Mike Gundy’s Playoff Plan Remains Great, Would Include a Mid-Major

Written by Kyle Porter

Mike Gundy has been talking about how he would amend the College Football Playoff since the College Football Playoff began. It’s eventually going to happen, of course, because … πŸ’°πŸ’°πŸ’°, but it might not happen for a few more years.

Eight teams, seven games, all the dollars for ESPN.

Anyway, Gundy was asked again on Monday on the Big 12 media call what he would do. His answer was a little bit self-serving because OSU (and everyone) would have a much better chance at getting into an eight-team playoff than a four-team playoff, but that doesn’t mean it’s not A. Correct and B. Going to happen.

“I think they’re going to have to go to eight teams,” said Gundy. “I understand the academic requirements and amateur athletes vs. professional. You’re going to run into an issue where the human element with the committee is going to cause some concerns across the country. Whether we like it or not there’s way too much money involved in this. There’s five Power 5 conferences. Somebody’s going to win a conference championship and not get in.”

Maybe Oklahoma State in the Big 12 this year!

“In my opinion, they should have eight. If you win your conference, you’re in. That means it’s important to win your conference. When you go to the smaller schools — Western Michigan as an example last year — Western Michigan should be in. Otherwise you won’t ever, ever have a smaller school that has a chance to win a championship. They’re not ever going to get in.

This is a drum I’ve been beating for years. North Texas comes to camp in August knowing if it goes 12-0 it has no chance of winning it all. Why are you even playing in the same division of football as Texas and Texas A&M?

“Then you still have your two wild cards. In my opinion they’re going to have to go to eight. If you want to make it entertaining which is what people want to see, you take the Western Michigan from last year and play them against the four team. You don’t put them against the one team. You go to eight, you find a time to do it. Even if you have to cut the regular season or start it earlier. I think that’s the direction the game is going.”

So here’s what an eight-teamer might look like based on current standings.

No. 1 Alabama (SEC) vs. No. 8 USC (P12)
No. 2 Miami (ACC) vs. No. 7 Wisconsin (B10)
No. 3 Oklahoma (B12) vs. No. 6 Georgia (Wild card)
No. 4 Clemson (Wild card) vs. No. 5 UCF (Mid-Major)

Something like that. And yeah, Ohio State doesn’t get into my eight-team playoff even though it might get into the real four-teamer.

My only issue here is that college football is fun as hell right now. It’s certainly not egalitarian, but who doesn’t love arguing about the merits of 1-loss Miami vs. 1-loss Alabama vs. 5-loss Ohio State? It’s the sport within the sport. It makes the regular season great. It makes every week a thrill.

The flip side to this argument is that picking the wild cards above was actually kind of tough. There would still be plenty of arguments (and always will be) because of inequitable schedules. The five champs are indisputable, but can you put 1-loss Georgia in over 2-loss Auburn given last week’s result? Do we value non-conference wins too much given that Oklahoma State plays teams like Pitt and Auburn plays teams like Clemson? Is it fair to give Alabama a USC team while Clemson, as the No. 4 seed, gets UCF?

The debate might be a little different but it would still barrel on.

Would all of this be more fair if you had a clear path to the title (i.e. winning your conference)? Yes it would. Would it probably be better for all involved? Sure. There wouldn’t be as much friction, though, which I think is half the enjoyment of all of this.

Of course, I also was dubious that the CFP replacing the BCS would be better for the overall circus aspect of the sport, and it’s actually gone the other way. It’s become more of a circus. But as soon as you remove the human element, as Gundy said, in picking those postseason teams, you lose a little bit of the juice.

I think that’s a good trade — conference champs should certainly be eligible for the playoff (says every Big 12 blogger) and now the bottom half of FBS can legitimately say if they win all their games, they’re the champs. But open this thing up too far, and the CFB regular season might turn into … college basketball.

  • Bbjd

    You are right when it would increase fairness but fairness doesn’t increase interest or entertainment value.

    I hate the idea of an 8 team playoff because Miami, Clemson, USC, Washington, OU, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Georgia and Alabama’s regular seasons would already be over. The only spot left open on Championship weekend at the moment is Okstate/TCU and that is basically locked up as well to TCU.

