Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

20 Jun 2012

Consensus Reached on Four-Team NCAA Playoff

Conference commissioners meeting in Chicago have come to a consensus on a four-team playoff model to be submitted to university presidents for approval. There is still some talk about a "plus one" system, but that mostly seems to be disregarded as a favor to the Big 10 and Pac-12 commissioners. According to Brett McMurphy of CBS Sports, there will be a selection committee.

Posted by: Rivers McCown on 20 Jun 2012

58 comments, Last at 23 Jun 2012, 3:35pm by tsmonk


by Jimbo :: Wed, 06/20/2012 - 7:58pm

It's a start. What people have to understand is there will always be controversy. Inevitably there will a problem if which four teams are chosen, was the fourth more deserving than the fifth...etc, but it'll be better than what they have now. The best part of this in my opinion - if the championship will still be played in the first week of January - is that there isn't going to be that insufferable wait from the final game of the regular season to the championship. At least there will be some action between the contenders in between.

This and getting the A22 must mean the quacks are right about 2012 being the last.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 06/20/2012 - 8:29pm

If they retain the possibility that a conference championship game, between two teams ranked in the top 3, will have about as much import as an NFL preseason game, in terms of affecting a team's chances for hoisting the ugly crystal football, I'm not going to like the new method any better than the old.

by tuluse :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 11:41am

I think this will probably have to do with how strong the team ranked 5th is perceived to be.

by CuseFanInSoCal :: Fri, 06/22/2012 - 6:46pm

How do you figure? If the #3 team loses, they're very likely to fall out of the top four. Heck, if the #1 team loses there's a non-trivial chance that happens (especially if it's in a blowout and/or they weren't previously undefeated).

by Will Allen :: Sat, 06/23/2012 - 11:13am

We have seen at least 4 seasons in the last 20 where a 4 team playoff, which allowed the loser of a conference championship game to participate, would have rendered the outcome of that game largely pointless, in terms of affecting the following playoffs. I would prefer the outcome of conference championship games to have a lot more at stake, every single year, than what neutral field and what opponent will be in play for a semi final playoff game.

by DEW (not verified) :: Wed, 06/20/2012 - 10:25pm

It's a step in the right direction. Jimbo is right--there'll always be controversy--but it's much better to have controversy like in the basketball tournament (Who's #68?) as opposed to the BCS (Who's #2?), because ultimately controversy over *seeding* can always be overcome by the team that's been allegedly mishandled winning the game, while controversy over *exclusion* stays in the room forever. I'd prefer an eight-team playoff (probably the most we can ever expect to have), but frankly anything that requires the SEC to actually beat an undefeated Boise State or its ilk before claiming the championship is all I ask.

by Jeremy Billones :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 9:35am

Not much attention is being paid to the fact that this drops the number of teams selected for the BCS bowls from 10 back to 8, which means fewer opportunities for non-BCS conference teams to get in.

by White Rose Duelist :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 11:18am

But it makes it virtually impossible for an undefeated team to not make the playoff. 2004 would have needed an even bigger playoff to guarantee that, but five undefeateds is not going to happen often.

by Dr. Rewarding Performance (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 11:45am

And that's what really matters. Didn't make the playoff even though you thought you were one of the best four teams in the nation? Unless you're undefeated, you know whom to blame: yourself for the game you lost.

by tsmonk (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 11:36am

As long as it doesn't give automatic entry to a weak conference champ. For a frame of reference, Clemson gave up 9 TDs in a game; Bama gave up 9 TDs all season long. Give the best 4 selected by people with eyes and ears so that we never have to crown anything like, oh I don't know, a team that goes 9-7 and gives up more points than they score in the regular season.

by Will Allen :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 1:39pm

I'd rather have the fourth best conference champ gain entry, as opposed to having a conference championship game in which nobody gets eliminated.

by Independent George :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 1:50pm

That might be the only time I've ever read anyone prefer the BCS to the NFL playoffs.

by tsmonk (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 2:07pm

Didn't say that and you know it. What I will say is that I welcome an expanded format so long as the teams that are in it proved themselves worthy from a strong regular season and didn't skate by as opposed to playing in a weak conference and advancing merely by geography.

