16-Team College Football Playoff Plan

by Reginald Patterson

mythbusted“That’s why we play the games” is a popular sports saying that reminds us that underdogs can win. In fact, every week of the college football season, experts are proven to be wrong on several game predictions. Yet despite the absurdity of thinking that a person or group of people could ever reliably determine the very best team out of over 100 teams with very diverse schedules, at season’s end for over a century, college football fans have been asked to accept such opinion as fact. For this reason, the championship for the highest level of college football has long been referred to as “mythical”.

For decades college football fans have craved a true college football champion – decided on the gridiron instead of in a conference room. In recent years, college football authorities responded somewhat – first with a two team title game, and now with a 4-team playoff. However, the underlying anachronism of having champions (or championship contenders) selected by executives in suits still persists.  In this respect, college football is no different than America’s past most popular sport – boxing.

moneyAs it currently exists, major college football’s post-season is a powerful and lucrative revenue generating engine that bolsters micro-economies of bowls, travel, television, merchandising, gambling, and more – indeed very powerful and influential interests. Understandably, the organizations and individuals that rely on the dollars generated from college football’s post-season – as it currently exists – would be leery of any change proposal.  But, where there’s a will, there’s a way – or, where there’s even more money to be made, there’s a way. Certainly, the great fan interest in a real playoff is indicative of lots of profit potential.

Having the cake and eating it too

The real challenge is not how do we devise a perfect college football playoff system. In reality, the challenge is to devise a feasible and acceptable system that maintains existing college football post-season revenue streams while delivering a real playoff as a bonus.

16team_logo_1aThe 16-Team College Football Playoff Plan presented on this site outlines a way to grow interest and revenue in big time college football far beyond anything possible within the limits of the current system:

  • without drastically adding games
  • without lengthening the season calendar
  • by determining 10 automatic qualifiers (based on 10 conferences) and 6 at-large playoff selections
  • without dismantling the long-standing traditions and revenue streams of the established major college football system; – specifically polls, bowls, and selection committees.
  • by enabling a true champion to be determined on the football field.
Flow diagram of the 16-team playoff plan


16-Team Plan’s Scheduling Innovation

Of course something has to be changed in order to meet the above conditions while also achieving a 16 Team playoff. The core distinction of the 16-Team Playoff Plan is in the structure of the twelve (12) game schedule. The 16-Team plan completes the conference schedule and determines the conference championship game participants within the first ten (10) games of the regular season (typically 2 non-conference games plus 8 conference games). In the 16-Team Playoff Plan schedule the final two regular season games (games 11 and 12) would both be non-conference games. Having two non-conference games at the end of the regular season is key to enabling the primary 16-Team plan innovation – “flex scheduling”.

Schedule chart for the 16-Team playoff college football season


Flex Scheduling –  At the conclusion of game ten, the conference championship game participants would be known.  However, instead of playing their scheduled game 11 non-conference opponent, the 11th game for all of the conference championship game participants would be their conference’s championship game.  The College Football Playoff Committee would be responsible for executing the most dramatic change of the 16-Team plan – re-matching the scheduled opponents of the conference championship game participants against each other – or flexing those games. While flexing games represents a significant change to established scheduling practices, it would only affect a small percentage of teams – and it is the key to enabling a 16 team playoff to be contained within a maximum of 15 games (for conference champs advancing to the national title game; 16 for at-large title game advancers).

Example of 2015 season calendar under the 16-team playoff plan



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