    If winning your conference was an auto qualifier what happens after you become a division champ really doesn’t matter and that in my opinion would kill the regular season.

    • Alum in AZ

      Don’t understand your point. Going to 8 makes every game important. Every conference game matters to get to the conference championship game. So what if a team wraps up their division early – it is because they played well through the full conference slate. They don’t want to tank a late conference game badly, because if they lose the championship game, they want to be eligible for the at large bids and to position for seeding. All of the teams you mention above would have critical games remaining if we were playing to 8…

      • Bbjd

        Going to 8 literally makes certain late season game pointless. Yes you will be fighting for at large bids and seeding in some cases but lets use Ohio State for example.

        They are 8-2 if they beat Illinois this week they basically lock up the Big 10 East no matter what happens in Ohio State/Michigan due to tiebreakers.

        Under the current system they have to beat Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin and hope for chaos in other games to make the playoff that is a lot of games that will hold excitement for Ohio State fans.

        Under an 8 team system they would have to beat Illinois and Wisconsin (the game against Michigan would be only for pride). That is it. All other college football games cease to matter to them. They wouldn’t have to watch the ACC championship game and hope someone loses, or the Iron bowl cheering on Auburn, and they don’t have the ups and downs and excitement that comes with subjective selection.

        • Alum in AZ

          But in an 8-team scenario, all of Ohio State’s B1G games matter until they’ve claimed the division crown on the field. I can imagine a 4-team scenario where a team that didn’t win their own conference division would make it to the playoffs – oh, wait – that happened… and it was Ohio State. Funny coincidence! Why not just pick the CFP teams in August based on pre-season rankings and recruiting stats and then let the rest of the games be played for pride? I get what you’re saying, but I think new dynamics – involving underdogs, seeding scenarios, and on-the-field results would outweigh the drawbacks. An 8-team playoff eliminates blueblood advantages in non-conference scheduling as a path to the CFP. For example, right now Alabama doesn’t go on the road for OOC games.

          • Bbjd

            Do they matter to anyone outside of the BIG East? That is the problem an 8 team playoff takes the national interest in top 10 games down a great deal because what is wonderful about 4 teams is OU has to be as concerned about what Clemson is doing as it is TCU and Okstate.

            The way the decision is made is flawed. I hate the committee and agree that it has flaws but I don’t think adding teams makes anything better it just cheapens the regular season drama that is currently second to none.

          • Alum in AZ

            Good discussion and you have some valid points. But I think we have two different perspectives on a preferred resolution. However, I do prefer your recommendation to the old 2-team BCS or the current 4-team CFP!

        • dooley23

          You mean like certain late games are even more pointless now. A team like Okstate gets 1 loss, and their chances of getting in are slim to none. All of the mid-tier conference games are pointless currently. Heck, even the entire college football season is pointless without a real champion and real conclusion. 4 teams is not a playoff. The fact that this year, you could have had 2 sec teams and 1 at large in ND meant you’d have 3 Big 5 conferences out of the NC picture. How is that for meaningless.

          • Bbjd

            Well that isn’t true because 1 loss Okstate with a win over OU would be a in a real good position right now.

            What team currently has 1 loss and isn’t getting a chance? The mid-tier conference games don’t matter nationally because those teams don’t end up having the talent to compete and win their conference anyway.

            Stop paying attention to the terrible narratives thrown out there by the media it is for clicks and attention. 3 Power 5 conferences aren’t going to get left out and ND isn’t going to get in. The SEC is very unlikely to get 2 teams in.

            Chances are SEC, BIG 12, BIG 10, ACC champs all get in this year and all of the complaining throughout the year is pointless because those are the 4 best conferences and Washington and USC have both done nothing to deserve a chance.

  • GeoPoke

    Everyone, go look at DII’s playoff….I’ll wait…..
    *elevator music*

    *elevator music restarts*

    HOW CAN THEY HAVE 28 AND WE CAN’T GET MORE THAN 4!!!!