And with all the piling on the BCS gets, I think it's only fair to point out the criticism that pretty much the rest of the sports deserve (possible exception being MLB), since teams that are at, near, or below .500 get to compete for a championship on a routine basis. I think that's lunacy. Flawed as the BCS is, their upcoming 4-team format will at least offer some certainty that the spots will be filled with teams that proved it.

by Will Allen :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 2:31pm

It's only lunacy if you think the point of the enterprise is to eliminate teams which did not have oustanding regular seasons. The NFL has plainly decided that the point of the enterprise is to promote a tournament with participants from all the regions of the country with any significant population, because that is the surest way to generate widespread interest. Their insight on this matter appears to be sound.

Look, any system picked will have a drawback. I think the evidence suggests that a system which promotes participants from a wide variety of the country's regions, while maximizing drama leading up to the final games, will promote the most widespread interest, in the long run. I think this is especially true if one believes, as I do, that such a tourney will also, given time, promote a wider distribution of talent across the country. I think relegating one of the conference championship games, every few years, to essentially little more than an exhibition at the end of the season, bewteen two teams ranked in the top three or four, without elimination at stake, is a horrible mistake. If we were not in a situation where every conference is playing conference championship games if they can, I might think differently, but that world is not coming back.

by tsmonk (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 2:45pm

The last time you had a scenario anything like UA/LSU was, I think, 13 years ago (UF/FSU), and before that you had the ND/FSU controversy of '93. So to say that you ought to safeguard for an outlier is not, I think, a wise policy.

And yes, the NFL's affirmative-action format is great marketing. But I think it just about guarantees some really bad football in the late months (though they absolutely take a backseat to the NHL and NBA for prolonged mediocrity).

I want to see rock-solid teams in the playoffs and nothing else. I fail to see how that is such a radical concept.

by CraigoMc (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 3:05pm

I'm not sure about the NHL having prolonged mediocrity. The NBA has a binomial distribution, but the NHL has Ws, Ls, and OTLs. Thanks to the guaranteed overtime point, seedings are never set until the last day of the season, and there's always a battle for the last few spots in both conferences. This year's Stanley Cup champs didn't secure a playoff berth until their 81st game.

by tuluse :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 3:06pm

The Giants played great in the playoffs, so I fail to see the problem. Even the losing record Seahawks won a playoff game.

Here's what I want from the playoffs, exciting well played games and the Bears to win it all. I'm happy with 1 out of 2. The NFL format seems to succeed in the former more often than not.

by Will Allen :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 3:26pm

If the Big 10 had gone to a conference championship game by 2006, we would have had that scenario then. It really won't be all that unusual, if all or most conferences are playing championship games. It's a really terrible idea, if you accept the premise that it is in the interest of promoting the sport to have conference championship games be very important, in terms of the outcomes of those games affecting future play.

I'm curious as to why the greatest marketing organization in American sports entertainment is thought to produce a "really bad" product. Do you think the customers are too dumb to notice, and plop down in front of the t.v. anyways?

I thought the concept was to promote the conversion of as many people into fans as possible.

by tsmonk (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 3:56pm

That may be your concept. We can respectfully agree to disagree. I simply want to see quality teams play each other; I think that gives me the greatest likelihood that I will be watching a quality match. If it happens to be geographically widespread then fantastic - on a Saturday I watch parts of around 10 games all over the map because I just plain love it.

If Arizona State had simply won all their games they would've been in the title game. But they didn't. And neither did scores of other teams. It's really hard, and it should be in my view.

I can't quote the ratings, but I'm fairly certain that American Idol, with its superior branding and marketing, gets far better ratings than Archer. I happen to think Archer's a great show and if I can leave the house while my wife is glued to American Idol then I do so. See where I'm going with this?

by Will Allen :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 4:16pm

Yes, you are comparing the marketing of singing competition with the marketing of a cartoon, whereas we were formerly speaking of the purpose of forming a football league. I think the purpose of forming a football league is to maximize viewers, and by definition whatever football games people most want to watch are the football games that should be played. I think there is a lot of evidence to suggest that by promoting widespread geographical participation, and maximizing the importance of conference championship games, the most viewers will be attracted.

