Let’s start with this: No one knows if the college football season will happen, let alone start. The Big Ten and Pac-12 have already postponed their seasons because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. However, the ACC, Big 12, and SEC have yet to announce any type of postponement to their fall sports.
In fact, the ACC and SEC released statements that basically said… nothing about the status of their fall athletic seasons. All they said is that they’ll continue to monitor the situation and didn’t commit one way or another to a potentially postponed athletic season. This is a case where silence speaks volumes with each conference implying that they still play to host fall athletics, including college football.
Where am I going with this? Well, while perusing Twitter late on Tuesday night, I stumbled upon this tweet from Sports Illustrated’s Ross Dellenger. It got me thinking about what could happen if, by some miracle, a college football season happens. Take a look here:
SEC source tonight: "How do you crown a champion?" https://t.co/lkTdPGruJj— Ross Dellenger (@RossDellenger) August 12, 2020
Dellenger’s SEC source brings up a great point - if we do have college football, how do we crown a champion? It’ll be awkward and contentious with no Big Ten or Pac-12 representations, but that opens the door for opportunities on how to decide a “winner” for the college football season.
Now let’s be clear, I’m not suggesting that our beloved Syracuse Orange should immediately be crowned College Football Playoff champions (although now saying that, not a bad idea). But with how unique college football will look if there are games, this could be an excellent chance for the NCAA and the CFP to experiment with a different or expanded style of playoffs to determine a champion.
We’ve already seen multiple leagues around the United States modify their playoff structures and offer a different look on how a “season” plays out. You have the modified NBA schedule, which is admittedly less adventurous, to the NHL’s Stanley Cup Qualifiers. Then you have leagues like the MLS and the Premier Lacrosse Leagues toss out normal seasons for special tournaments to crown a champion. So college football shouldn’t be afraid to fiddle around with how their playoffs work for this very unique season.
What would I suggest? Because of the unique circumstances, there are opportunities to expand the CFP to more than 4 teams, given that many keyboard warriors on the internet have been clamoring for that idea ever since the CFP was introduced. Whether you go to eight or 16 teams would be interesting given the limited amount of FBS programs that could be available to the committee. If we’re going to think somewhat reasonably, I don’t think you could go past 16 teams in a CFP tournament, even if all FBS conferences were available for selection.
Qualification and selection for the CFP could also be massively tweaked. Perhaps toy with the idea that conference champions and a wild card of some sort automatically qualify for the CFP while the committee determines the remaining teams. A more radical approach could even be to ditch the idea of the committee selecting teams in the first place and teams with the best records just automatically get seeded into the playoffs.
However, we know fans are frothing at the mouth for college football, so why not go all out? It’s clear that the higher-ranking officials from the remaining conferences are very confident that they can safely hold a college football season, so why not go nuts and add more teams in a modified CFP? Why not consider a mega tournament between the ACC, Big 12, and SEC teams with the best record? Go with four teams, six teams, maybe even more from each conference and set up a huge tournament at the end of the season to crown a champion.
What if you also tossed out conference championships as well for this season just to see what happens? Instead the regular season champs from each conference get the top seeds in a huge tournament and the rest of the field is decided by record? This could also facilitate the removal of conference divisions, which I think would be well received by many people (at this point, we’ll take anything that gets Syracuse away from the ACC Atlantic).
Any playoff scenarios for this season also gives the NCAA an opportunity to implement a bubble for the playoff teams. Fans have wondered if conferences should hold their seasons in the bubble, and all the leagues mentioned above have shown that a bubble is a very effective way to hold sporting events. Not surprisingly, a bubble would probably go against the “amateur” philosophy of the NCAA as they’d be treating student-athletes in a very different way than normal students.
Of course, this all comes with a massive caveat, as this conversation could all be for moot if the rest of the FBS decides to postpone the college football season. But even if that were to happen, a modified or unique CFP in the spring could be a great way to trail a new format.
Basically, if there is football, we return to the initial question posed in Dellenger’s tweet: How do you crown a champion? We all know that normalcy has been thrown out the window in 2020, and now more than ever is a great time and opportunity to invent and experiment with a format that’s been met with varying levels of controversy ever since it was first introduced.
What do you guys think? How could the NCAA and CFP reinvent the wheel given their unique circumstances? Sound off in the comments below.