    • Darth

      Short answer is that their season is over already. TV Money means games for three full months.

      • GeoPoke

        Their season is over, yes, but those teams are going into their playoff with 11 games under their belt. They have 5 games (4 if they are top 4) to be the champion. And they’re doing it with less resources and less talent.

        • dooley23

          This is a big point as well. The season would likely get a bit shorter with 11 games vs 12. Also, that could eliminate one of those extreme cupcakes that are just a waste of time

  • guest

    I’d even suggest adding a “Play-in” game for the mid-majors. Let the top 2 mid-major teams play for that 8th spot. Often the knock on the mid-majors is they don’t play anyone, this would give them another game to have to play against a good team.

  • go pokes!

    it would not bother me to see a 3 loss conference champ from a power 5 conference get into the playoff. all this talk every year how one conference is better than the rest is complete BS……most of the conferences play different styles of football and there is a reason they play the games instead of just saying oh, your the best heres your trophy. i also like the idea of a smaller undefeated school getting there chance (North Dakota state beat plenty of power 5 opponents lately). the at large bids would always be contraversial but ESPN would at least have a chance to put whatever school they wanted in there, still. i want 8, i want it as soon as next year, 4 has too much corruption just like the BCS

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    • CaptainObvious

      North Dakota State is an FCS school. Therefore they would never ever get in by definition.

  • Alum in AZ

    I totally disagree with this statement: “My only issue here is that college football is fun as hell right now. It’s certainly not egalitarian, but who doesn’t love arguing about the merits of 1-loss Miami vs. 1-loss Alabama vs. 5-loss Ohio State? It’s the sport within the sport. It makes the regular season great. It makes every week a thrill.” Ohio State getting in last year really disillusioned me about college football. It’s a step up from Olympic Figure Skating.. judges making the call. I don’t enjoy the debate. It frustrates me. I enjoy the game.

    • Jawbreaker

      I agree, I’ve never understood the argument about the joy of arguing over hypotheticals. (As if people would run out of things to argue about.) The current selection method and endless arguing actually delegitimizes the game for alot of fans.

  • GeoPoke

    I propose each team play 10 games (maybe 11), after which we enter a 16 team playoff and the remaining teams not in the playoff are allowed to schedule two (2) non-conference, post season game of their choosing and then bowl games can commence.

    I think the first two rounds of playoffs goes to the higher ranked home team and then the current bowl game semi-finals and finals are the same.

    It sounds like a lot but I think you will be much happier watching these games at the end of the season because then your team can schedule those “what-if” games and you still get your bowls (I personally would like to see the number of bowl games drop).

    • jt

      Definitely agree on cutting the number of bowls. When you forced to use teams with losing records to fill your bowl slots, then you know there’s too many.

    • Tbeezy

      The problem is that college football post season games have always been at neutral sites. Unless you start letting teams host playoff games in their home stadiums I don’t want the playoff to expand to more than 4.

      At 8 teams that’s 3 separate cities the average fan would have to travel to in 3 weeks.

      • Alum in AZ

        First round of 16 team playoffs could be home games gor top seeds. (I am intrigued by the 16 team concept but prefer 8.)

  • Iceman

    Auto-qualifiers for conference champions is a horrible idea. The goal is to find the best teams and see who can beat each other outright. The fact is there are conferences without a snowballs chance of beating Bama or many other teams for that matter (I’m not only PAC12 bashing right now either). You have to remember that what makes college football great and why it’s performing much better than the NFL right now (trend wise) is because every game matters. If you take away that incentive it instantly becomes as casual as the NFL. I’m fine with missing an Eagles game (honestly I miss most) but I don’t miss a single OSU game because all of them matter. If teams auto-qualify with conference championships then you can lose 3 games and still make it. You’re shooting 75% and you can get in. You can go full on NBA and just bench all your starters against the last teams once you’ve got the title locked up. All of this will ruin college football.

    With that said 6-8 teams should get in. I like 6 because it incentives you to get to #1 or #2 (Perfect records better than 1 loss) but I think 8 is probably a better cutoff in terms of talent level. Mid tier teams should never get in and really should be put in a separate division (also whoever’s idea it was to expand the # of NCAA teams continually was a complete moron). I don’t want to watch UCF (or western Michigan) get slaughtered by Bama.

