Clemson Football will play in the Orange Bowl later this month, but I think it is safe to say everyone – coaches, players, and fans – would have loved to have been in the College Football Playoffs when the semifinals kick off on New Year’s Eve.
Many have noted that if the CFP had expanded this season with the same format they plan to use soon, Clemson wouldn’t have just made the playoffs, but they would have gotten a bye past the first round into the quarterfinals.
The new playoff format would involve twelve teams, and the top four would get a bye. The model that they are planning to use would reserve the top four seeds for conference champions. The four highest-ranked conference champions would get those spots.
It wouldn’t matter if the conference was Power Five or Group of Five. It wouldn’t matter if non-champions were ranked ahead of them in the final CFP poll. The top four would be a champions-only club.
We will have to wait a little while longer before the 12-team playoff is a reality, but it is coming, and it doesn’t look like it is the only change we will see in the near to intermediate future.
College football is continuing to evolve. Many observers have expressed opinions that the most powerful and influential teams could be looking to separate from the rest of the NCAA to form a new competition with their own rules.
It is hard to foresee what shape that new competition might take. They might completely scrap the conference model. They could preserve some conferences and ally together. It is difficult to know how it could shake out.
One possibility that exists is that the conferences/teams could all withdraw from the NCAA and form a new “super league”. This might involve conferences like the SEC and Big Ten in some way, but likely would also involve teams from other conferences that are of similar mindset.
They would have to determine the best scheduling model for their new league. Logic dictates it would be a regular season plus playoffs. That is the structure fans are accustomed to seeing.
While I was watching the World Cup Final between Argentina and France, it occurred to me that the structure of the World Cup would be a good model for a new college football super league.
For those unfamiliar with the World Cup, 32 teams are invited and separated into eight groups of four teams. Each team in a group plays a round-robin schedule, which is like a ‘regular season’. Every team invited to the World Cup is guaranteed to play at least three games.
The top two teams from each group then move on to a 16-team knock-out tournament. Teams that win advance and the losers are eliminated. This is the ‘playoffs’ phase.
A similar structure would make a lot of sense for a new college football super league. It would create a full season that is recognizable to fans with a regular season and playoffs. Let’s hypothesize that the new super league would have 48 teams. They could separate them into eight groups of six teams each.
The World Cup is played in a host country, or a small group of countries, so the games are considered to be on a neutral field. Since college football is played in home stadiums, each team in the super league would play the others at home and on the road. That would yield a 10-game regular season with five home games and five road games. The winners and runners-up of each group would then move to a 16-team playoff.
A structure like this would still allow teams to play 2-3 preseason games that wouldn’t count toward super league standings. Rivals who aren’t in the same group can play each other before the super league competition starts. They could also schedule NCAA teams who don’t join the super league, giving them the same opportunity NFL teams get in preseason games to give second and third-string guys playing time.
Another option would be four groups of 10-12 teams each. In that model, each team would play the others only once. That would create more variety with the regular season schedule, even though it might mean imbalance in a schedule due to playing tough teams on the road that other group members get to play at home only.
If Clemson Football joins a college football super league, they could participate in a competition modeled after the World Cup
Clemson, for example, could play South Carolina in the preseason if they aren’t grouped in the super league. The Tigers could then also schedule two non-league opponents, like Coastal Carolina and Georgia State, to get some work for their starters and playing time for their backups to see what works and what doesn’t.
The groups don’t have to remain the same every season. This gives the super league the chance to break the chains of the conference system that consolidates power to a single group. The World Cup uses a draw system that makes sure that the best teams in the world aren’t all drawn into the same group. A similar process could shake up the groups in every season while still maintaining a balance of power.
This will help keep things fresh. Conference rivalries are great, but they have become diluted with the growth of conferences. New groups every year will give fans a new experience every season. Clemson could be in a group with Notre Dame, Maryland, Missouri, Washington, and Florida one season, and then the next season is grouped with Texas, UCLA, Minnesota, Oklahoma State, and North Carolina.
This model would fit roughly into the current timeframe of the college football season. Pre-season could get started around Labor Day, with the round-robin regular season wrapping up in early December. The playoffs could commence a couple of weekends later and the championship game could be played in early to mid-January.
This is all just fun imagination, and it probably isn’t the first time someone has proposed such a structure. To play devil’s advocate, I have observed that what fans imagine for the future of college football usually doesn’t equate to the way it evolves in real life.
As we move closer to the reality that the future of college football will involve a new business model outside the NCAA, a super league similar in structure to the World Cup isn’t all that far-fetched.