “conferences” including independents. There are 5 majors (ACC, Big 10, SEC, Big 12, Pac 12) and 7 minors (Big East, CUSA, MWC, Sunbelt, WAC, MAC, Independents).

We need to go from 12 conferences to an 8 team (3-game) playoff (elite 8, final 4, national championship)

8 -> 4 -> 2 -> 1 (National Championship Game)

Conference championships

Each “major” conference gets 1 champion to enter into the Playoff system. The majors all determine their champions through a championship game.

We can call these conference championships “bowl” games and have them in fixed locales, roughly central within the conference geography. They will fall first or second weekend of December, and will not be played simultaneously.

For instance,

Gator Bowl: ACC

Peach Bowl: SEC

Liberty Bowl: Big 10

Sun Bowl: Big 12

Holiday Bowl: Pac 12


The Inter-Conference Playoffs begin with Quarter-Finals

The major conference champions are automatically seeded. But there are 3 more “wildcard” teams required. The 7 minors, along with non-conference winners in the majors, need to generate 3 teams. To avoid an extra level of playoffs, this will be done by Poll Rating, taking the three highest ranked teams who are not already seeded in the playoffs. In a worst case scenario, it is possible the 4th highest ranked team will not make the playoffs (if they don’t win their conference if they are a major and if the top 3 teams also do not win their conferences), this is unlikely.

The quarter-finals correspond with some of the classic “New Year’s Day bowls” and will generally fall around Dec 31/Jan 1. They will not be played simultaneously.

Tangerine Bowl: Big 10 vs. Wildcard 1

Cotton Bowl: Big 12 vs ACC

Sugar Bowl: SEC vs. Wildcard 2

Fiesta Bowl: Pac 12 vs. Wildcard 3


roughly the weekend nearest Jan 7, will feature the two historically significant bowls.

Rose Bowl: Tangerine Bowl vs. Fiesta Bowl winners

Orange Bowl: Cotton Bowl vs. Sugar Bowl winners


to be held on the holiday in honor of the birth of Martin Luther King (MLK Monday), and features winners of Semi-Final Bowls. We can call this the King Bowl in honor of Martin Luther King, and the fact it is on the federal holiday of MLK day. There can be some fitting tribute at half-time:

King Bowl: Rose Bowl vs. Orange Bowl winners

The King Bowl Rotates across many venues, much like the Superbowl


Getting from here to there will be difficult, as the Bowls are each independent organizations, as are the universities, conferences, television networks, etc. But suppose the universities and conferences agreed to having a playoff system. The playoff locations (i.e. which Bowl got to be which playoff) could be auctioned off. If the Tangerine Bowl were willing to bid $X million to host the BCS quarter-final (more than other Bowls would bid), it would get to host the game, and then resell the television rights as well as getting the stadium take. The Semi-Finals would go for more money, and the Finals for a fortune. All of which would benefit the participating schools. These contracts might be for 5 year contracts, so over time Bowls could enter and depart the system.

Personal note

Comment, I am not a big fan of college football, I watch some games, but don’t really have a deep passion about anything except that Georgia Tech should beat Georgia. I am a huge follower of college football conference alignment, and sports moves in general, and have been fascinated by this since following minor league hockey moves as a child (go Baltimore Clippers of the AHL, or Baltimore Blads of the WHA).

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