The Pi-Rate Ratings

December 5, 2018

What If… An NCAA Playoffs With No Committee Choices

Four teams are happy.  At least three teams are sad and feel slighted.  Oklahoma and Notre Dame have been invited to the playoffs.  Ohio State and Georgia were jilted.

There could be an argument for Oklahoma and Notre Dame over Ohio State and Georgia.  On the other hand, the folks that know best, those sharps in Nevada, would tell you that Georgia is the third best team in the nation.  Many computers will tell you that on December 29, 2018, Ohio State would be a better team than Oklahoma.

Imagine if specially appointed committees chose other things for the rest of us.  How would you like some insider former politicians explaining to you why Candidate A will be your President instead of Candidate B, even though all the political experts say that Candidate B would be the better Chief Excutive?

What is a special committee of psychologists chose who you will marry based on their criteria.  You may be in love with Michelle, but they may choose Kelly for you because she can balance a checkbook and you cannot?

What if the NFL had to choose just four teams for the playoffs.  This year, there are five really good teams in the Rams, Chiefs, Saints, Patriots, and Texans.  Maybe the Bears and Chargers are also among the four best.  Do you want a 12-4 division winner not making the NFL Playoffs?

Of course you don’t.  And, the fandom of college football doesn’t buy for a minute that the Selection Committee knows what it’s doing.  Let’s see any of them pick games against the spread.  If they are true experts, then they will put up results that make Billy Walters look like an amateur.

The four team playoff did nothing to solve the problems of the two-team BCS National Championship Game it replaced.  In fact, this year, you could make an excellent argument that just putting Alabama against Clemson would be a better option than picking four out of six or seven deserving teams.

Any legitimate FBS Playoffs must allow every FBS team a chance to play their way into said playoffs.  There are 130 FBS teams.  There needs to be no more than 64 top level teams and preferably 32, but let’s not even talk about separating the Power 5 from the Group of 5.  Let’s talk about honest realignment into 7 conferences of 16 teams  and 1 conference of 18 teams.  In an even better world, two FBS teams would drop down to FCS, leaving 128 teams.

Divide each conference into two divisions.  Every team within a division will play each other during the regular season plus three teams in the other division.  In the 18-team conference, there will be just two teams against the other division.  The rhyme and reason to which schools a team in the other division would play would be made by the league with a rotating schedule so that a different three teams would be played every year, possibly using the NFL’s strategy of having the prior first place team in one division playing the prior first place team in the other division and so on down to the prior last place teams playing each other.

At the end of the season, the top team in each division of each conference would then make the 16-team playoff.  In the first round, the division winners of each conference would play to determine the conference champion.  This would leave eight teams for eight playoff spots.

These conference championship games could be played on neutral sites like the current Power Five Conference Championship Games, or on the home field of the team with the better conference record with set tiebreakers to determine the higher seed if there is a tie.

With the number down to eight, the next round could be played on home fields of the higher seeds as determined by criteria that all teams and all fans will know, just like home field is determined in the NFL.  At no time will a committee of so-called experts determine who is in these playoffs and who will be the home team.

After this second round of the playoffs, the final four can then be played like it is today.

This would give every team a chance to play for the national title, just like all 350 Division 1 basketball teams have a chance.  If you think this isn’t fair to Alabama or Clemson to have to play more games to become national champion, then you must absolutely hate March Madness when Sister Jean and her Loyola Ramblers or Butler or Wichita State can make a run to the Final Four.  You must hate the fact that a Gonzaga can advance from a small program into one of the top 10 in the nation.

If the entire FBS has a chance to win the national title, then all programs will have a chance to do what Gonzaga has done in basketball.

Another bonus could be in scheduling.  Instead of an SEC team like Georgia scheduling Austin Peay and Massachusetts, or Alabama scheduling The Citadel, Arkansas State, and Louisiana (the one in Lafayette and not Baton Rouge), the national schedule makers could schedule Alabama and Oklahoma, or Georgia and Michigan.

What about the FBS vs. FCS games?  Why not give each FBS team two preseason games against FCS teams, where the FBS team pays the FCS team a check just like they do now?  With all the extra billions coming into this new paradigm, the FBS teams could keep these FCS programs solvent without putting a 63-3 pasting on them in a regular season game.


  1. Like virtually every decision tree or decision process in life, the current bcs playoff can’t be condemned by the standard of false positive/false negative.

    The more circumspect evaluation is: how close to “perfect” does the process come to crowning the “actual” best team. So out of THE 4 teams the committee picks each year, 1 of those 4 is 99.99% THE best team, and probably >95% that 2 of the 4 teams are #1 and #2 in the nation. right?

    So ask yourself, for all PRACTICAL purposes, is/does the current decision process >95% successfully include the 2 best teams in the nation? -Yes?!!!

    Comment by Lance — December 9, 2018 @ 8:43 am

  2. Lance, what you say is totally correct. You might be able to say that there is a 99% chance that Alabama and Clemson are the top two teams, and the semifinal games are superfluous.

    You can also take the L.A. Rams, Kansas City, New Orleans, and New England and put them in a 4-team playoff and most likely also satisfy your premise. That is obvious. In many cases, there might be years where no playoff games would be necessary to determine which team is the best.

    The issue is that if there is to be a postseason playoff in a sport, then there needs to be something in place where every team can play their way into said tournament. Central Florida being undefeated in consecutive years hits close to home, because the PiRate Ratings began in 1969 when nobody gave Penn State a chance to be the National Champion, even though they went 11-0 in both 1968 and 1969. President Nixon decided that the Texas-Arkansas winner in December that year would be national champions. Unlike today, where if President Trump made such a statement, back then when the President spoke, what he said was taken as fact.

    Ironically, Joe Paterno was the most conservative Republican of any college coach then, and he and his Nittany Lions were shunned. In this person’s opinion, with their incredible defense and special teams plus a quarterback that refused to lose (went undefeated for life in organized football), Penn State was the best team in 1969 and maybe even in 1968, but they never got the chance to prove it. When they finally played Texas in the Cotton Bowl on 1/1/72, they wiped the Longhorns, and their wishbone offense off the field.

    It is our opinion that if the NCAA is to conduct playoffs for the national championship, then every FBS team needs to have a path to the crown without being chosen by a committee. The NFL does it, and they never have to select one team over another. Imagine what would happen if the Steelers and Bears were left out of the playoffs this year because a committee determined they were not one of the four best.

    Thanks for your patronage here. We welcome astute readers to post comments, remembering that this is a site more about mathematics and logic than it is fandom.

    Comment by piratings — December 9, 2018 @ 10:03 am

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