My fundamental premise is that there is no rational reason for anyone to care about the outcome of a football game, unless you are a habitual gambler, or have some other economic relationship to a team, so whatever promotes the most widespread irrational interest in such outcomes is the path to take.

by tsmonk (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 4:34pm

Hey, it's all entertainment right? If you're saying that the primary function is to avail the product to as wide an audience as possible, I would disagree - I would say it's to give me the best game it can. If that makes me irrational then fit me for the rubber room.

Your first problem is that the colleges are mainly in college towns, not major metro areas. It's always going to be provincial, and no amount of gerrymandering or social engineering is going to change that. Nor should it. Like the line from "The Incredibles" - everyone's special - which is the same thing as saying no one is.

by Will Allen :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 4:46pm

No, I'm saying that an entertainment product's purpose is to entertain, and that is measured by how many people decide to be entertained by it. Whatever games most people want to watch are the "best" games. In the short term, your preference may result in the "best games". In the longer view, I think there is a lot of reason to think that my prefrence would result in the "best games".

by tsmonk (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 5:10pm

Then let's look at it this way: If the purpose is to deliver to a wider following, then you would start with the markets on the East Coast (I think I heard that if the eastern seabord were a country it's GDP would be #3 in the world). The teams from that region of any consequence - off the top of my head - would be Boston College, UConn, and Syracuse. So we could rig a system where the likes of them faced off against an LSU or a USC. It would bring in an audience that hadn't previously been there.

And the game would suck. No matter how much you tried to tinker, the game would suck. And if miraculously one of those eastern teams were to pull out the upset, then they could match up against the likes of OSU or OU. And that game would suck. I don't want the sport I love to get bastardized in that manner. If that's "irrational" or "short-sighted", so be it. The basic premise of sport is merit. That's what entertains me. Not some multicultural format. And if I'm in the minority here, hey, not the first time. No worries.

by Will Allen :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 5:32pm

No, that isn't what you would do. You would follow the NFL example to the extent that is possible, which also entails taking measures which spreads talent more evenly. Is the NFL some sort of "multicultural" format? What does that even mean?

by Will Allen :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 5:32pm

No, that isn't what you would do. You would follow the NFL example to the extent that is possible, which also entails taking measures which spreads talent more evenly. Is the NFL some sort of "multicultural" format? What does that even mean?

by tsmonk (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 6:30pm

By "multicultural" I mean a 7-9 team can compete for a championship because they come from a region that has four teams and that will make the people of that part of the country happy. And they can even get a home game out of it. It has nothing to do with merit and everything to do with some kind of arbitrary inclusiveness. Just to be popular.

If I want to watch the NFL, I'll watch it. I typically don't. Trying to morph a 120-team structure with a wide disparity of talent and treasure, many from small markets, into an NFL structure is silly in my view. We have one sport - only one - that doesn't allow mediocre teams to play for a title. It would be kind of nice if eveybody quit ganging up on that one and maybe just entertain the thought that, golly, maybe there are too many teams playing for a title in just about every other sport.

And if you want more of an apples to apples comparison, think of CFB as "Justified" and the NFL as "NCIS."

by Will Allen :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 8:21pm

Uh, this is a business first and foremost, and doing what will make the most money in the long run may be a lot of things, but "silly" ain't one of them, and, in fact, it is extraordinarily silly to make that claim. What you or I think may be nice really has very little to do with the primary purpose of this institution, which is making money.

by tsmonk (not verified) :: Fri, 06/22/2012 - 10:05am

So anything that makes more money is by definition beyond reproach? Like the NFL eventually expanding to 14 teams or MLB stretching it to 10? OK, I guess I'm just a rube because I simply want to see great teams - and only great teams - competing for a title. Yep, that's one hare-brained idea. Good to know.