    Humans picking the rankings is a bad idea and it’s executed even worse. You need way more voters to even get a decent national average let alone decide definitively who gets in. There needs to be a very complicated formula based on statistics, rankings, and human voters that decides who gets in and who doesn’t. In the 1980’s this wasn’t reasonable. I can do this on a smartphone now. No excuse for just leaving it up solely to the perception of voters.

    • Michael H

      If a conference champion has 3 losses then it probably means there were several teams in the mix for that CFP spot right up until the very last game. I don’t view that as diluting the value of wins, it just means there are more important games down the stretch. Also, automatic qualification to conference champions actually provides incentive for teams to play tough teams in the non-conference. If OSU schedules Miami and wins, they have a great argument for an at-large spot if they don’t win the conference; if they lose, they still have a clear path to the playoff.

      • Iceman

        Sure but it does but it also means a really crappy team is going to get in and create a game no one wants to watch. The point about non-conference is true but the current system incentives this more because there’s no easy path in. Play no one and you don’t get in. In an auto qualified system you have clear path in without playing anyone especially if your conference is trash outside. Auto qualifiers also mean that you don’t have to win anything out of conference so long as you win your conference. You could go 6-6 and win your conference and get in. That is just ridiculous.

        • Michael H

          I understand your point but I think there’s some hyperbole there. I would venture to guess there has never been a conference champion with a 6-6 record, so I’m not going to get hung up on something that theoretically could but realistically won’t ever happen. Furthermore, in the current system you are equally likely to have similar matchups in NY6 bowl games featuring teams that finish 5-8 in the standings (2016 Cotton Bowl , 2015 Rose Bowl). I don’t understand how it hurts the product by simply allowing that game to have national championship implications. If the crappy team loses, it confirms what we thought; if the crappy team wins they prove the 8 team playoff adds some value. Overall I think some of what you’re saying is true, but I personally believe an 8 team playoff wouldn’t diminish the product that college football currently offers.

          • Iceman

            I’m not arguing that an 8 tam payoff reduces the product. I think there should be 6-8 teams and I said as much in the first post. My issue is with how those teams are selected. If you auto-qualify conference championship winners you damage the value in the regular season. Adding teams to the play off increases value just like you said but it doesn’t increase value if the matchups aren’t between the correct teams (which can happen with much greater frequency if you allow autoqualifiers). Obviously 6-6 is hyperbolic but 9-3 isn’t at all and that’s a problem when you have 15 teams with better records getting jumped.

          • go pokes!

            if the crappy teams get in and then lose, you now have the same 4 team playoff…..if the crappy team wins it adds excitement and the belief that maybe “the bama’s” are not so superior….

      • Matt Hartley

        Let’s say that every team in the SEC East is worse than they are in reality, so the team in second place has 4 conference losses going into week 10, while Georgia is sitting at 9-0, with no quality wins to speak of. Georgia could use the next three weeks to give their depth game time, rest their star players so they can heal from what injuries they’ve gained over the course of the season, and lose out. So, the 9-3 Bulldogs waltz into the SEC championship well rested and ready, while Alabama comes in 12-0, but having endured a grueling season. Georgia wins because they are healthy and energized, and then get blown out in the playoff because they suck. This is the nightmare scenario Iceman was referring to.

        Similar scenarios happened all the time in the big 12. In 1996, the #3 Nebraska Cornhuskers lost to the unranked Texas Longhorns. In 2003, the #1 Sooners got blown out by the #13 Wildcats. In 2004 and 2005, number 2 had to play the unranked Buffalos in the big 12 championship. Both games were blowout wins for the number 2 with Colorado scoring a combined 6 points, but what if they had pulled off an upset?

