The College Football Tournament of Champions

By Amy Daughters -

What if the CFP committee honored conference champions?

It – “championships won” – is the number one item listed under “criteria that must be considered” by the committee. It’s a part of a document titled “How to select the four best teams to compete for the College Football National Championship” on the CFP website.

More from the “how to” guide on the importance of titles:

We believe that a committee of experts properly instructed (based on beliefs that the regular season is unique and must be preserved; and that championships won on the field and strength of schedule are important values that must be incorporated into the selection process) has very strong support throughout the college football community.

Before delving any further, it’s only fair to let the committee off the hook on one key point. By design, one Power conference champion will be left out of the mix as long there are five Power leagues and only four bracket spots. This omission is down to how the scheme was setup initially.

Where the committee has deviated from its protocol is when it ignores on-field achievements and leaves two Power conference champions out of the mix. It’s something that has happened each of the last two seasons.

In 2016-17, Penn State won the Big Ten outright by beating Wisconsin 38-31 in the title game. Instead of rewarding the Nittany Lions with a playoff bid, the committee selected Ohio State. The pick was even more dubious given that PSU had beaten the Buckeyes in a head-to-head game earlier that same season. Ironically, this also violated the committee’s third pillar of criteria “head-to-head competition (if occurred).”

So, Ohio State, without a title of any kind, ascended to the playoff along with SEC champion Alabama, ACC champion Clemson, and Pac-12 champion Washington. Also left out of the mix was Oklahoma, which had swept its conference slate and won the Big 12.

Of the five Power conference champions, only three made the bracket.

Speed ahead to this season and a similar scenario unfolds, only this time Ohio State is on the receiving end of the shaft. The Buckeyes beat Wisconsin 27-21 in the Big Ten title game only to be left out of the bracket in favor of Alabama, a team that didn’t even play in the SEC Championship. Are the Tide “better” than the Bucks? That’s up for discussion. What’s not is the fact that Ohio State played and won an extra game against an undefeated Power Five opponent.

So, this year, again, we have a four-slot playoff bracket that features only three of the five Power conference champions.

The ACC (Clemson), the Big 12 (Oklahoma), and the SEC (Georgia) are all in. The Big Ten (Ohio State) and the Pac-12 (USC) are out.

The only true fix – if the goal is to honor championships – is to expand the playoff bracket. This is logical because no matter how you manipulate it, you can’t fit five Power conference champions into four slots.

That leads to the next set of questions – how far to expand and how to fill the new spaces?

Though it’s tempting to move from four to eight, which would include all five Power conference champions and three additional teams (selected by the committee as the “best” of the non-champs) – why not let the decision be totally made on the field?

In other words, only teams with a title qualify for the bracket. That takes the number of slots to 16. Here is how they are filled:

5 – Conference champions from the Power leagues – ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC.

5 – Conference champions from the non-Power leagues – American, C-USA, MAC, Mountain West, and Sun Belt (This finally, at long last, gives the non-Power schools a legitimate, viable route to a national title. It’s the moment that the FBS truly becomes one division).

5 – Division champions from the Power leagues (those teams who LOST in the conference title games, the runners-up) – ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC.

1 – An “at-large” bid – to be filled at the discretion of the committee. This is the best team in the country that DIDN’T win a conference/division championship.

It would mean that all the selections – less one – would be decided on the field. The CFP committee would have the unenviable job of SEEDING the tournament. Runners-up and non-Power teams would presumably be seeded lower than the Power league title holders.

The air of drama and expectation is still there, plus people watch the division races in the Power leagues and the conference championships in the non-Powers like they’re play-in games. Because they are.

If you’re thinking “how can the champion of the MAC make it in, even as a 16 seed, while a solid 10-2 team from the SEC stays home?” you have a valid point. First, the 10-2 team from the SEC would have an opportunity to earn a slot, and be seeded higher than the MAC champ, with the “at-large” bid.

Next, if it’s decided the MAC team shouldn’t be allowed to participate in the Playoff then the non-Power leagues should break off and form their own division. At some point, coaches of ALL the teams in the FBS should be able to get up in front of their teams at the beginning of the season and confidently say, “if we win all our games, we’ll have the opportunity to play for a national championship.”