by tuluse :: Fri, 06/22/2012 - 10:15am

I think his point is that the NFL is here to make money, and they're going to (ideally) do what makes them the most. What you want is irrelevant to this, unless a great many people agree with you and thus it's in the NFL's interest to appeal to you.

by tsmonk (not verified) :: Fri, 06/22/2012 - 11:02am

Everyone criticizes something from time to time knowing that the criticism is "irrelevent" in the big scheme of things. I've already acknowledged that I'm in the minority. All I really want is for the one sport I do watch, spend money on, etc. (more than all other sports combined) not be thrown on its ear.

by Will Allen :: Fri, 06/22/2012 - 11:44am

I understand that you have your preferences. I'm not trying to change your preferences. What I don't understand is why anyone would have any expectation that a for profit entertainment business would not do something "just to be popular". Maximizing popularity is the purpose of a for profit entertainment business.

by Will Allen :: Fri, 06/22/2012 - 11:38am

No, that wasn't what I wrote, and it is easier to have a dialogue if you focus on what was written. You stated that it was "silly" in your view to attempt to do something which would make the most money. Ironically, it is very silly to label an attempt by a bureaucracy, whose primary purpose is making money, to maximize profit, as "silly". Got it?

by tsmonk (not verified) :: Fri, 06/22/2012 - 12:55pm

Fine, I'll rephrase. Overhauling the CFB playoff system to mirror that of the NFL in my view is silly. I don't care if it makes it more popular. I think the effect will be one of diluting the product and rendering the regular season less meaningful. I will again say that I wish to see only legitimately good teams have the opportunity play for a title. I think that to do otherwise runs counter to the essence of competition at a fundamental level.

I'll concede that giving a 7-9 team a playoff seed and even a home game may be good for the bottom line. At the same time I think it's silly. If you want to call that statement silly feel free. But there's no need to act like you have some kind of empirical authority behind your statement.

by tuluse :: Fri, 06/22/2012 - 1:04pm

For what's it's worth I think giving a 7-9 team a playoff spot, and at home no less, is silly too. However, I think that's part of the appeal. It feels like an "only in America" situation. It was absolutely ludicrous and yet it happened, and then they won a game. People will remember that for a long time.

Now as long as it doesn't happen to often that it loses the novelty, I don't really think it's a huge problem, and once in 11 years since the realignment doesn't seem too frequent.

by tsmonk (not verified) :: Fri, 06/22/2012 - 1:12pm

That's a fair point. It's also a fair point that the BCS rematch this year was an anomaly as well. For some reason one instance is called the straw that broke the camel's back and not the other.

by Will Allen :: Fri, 06/22/2012 - 1:42pm

Is your view of the term "anomaly" such that something that likely would have occurred in the early nineties, late nineties, 2006, and 2011 can accurately be called "an anomaly"? It seems to me that it is rather more accurate to label something which occurs twice a decade or so as a "regular feature". I also think that having all major conferences playing a conference championship game, followed by a four team playoff, which allows for a 2nd place conference finisher, will have a pretty good chance of making this a feature that increases in frequency to as often as three times a decade.

Look, my ultimate preference would be to only allow a conference champ to participate for a national championship, because it would be my preference to make the conference regular seasons as important as possible. I understand, however, that the four most profitable conferences will never do that, because they would be giving money to other schools and conferences that they don't have to give up. The fact that they don't have my preference, because other things are more important to them, doesn't make them silly.

by tsmonk (not verified) :: Fri, 06/22/2012 - 2:08pm

Heck, call it silly. Your prerogative. (As an aside, I respect your logic behind your argument.) Google BCS and sham (stronger word than silly, wouldn't you say?) and you get 178K hits. I also don't care if their motivation is purely profit-driven. I happen to think that the end result is one that will deliver a stronger field of participants for the title. It's not my way to delve into what someone's intentions are, since the road to hell is often paved with the best intentions.

