I received a lot of criticism of my 6-team playoff proposal from last week. What are the “haterz” arguing? 1) The NCAA would never add an extra round and 2) not all conference champs are created equal.
First, I understand the resistance to an extra round. Theoretically, one school could play 16 games in a season, a drastic increase over the current 14-game season. However, of the six playoff participants, if ever a season occurred where two “wild card teams” made it to the championship, two teams would indeed play 16 games total, two would play 15 games, and two (the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds) would play 14 games, the same maximum amount as currently exists. Out of 120 Division 1 schools, that’s not as drastic as people think. And it’s an especially mild change (adding a few extra games for only a few teams) if it means giving us a fairer championship system.
The “added round” wouldn’t even necessarily be a major burden to fans (as many of the other proposals are). No school would EVER have two extra home games (as if that’d be a burden anyway!). The No. 3 and No. 4 seeds get the first home games; the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds get the second home games. Every fan base would still have an opportunity for post-season, holiday travel as well. Whether in the semifinal before New Year’s or in a bowl game, every major team could still travel for a challenging, high-profile post-season game.
Secondly, I understand that not all conference champs are created equal. A conference champ from outside the top 10 (like the ACC’s champ frequently is) doesn’t seem worthy of a shot at the title. However, for the major five conferences, their number one priority is NOT access to a national championship or even creating a fair national championship. Priority One is getting the most money possible for their league’s regular season games. Period.
How do you make the ACC’s games most profitable? You give every team in the conference a clear path to a shot at the title—the conference championship. Last season’s Wake Forest at Clemson game and N.C. State at Boston College game on November 12 would have had national title implications if a conference champ received an automatic bid, a far cry from the measly ACC title game implications that they had in actuality.
Take away the automatic bid from the major conferences, and you marginalize the importance of many league games. Few cared about the Big Ten championship after Wisconsin’s second loss last season. But if the whole nation knew that Wisconsin, or Michigan State, or Nebraska, or Penn State, might emerge as a title contender for a December playoff, interest would be higher in the entire conference race. And interest equals eyeballs. And eyeballs equal dollar signs.
If I were a betting man, I’d put the likelihood of the extra round being added (with a 6-team playoff) at about 20%. But I’m far more confident in my second argument above. I’m 90% sure that the major conferences will not agree to a system that doesn’t provide their champions with a plush seat at the big table.