Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Konformist College Playoff Bowl IV: Part 1

Robert Sterling

December is here, and it's time for The Konformist annual push for a college football playoff to decide a champion over the current BCS system.

What's different about this year over the previous three years (five if you include the two years before The Konformist started its annual playoff simulation) is that the NCAA has finally conceded a playoff is needed.  Well, sort of.  They've decided to expand the finalist to the football championship from two to four.  Tellingly, the NCAA has decided that the new selection process, though still nameless, will be called something besides the Bowl Championship Series.

While this is a step in the right direction, it still doesn't solve the most glaring problem with the BCS system: it's an illegal violation of federal anti-trust laws.  Whatever the claim may be, the de facto end result of the BCS system is to deprive certain schools (those from the non-power conferences) the opportunity to compete for the NCAA college football championship and the financial rewards that come with it.  Expanding the system from two to four teams will not solve this problem.

Let's give the BCS system some credit this year: for the second year in a row, the two finalist are relatively uncontroversial.  Notre Dame, the only undefeated team eligible for the BCS title (Ohio State is on probation) is a no-brainer, and Alabama, being the champ of the top conference in college football, is the best option as an adversary.  And, like last year, there are no undefeated non-BCS conference teams, with only Northern Illinois having less than two losses.  Indeed, thanks to the BCS conferences poaching off the best teams from the non-major conferences, the main flaw in the BCS system ironically has already been reduced the past two seasons.

Nonetheless, the solution still is a playoff, which is how every other major sport (professional and college) decides its annual champ.  The Konformist playoff plan meets the four main goals The Konformist laid out in 2007:

1. Respect the traditions of the big four bowl games as much as possible, even more so than the current system does;
2. Make sure that the big four bowls actually are a central part of crowning the championship;
3. Allow bowl games with notable histories of their own to be included in the mix; and, perhaps most important:
4. Create a playoff system that produces an actual season championship.

With that in mind, here's how the playoff plan would work out in 2012, aided by game simulations made via WhatIfSports.com, in The Konformist's fourth annual college football playoff.

As the NCAA has finally conceded that the two-team championship system just isn't fair and decided to change things, so has The Konformist decided to modify things this year as well.  The last three years, the simulation included sixteen teams, including the champs from all eleven conferences.  This has produced some amazing results: the first two years TCU and Boise State, both non-BCS conference teams, won the championship, and last year, four of the eight New Year bowl teams were non-BCS teams as well.  This pretty much proves, if the non-BCS teams were allowed in, they can theoretically compete.

Having said that, allowing all conference championships into the mix created some embarrassing opening round blowouts in our simulation.  Here's the greatest hits:

Alabama 81 - Troy 7
Texas 51 - East Carolina 13

Auburn 48 - FIU 17
TCU 59 - UCF 27

Oklahoma State 60 - Arkansas State 16

These scores aren't very pretty.  Even worse is last year, when there were two true upsets in the opening round (TCU and Boise State winning don't really qualify as upsets) the January bowl games they competed in were afterwards blowout losses.  Oklahoma State beat Louisiana Tech 45-20 and West Virginia trounced Southern Miss 37-14.  That's the thing about upsets: they're hard to repeat, especially in the unequal universe of college football.  In the end, a sixteen-team playoff only resulted in a lot of unneccesary games to eliminate teams who probably would prefer their season ending in a bowl game they could actually win.

So, the playoff this year will involve eight teams rather than sixteen.  What makes this a bonus good choice: this appears to be where the NCAA is heading.  Murmurs of expanding the championship to eight teams are vast, especially now that the schools can see just how much money can be made in TV contracts by merely opening it to four.

The biggest problem with reducing it to eight teams is it would require a competent and ethical selection committee, and I have a complete lack of confidence that the NCAA will do this properly.  But it will at least reduce outrages, and on balance, this is at least a viable model.

Having said that, here are the eight finalists (ranking by the AP poll):

Notre Dame (1)
Alabama (2, SEC champ)
Florida (4)
Oregon (5)
Kansas State (7, Big 12 champ)
Stanford (8, PAC-12 champ)
Florida State (13, ACC champ)
Wisconsin (Big Ten champ)

How were these teams picked?  This year it was easy: they were the winners of the five major conferences, plus the top 3 ranked remaining teams available.

Here's the teams that came close but not close enough:

Ohio State (3)
Though the Buckeyes were undefeated, they were excluded by their NCAA postseason ban due to rule violations.

Georgia (6)
A great team, and it's a shame they're out merely for losing to Alabama on Saturday, but they did have their chance.

Northern Illinois (16), Boise State (18) and Louisville (22)
You could argue any of these teams deserves a playoff birth over Wisconsin, but tell that to the Rose Bowl committee.  None of these teams finished in the top 10, both Boise State and Louisville had two losses, and Northern Illinois lost to Iowa, one of the weakest teams in the Big Ten.  These teams had an opportunity to make it, but didn't deliver.

The five conference winners will be represented in the four major bowls they are linked to, with the Big 12 champ going to the Cotton Bowl rather than the Fiesta Bowl, which due to scandal is no longer one of the big four bowl games.  The other three spots will fill in the seedings, with Notre Dame facing the lowest ranked champion available (Florida State) and Oregon facing the highest ranked champ (Alabama, which they would face even if Oregon was ranked above Florida, as two teams from the same conference don't play in a New Year bowl game against each other.)  The Fiesta Bowl is reduced to one of the two consolation games: it will feature the Big East champ if it isn't one of the finalist (which would be Louisville this year) and the remaining top ranked conference champs not in the final eight (Northern Illinois this year, according to the AP poll.)  Another consolation game, the Peach Bowl, will pit the two highest ranked teams from different conferences not in the final eight.

So here's how the 2013 Bowl Games would look:

Rose Bowl
Stanford (8, PAC-12 champ) - Wisconsin (Big Ten champ)

Cotton Bowl
Kansas State (7, Big 12 champ) - Florida (4)

Orange Bowl
Florida State (13, ACC champ) - Notre Dame (1)

Sugar Bowl
Alabama (2, SEC champ) - Oregon (5)

Peach Bowl
Georgia (6) - Oklahoma (12)

Fiesta Bowl
Louisville (22, Big East) - Northern Illinois (16)

Stay tuned for the simulation results!

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