There will be years where the two best teams just so happen to come from one conference. Even one division. I doubt that will happen often. If OSU and UM did rematch (they didn't so you really can't count that) I wouldn't have minded. A lot of SEC fans would have gone ballistic, but not this one. Otherwise, the last true rematch from regular season to post-season was 1997. Most every year in the NFL some team gets to play for the trophy that has over the course of a 16 game schedule been at, near, or below .500. That's not an anomaly. That's serial mediocrity.

by Will Allen :: Fri, 06/22/2012 - 3:52pm

A four team playoff in 2006 likely would have seeded Michigan at 4, still giving them the chance to play for the championship. Look, you think it would be an OK thing if, every few years, Conference Championship games were not elimination games, in terms of eventually recognizing the national champ. I think that sucks. We differ.

by Will Allen :: Fri, 06/22/2012 - 1:22pm

I'm sorry, but the word "silly" has a definition. When the primary purpose of x is to accomplish y, and when x engages on a path to accomplish y, and there is reason to think that engaging on that path will do so, it is simply empirically false to claim that x is doing something that is silly. You seem to think that the term "silly" is synonymous with the phrase "something that tsmonk does not like". This is not accurate.

by tsmonk (not verified) :: Fri, 06/22/2012 - 1:34pm

And you seem to think that my dislike is simply arbitrary, rather than based on a reasonable concept of what true achievement and competition ought to be.

by Will Allen :: Fri, 06/22/2012 - 1:51pm

Ultimately, my preferences, and your preferences, are indeed arbitrary. We decide what is "best" or "true" for us, based on nothing more than what we like. However, the only thing you wrote that I called silly was your labeling as silly that which a profit seeking organization could do, by your own admission, to maximize profits.

by tsmonk (not verified) :: Fri, 06/22/2012 - 2:36pm

Nope. If I ever say, "so-and-so team has really earned a spot to play for a trophy because they won half their games or won a conference with no ranked teams", I think that statement could be viewed with a healthy measure of skepticism. If anyone at ESPN tried to put it that way the ridicule would go viral by everone except for fans of so-and-so team. It may be subjective but it's not arbitrary. Common sense has to come in to play at some point.

by Will Allen :: Fri, 06/22/2012 - 3:43pm

What is considered "common sense" is largely arbitrary.

by tsmonk (not verified) :: Fri, 06/22/2012 - 4:01pm

The term "arbitrary" means "devoid of reason or principle." Not wanting a mediocre team (like this year's 8-8 Broncos) to play for a title is a principle, even if the principle is over a pasttime.

by Will Allen :: Fri, 06/22/2012 - 4:13pm

"Arbitrary" also has meanings which differ slightly from what you provide. Choosing the principal of not having a .500 team play for a title is itself an arbitrary decision, based solely on your preference.

by tsmonk (not verified) :: Fri, 06/22/2012 - 5:03pm

Meanings such as? It's tough to reconcile even "random" with "based upon a principle." To what definition, which varies slightly from mine, do you refer? Is the statement, "a mediocre team is unworthy of advancement" really arbitrary? Or is it somewhat in keeping with what the deinition of "mediocre" is? Is there no logic within that opinion?

by tuluse :: Fri, 06/22/2012 - 5:29pm

I think he means, you don't want to see mediocre teams advance because you want to watch good games. The NFL wants teams from disparate geographic regions to advance to involve the most fans.

Both are arbitrary ways of choosing what teams advance and both of you have good reasons for wanting what you want.

by tsmonk (not verified) :: Fri, 06/22/2012 - 6:24pm

I'd say Will's reasoning is logical and so is mine. I Don't think either are arbitrary since his is based on the idea of profits and mine is based on the nature of merit. If it's based on a principle and not a whim it is by definition not arbitrary.

by Will Allen :: Sat, 06/23/2012 - 11:19am

Here's another definition.....

1.based on whim: based solely on personal wishes, feelings, or perceptions, rather than on objective facts, reasons, or principles.

