Rob Oller: Time to blow up college football playoff/bowl system

Rob Oller
Buckeye Xtra
Army quarterback Tyhier Tyler celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020, in West Point, N.Y.
  • New system comprised of four conferences of 20 teams

Over the years it has become clear that the college bowl system, including the four-team playoff orchestrated by 13 powerful pooh-bahs, would cede control only at the point of a bayonet.

Thanks to Army, appropriately, the tipping point has arrived. The plight of the Black Knights, 9-2 and initially bowl-abandoned until getting a backdoor invitation to the Liberty Bowl, brought more attention to an archaic system built on backslaps and boys club behavior.

The cadets’ crisis was the final straw telling me that change is needed. After witnessing the injustices already served upon Cincinnati and Indiana, Army’s bowl brouhaha hastened the call for new marching orders aimed at bringing more equity to college football.

The format is broken — or maybe rigged? — when 9-0 Cincinnati is not even considered for the playoff and 6-1 Indiana finishes ranked behind two three-loss teams and out of a New Year’s Day bowl. When that happens it is no longer a playoff but a party where only the cool kids get invited.

Ohio State is one of the cool kids, but don’t blame or punish the Buckeyes for their good looks and success. Instead, throw open the doors to let more schools join the fun.

Rob Oller

How? Not by expanding the playoff to six, eight or 16 teams. No, only a complete overhaul will do, something that produces a legitimate national champion while still placating the “lesser” bowls that exist as a reward for teams not named Ohio State, Clemson, Alabama and a handful of others. (In seven years only 11 teams have filled the 28 spots in the College Football Playoff; and only Alabama, Ohio State, LSU, Georgia, Clemson and Oregon have won games.)  

What follows is a radical plan that reshapes the landscape without invalidating the importance of the regular season. This system actually elevates September-November results, placing a premium on winning your divisional pod to advance to the next level of competition. 

Best of all, no voting, no agendas and no preferential treatment. Liken it to the NFL, but with more pageantry.

Not everyone will walk away happy, especially the Big 12. In the end, even Army may not see a ton of benefit, but the military academy can take pride in knowing it led to a better nation of college football for all.

The format in a nutshell: Four super conferences of 20 teams each, with those 20 divided into four regional divisions of five teams apiece. Those five would play one another (four games) then cross over to play one or more teams in each of the other three divisions, plus three or four nonconference games for a total of 11 regular-season contests. 

Division champions would face off in a conference semifinal, with the winners playing for the conference title.

Winners of the four super conferences would qualify for the national semifinals and championship game, for a maximum of 15 games, the same number LSU played last season in winning its national championship. 

Too controversial? Only for the current playoff committee power brokers who don’t want to relinquish control. Granted, there will be hurt feelings as teams are required to switch conferences and the Big 12 disbands — that’s what happens when you are the newest Power 5 conference — with its current members slotting into the Big Ten and Southeastern Conference.

One of the beauties of this plan is the creation of additional regional rivalries within conferences. Texas vs. Alabama in the SEC. Penn State vs. Pittsburgh and Ohio State vs. Cincinnati in the Big Ten.

To that end, the Big Ten adds Pittsburgh, Syracuse, West Virginia, Missouri, Iowa State and Cincinnati. As for the conference turning up its nose at schools that don’t fit its academic profile — or add to its TV footprint — the way the Big Ten has mishandled this season tells me it needs new, smarter blood anyway.

The SEC adds Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Christian, Kansas, Kansas State, Texas Tech, Baylor, Houston and Memphis. 

The Atlantic Coast Conference adds Kentucky, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, East Carolina, Central Florida, Tulane and Temple. Or possibly Army and Navy instead of Tulane and Temple. 

The Pac-12 adds Colorado State, Air Force, Nevada, New Mexico, San Diego State, Hawaii, Brigham Young and Boise State. 

Another side benefit of this plan is the increase in TV money that comes with consolidation. And more money will be needed as NIL (Name, Image and Likeness) compensation becomes the new reality.

What happens to teams not included in the Super Four? Nothing different from what they have now. No team currently competing in a Power Five conference gets demoted, but 14 Group of Five teams or independents get added. Programs both inside and outside the 80 remain eligible to play in bowls. 

I struggle to see a downside. There would be no more wondering whether Cincinnati is better than Northwestern or if Boise State can beat UCLA. It gets settled on the field, not in a hotel conference room.

The time has come. Get going.