        • Michael H

          I’m not going give a lot of weight to a hypothetical situation that is likely never going to happen. Your scenario would require one team to go undefeated and the other six teams in their division lose 4 of their first 6 or 7 conference matchups. Unlikely to say the least. Then on top of that you are assuming that Georgia is going to essentially punt on conference matchups and rivalry games (GT) for the last 3 weeks, essentially giving their starters minimal meaningful game time for the better part of a month, as if the fans, boosters, trustees, players, and coaches are going to be fine losing games they presumably would win if they just approach the games like normal. All the while, by resting players and not giving 100% effort to win the remaining games on their schedule they are essentially putting all their hopes of a CFP birth on winning a conference championship game, thereby giving themselves no shot at an at-large selection because they lost 4 games when it could have been one or two. Sorry but I just don’t see how that is a plausible scenario or justification for keeping the playoff at 4.

          In the “similar” scenarios you describe (which aren’t actually similar) you still have a path as the team with the better record to reach the playoff via an at-large bid. This is why it makes no sense for teams like Georgia in your example not to play out their schedule to the best of their ability, because you don’t actually know who you are battling for at-large bids until after the conference championships have concluded.

          • Matt Hartley

            It’s an unlikely scenario, yes, and not one that has ever actually happened, so concerns about teams tanking are pointless. It felt like you didn’t quite get what Iceman was referring to.

            The similar situations are similar because a team that shouldn’t make the playoff would get an automatic bid. The problem isn’t that former #3 Nebraska won’t make the playoff because they lost to an unranked Texas (although, that might happen), the problem is that a 7-4 Texas will make the playoffs because they pulled off a timely upset, knocking the former 8/whatever seed out of playoff contention.

            There’s also the problem of one conference just sucking for a year. However, this isn’t really a problem, considering that the Big East when it was in the middle of collapsing and had horrible football actually won its last two BCS games, the last against a team ranked number 3. And in a playoff that has had exactly this problem, teams with losing records have won their last two games in the wild card round of the NFL playoffs, heavily suggesting that any concerns about automatic bids are overblown.

    • Ryan

      I have no idea how you can so easily say that the G5 representative in this scenario would get slaughtered. Since the BCS era started in 1998, continuing through to the present, non power conference teams are 8-6 in the major 6 (Rose, Cotton, Fiesta, Sugar, Orange, Peach) bowls. (For context, OSU is 1-4 in the major 6 games in that timespan) So while you can say that they probably wouldn’t win the title, there’s no possible way that you could accurately say that they would have no chance and don’t deserve a shot.

      • Iceman

        That’s entirely different though because there’s no incentive for a P5 team to win those outside of pride. In this scenario you are playing for a shot at the championship. This is analogous to saying OU was better than Bama when they beat them in like 2011 in the cotton?? bowl. They weren’t but Bama didn’t care to try. Guarantee you Bama comes to play for the ship. What would you say the odds are that UCF beats Baama tomorrow? I’d give UCF a legit 5% chance. So lets just assume that’s an average chance. 1 year out of 20 the crappy team wins. Then they play a second game in which their odds improve to lets say 20% (generously). That means they’ve got a 0.05*0.2=1% chance they win both games and advance to the title. Add in the title game to that calculation (20% chance of winning assumed) and you get 0.2% chance of winning the title. I don’t want a team with odds that low ever playing for the championship. As Kyle said then its college basketball and no one cares about the regular season (unless you are a non P5 school in which case you have to win your lower psuedo-division to get to play with the big boys. Let’s put in the D1AA winner in next too just to see how they do.

        • Alum in AZ

          Your Alabama/OU situation reminds me of another reason to expand to 8 teams ASAP. Non-CFP bowls really mean nothing. If they were really important, the coaching carousel would not start until after the bowls. You can bet CFP head coaches (and most coordinators) will not leave their teams while still in the playoff.

          • Iceman

            That’s probably true in general but Lane Kiffin got fired before the championship game last year so I wouldn’t say never.

      • Tbeezy

        That’s the G5 Super Bowl. For a lot of those teams you mentioned is just a participation prize for not reaching the championship game (now playoffs)

    • Alum in AZ

      No – no – no! I don’t want the “best teams”! Too subjective. I’ve seen that eye test game on ESPN for too long now. And now what constitutes the “best team” is in the hands of a small committee. I want the winning teams!

