Does new playoff system change anything?

AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

The BCS Presidential Oversight Committee approved a 12-year plan for a four-team seeded playoff to determine college football’s national champion beginning in the 2014 season.

The new plan for a four-team seeded playoff to determine college football’s national champion changes the landscape of college football.

How would the new playoff format have affected the last five national championships if the plan had already been in place?


Using the top four teams in the final regular-season BCS rankings for 2007-2011 to simulate the choices that will be made by a human selection committee, AccuScore ran 10,000 four-team playoff simulations. The No. 2 seed actually won the title the highest percentage of the time, which is not surprising given that in three of the five seasons, the No. 2 seed ended up becoming the actual national champion. The No. 3 and 4 seeds won nearly 32 percent of the time.

However, based on AccuScore projections with the new playoff format, the last five college football national champions would have remained the same.


Percentage of Major Sports Teams
Playing For Championship

A four-team playoff means 3.2 percent of the 124 college football FBS schools would now be playing for a championship (assuming the number is still 124 by 2014). By comparison, 20.1 percent of men’s college basketball teams play in the Men’s Basketball Championship (68 of 338).


Although this new proposal is a huge step, it no doubt will create the same kinds of arguments that the BCS system did, even though the BCS system did get a few things right.

Six national championship games that occurred during the BCS tenure would not have occurred under the previous system, based on conference commitments to specific bowl games.

Conversely, if the BCS had been in place before 1998, some controversial national championships of the past could have been decided on the field, including Michigan-Nebraska in 1997, Nebraska-Penn State in 1994 and Miami-Washington in 1991.

Unbeaten Teams in Top 4 of Final BCS Standings Not Ranked in Top 2

One of the arguments against a playoff is that regular-season matchups – especially BCS No. 1 vs 2 – would become less important. Since the BCS started in 1998, there have been three 1 vs 2 regular season games after November 1. Two of those times the loser was knocked out of national championship contention, but this past season, Alabama reversed that.

Since the BCS began in 1998, four teams have finished unbeaten AND in the top four of the BCS Standings, but not ranked in the top two. Those four teams were TCU in 2010, Cincinnati and TCU in 2009, and Auburn in 2004.

With the new system, it’s no guarantee, but there’s a better chance that those teams would be able to compete for a national championship.