Yes, there is a principal involved. However, our choice of principal is based soley on personal wishes.

by tsmonk (not verified) :: Sat, 06/23/2012 - 3:35pm

Saying that a mediocre team does not deserve to advance sounds like a lot more than a "personal wish." It's purely objective. I may love or hate that 8-8 team personally, but my impression would be the same: They should be playing golf because they are by definition mediocre. In the same way you typically and ideally don't see a mediocre employee get promoted. Are you going to tinker with the definition of "principle" now as well? Hoo boy.

by ClemsonMatt (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 2:13pm

Not to brown nose too much, but I'd trust I'd trust the combined F/+ ranking more than a selection committee.

The problem with the BCS computers are lack of tranparency, and castrating them for sportsmanship reasons.

As far as how many teams, would it be possible to calculate the average odds of the number 4 or 8 team defeating the number 1 team?

Any team with at least a 25% chance of defeating the #1 team should be included. (if the cutoff is at team 5, then a 4 team playoff, if its 6 or 7, then an 8 team playoff. No screwing around with bye weeks)

by tsmonk (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 2:23pm

Very interesting proposal.

by dbostedo :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 3:05pm

Isn't 25% percent pretty arbitrary? Why not 10? Why not 33? Why not 1?

by The Powers That Be :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 4:46pm

Why not whatever the chances are for the #4 team?

by ClemsonMatt (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 7:59pm

It might be fine. The ultimate question to me is, given the math, what is the probability team 4 is actually the best?

Team 5? Team 6?

Maybe another way of looking at it is (and these are made up numbers)

Based on the math, there is a 25% chance Team 1 is the best. 20% team 2, 12% team 3, 8% team 4.

In that case, there would be a 35% chance the best team isn't in the playoff.

I figure lets shoot for the classic 95% confidence.

It may be that team 1 is 42%, team 2 38% team 3 12%, and team 4 7%.

I'd be inclined to suspect that team 5 doesn't really have much of a shot, and 4 teams is optimal. I'd just like to see the math make the decision instead of lets cram 4 times as many games as makes sense so we can sell more commercials.

by dbostedo :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 9:54pm

Eh.. the sample sizes are too small to ever really know who the best team is. And given the physical nature, you could never play enough games even if you wanted to. Applying statistics to give you the best odds of having the best team in the playoffs given these sample sizes seems pretty pointless too. In any case, given the arbitrary nature of college football schedules and ratings, there may be times when the "true" #1 team is ranked something like 8th and doesn't have a prayer.

Besides... if you knew who the best teams were such that you could craft the statistical model necessary to do what you're saying, why not just figure out who the best team is from that and skip the games altogether? They're not going to prove anything more anyway, and are just playoffs to crown a champion, not any sort of proof of who the best team is.

by ClemsonMatt (not verified) :: Fri, 06/22/2012 - 10:09am

The only reason it's pointless is the ultimate driving force will be money.

I only hope that keeping the exhibition type bowls will keep the playoffs from expanding beyond reason.

And I certainly agree that ratings from polls are arbitrary, and the current BCS computers are a joke (no margin of victory factor? that or a drive based system is necessary to account for the variation in schedules you mentioned).

But that's no reason not to try and design an impartial system to fairly decide who get's a crack at being champion.

Power is cyclical, and with a committee, they're going to keep rewarding the SEC long after the B1G or PAC12 or someone has passed them in conference strength.

by ClemsonMatt (not verified) :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 7:52pm

25% is somewhat arbitrary. To do it right would mean looking at the variance in F/+ and doing a test to determine the probability Team 1 is truly better than Team X.

If it's say, 95% probable Team 1 is better than team 5, then I don't think it's reasonable to give team 5 a shot. If it's 70% probable team 1 is actually better than team 5, Team 5 deserves a chance to challenge it. Unfortunately, if the break point falls on a ranking that isn't a power of 2, it's necessary to include undeserving teams.

I dislike March madness for just that reason. Teams are included that clearly are not close to the best.

At least with all the pro sports wild card teams have won series and champoinships. If they can take a team 4/7, the randomness of a 1/off lucky upset is reduced.