      • Iceman

        So wait you want UCF to be the 2 seed right now? As in purely off wins? Also I literally said there should be a much more complicated formula including statistics, rankings and voters in my first comment which would remove some of that eye test bias. If your answer is yes then we just disagree but I’m pretty sure the majority of the country disagrees with you.

        • Alum in AZ

          No, I wouldn’t want UCF a #2 seed. I want records/stats/SOS/etc. comprehended in seeding. I just don’t want that to be the #1 selection criteria. I want conference champions as auto-bids, then best of non-P5 as an auto-bid, and 2 at-large “best remaining” selections. (Perhaps some way to not guarantee the non-P5 selection if no undefeated team, or undefeated without playing P5, etc. In that case, get 3 at-large.) Bottom line, I want a possible 3-loss conference champion to get auto-bid over a 1-loss conference non-champion. I want conferences to HAVE to play each other in playoffs.

          • Iceman

            Ok well so how do you pick the best non-conference champ? What happens to Notre Dame? I also don’t get the need for conferences to play each other in the playoffs. They play each other in the regular season right now (which will go away if they only have to win their conference) and they also play each other in every single bowl game. the conferences play their best teams anyways you don’t need that system for it to happen.

          • Alum in AZ

            Good reminder on Notre Dame. Unless they (and the others) join a conference, then they fall into the non-P5 bucket. The best non-P5 is selcted by the committee (same group that seeds the teams and assigns game locations.) We just are valuing different attributes in our desired selection priority. There’s a good case for lots of different methods.

    • Matt Hartley

      You can have 8 teams and still have a strong incentive to get the top seeds. In fact, the problem I have with the typical 8 team playoff isn’t the incentives, but rather that you can’t play the first round in one day, since there are 4 games, and 3 timeslots to put them in, where you really only want to use two maximum. To maximize exposure, you want each bowl to be played on its own.

      One (bad) way to do this is to make 5 play 8 and 6 play 7 to get into the second round, where 4 plays the high seed and 3 plays the low seed, then 2 plays the high seed, and 1 plays the low seed in the third round, then the winners of these two games play eachother in the championship.This is an extremely strong incentive, because 5-8 must win 4 games to become champion, while 1 and 2 must only win two games. It might be too strong an incentive, and I’m not sure anybody wants a month long playoff.

      • Iceman

        That’s fair enough but I think that might be too stratified for my taste. Perfectly valid method of incentivizing winning games tho.

  • jt

    1. Expand the playoffs to eight. The power 5 conference champs, highest ranked group of 5 conference champ, highest ranked independent (Notre Dame) in the top10/top 15 if ranked ahead of a power 5 conference champ, highest ranked team(s) remaining (2 team per conference max). The NY6 bowls would be the sites for the quarterfinals and semifinals. National Title site would be bidding out as it is currently.

    OR

    2. Split the FBS into two (FBS-I: power conferences, FBS-II: group of 5, no independents). Dissolve the Big 12 and expand the remaining power conferences to 16-18 teams. Every team would have a similar schedule in terms of number and type non-conference opponents, and the number of conference games. The 4 conference champions would meet in the playoff which would operate as it currently does.

    • Tbeezy

      2! 4 16 team conferences. Each conference has two 8 team divisions. If you aren’t good enough to get into the top 64 FBS-I division then you fight for the FBS-II.

      Making the group of 5 schools compete in the same division of schools that literally have tens of millions more dollars than them is ridiculous. That would be like taking the salary cap of the Dallas Cowboys and letting them play against the CFL.

  • David

    Please happen.

  • Steve

    Honestly, the best solution is to just implement promotion/relegation like in this article. https://www.sbnation.com/college-football/2017/6/6/15724156/college-football-relegation-promotion-simulation
    It obviously won’t ever happen, but this would be super fun and would give every program a real chance.

    • go pokes!

      this is a solid valuation…..i think 4 years is prolly the time frame instead of 1 or 2 because of recruits(the athletes themselves)….. i don’t think we will ever see this but fun to read about