How Conference-Only Schedule Will Impact College Football Playoff
College football seems to be headed into uncharted waters. Conferences are still deciding how they plan to play games this season without any true uniformity to it. The Big Ten and Pac-12 have already decided to nix their nonconference slates while the ACC, Big 12 and SEC are considering a plus one model.
And even if college football is played this fall, what should we make of the College Football Playoff? There are no contingency plans — yet — but the reduction to conference-only schedules makes an already unenviable job that much harder for the selection committee.
In light of all these factors, our college football team is putting on their committee member hats and conjuring up different formats for the 2020 postseason. We can all acknowledge that this season, if it’s played at all, will be unique. If we aren’t playing by normal rules in the regular season, why not make adjustments in the postseason?
Barrett Sallee: Eight-team playoff
Most of you who know me know that I have been extremely vocal about my wish that the College Football Playoff should never expand. Nevertheless, a one-year expansion would be tolerable now that the Big Ten and Pac-12 have gone to conference-only schedules. There won’t be any way to judge how the top teams from those two conferences compare to the rest of the country, so let’s just take the conference champion for every Power Five conference for five of the spots in an 8-team playoff. One spot will be reserved for the top Group of Five team. The remaining two will be at-large bids. Notre Dame is the wrench in the works. It has already lost rivalry games vs. USC and Stanford from its schedule and will likely take on a more ACC-heavy plan. Unless it’s a full member of the ACC in 2020, its only chance should be through an at-large. Play the quarterfinals at home stadiums of the higher seeded team, the semifinals at the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl (as planned) and the national title game as scheduled in Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. Expand this season, but for only this season. Hopefully we’ll be able to put that toothpaste back in the tube once things return to normal next season.
Ben Kercheval: Select the playoff field after the bowls
Whereas Barrett wants to expand the playoff by a round, I’d prefer to keep the playoff size as-is, but select the four teams after a bowl season. The writing on the walls suggests most major conferences are planning to play as close to a full regular season as they can — anywhere between nine to 11 games. That’s a high bar. But I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s partially to give everyone wiggle room to work down as the season progresses and inevitable disruptions occur. I’d put the over/under on the average number of games played at 8.5 … and I’d be tempted to take the under.
As mentioned above, the playoff committee already has a difficult task ahead of it. Play the bowls as they used to before the BCS. Then, in the spirit of a “plus-four,” pick your four teams. Give favorites like Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oregon one extra resume point against a quality opponent (perhaps against one another). Some of those high-profile bowls will be de facto quarterfinals. Keep the playoff sites as they are. No one’s going to complain about potentially playing in the Rose Bowl twice if it comes to that.
Tom Fornelli: Mini playoffs
While hoping the tide turns in a positive direction soon enough to bring us the most college football possible this fall, I don’t think plans that include more games are feasible. Nor do we know what conferences like the ACC, Big 12 and SEC plan to do with their 2020 schedules yet as they continue to play the waiting game.
Should those three follow the Big Ten and Pac-12 and move to 10-game conference-only schedules, the G5 would surely follow, and then instead of a traditional bowl schedule that would see teams traveling all across the country, I think we could have a bunch of mini-playoffs.
Right now we have a four-team playoff to decide the national championship. Well, what if every conference had a four-team playoff to determine its own champion? The top four teams in the conference make the conference playoff, and the winner is conference champion.
In this scenario, two teams per conference would play 12 games, two others would play 11 and the rest 10. The national championship could then be decided the old-fashioned way: with polls.
David Cobb: Six-team playoff
If Major League Baseball is willing to expand its playoff, then college football should be as well. But here’s the deal: we’ve got to find a way to incorporate the top Group of Five school into the competition. Otherwise, there is no sense in continuing the whole “FBS” charade. If UCF and Ohio State are truly competing on the same level, there should be a pathway for UCF, or whomever, to compete for the national championship. Right now, there is not.
So the change college football should embrace for the 2020 postseason is this: the champion of each Power Five league receives an automatic bid to the College Football Playoff.
Then, the top two schools from the Group of Five play each other for the sixth spot. The top two teams in the six-team field get a bye and you go from there. So yes, between a conference championship game, play-in game and, three potential CFP games, the Group of Five school could end up playing five postseason games. But at least the sport’s cinderella program would finally have a shot to prove itself against the best, which is something that has missing since the introduction of the CFP.
And at the end of the day, the Group of Five play-in game could be branded as a Group of Five national championship game. Everybody wins.