What about Notre Dame?

That’s simple. The scenario forces the Irish to live in the real world. In other words, if they want to be in the Playoff, they can join a conference like everyone else. If not, they can hope for making a case for the “at large” bid.

Here’s what the bracket would look like this season. The seeding is done using the latest CFP rankings and/or votes in the AP Poll (for unranked teams).

1 vs. 16 – (1) Clemson vs. (16) Troy/Appalachian State (the Sun Belt will have a title game in 2018)

8 vs. 9 – (8) USC vs. (9) Miami, FL

4 vs. 13 – (4) Alabama (at-large bid) vs. (13) Boise State

5 vs. 12 – (5) Ohio State vs. (12) TCU

2 vs. 15 – (2) Oklahoma vs. (15) FAU

7 vs. 10 – (7) Auburn vs. (10) UCF

3 vs. 14 – (3) Georgia vs. (14) Toledo

6 vs. 11 – (6) Wisconsin vs. (11) Stanford

Though the initial matchups for the top four teams look less than savory – the first round, by design, rewards two key groups. First, the top teams in the nation are, because of their on-field achievements, credited with a “gimmee” game. Next, the conference champions from the American Athletic, C-USA, MAC, Mountain West, and Sun Belt are afforded a legitimate on-field opportunity to compete for a national championship.

It’s thrilling.

It’s the College Football Tournament of Champions.

And it is – perhaps – the GREATEST thing that ever happened.

#FOOTBALLbracketology #dropthemic

Comments (15)

Would these theoretical CFB tournament of champions games (1st, QF, SF rounds) be neutral site, using the current bowls as sites, or be played at campus sites (hosted by team with better seeding). How would the current bowl system be affected by this CFB TOC?

I’ve long advocated for a similar model, except taking only conference champions. That would give you a 10-team playoff, with the top 6 teams (likely ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big XII, Pac-12, and AAC, but not necessarily) having a bye the second week of December. The remaining 4 champions, seeded 7-10, play each other. Games played at conference sites. Say this year, Boise State (7) would host Troy/App St (10), and FAU (8) would host Toledo (9).

From there, on the third Saturday of December, Clemson (1) plays worst seed remaining from 7-10, and (2) Oklahoma plays best seed remaining from 7-10. The rest of the matchups are (3) v (6) and (4) v (5). You would have four games on one day, but you could have start times of say 11:30, 2:45, 6, and 9:15.

After this you get your final four and the teams play at the bowl sites like we are doing now.

Simple enough. No guesswork, no “at-large” BS, while still making the regular season AND the conference championship games matter.

and how would conference championship games be handled? We’re looking at 17 game seasons? and for the P5 schools TOUGH competitors throughout. Oh and are we forgoing college pursuits since finals in December will be replaced by games? Unless it’s an 11 game season (lol) and no conference championships (bigger LOL) this doesn’t seem feasible but in theory I like your breakdown 5/5/5/1

This 16 team playoff would never be done because of time constraints; but an 8 team playoff does have possibilities.

Simply taking the 5 Power Conference Champions and adding the Group of 5 top ranked team and 2 at large teams would be much more workable.

Here is an example for 2017:

Five Power Conference Champions
Plus Three Top Ranked Non-Champions


USC vs. Ohio State

UCF vs. Auburn

Clemson vs. Alabama

Georgia vs. Oklahoma



Cotton Bowl Winner vs. Fiesta Bowl Winner

Orange Bowl Winner vs. Peach Bowl Winner




We can’t make an analogy to college basketball because there will never be 36 at-large places in a college football tournament. We can’t make an analogy to pro sports because pro sports, unlike FBS, have a restricted membership, whereas any college in the NCAA that wants to play FBS football can do so just by complying with the NCAA requirements for being in FBS. In a system that wide open, with that many teams and a wide disparity between them, just being the champ of *any* conference, no matter who you’re competing against, is not enough to lock up a place in a playoff with a very limited number of playoff spots.

Also, if a division champion is guaranteed a place in the playoff no matter what, then what’s the point of the conference title game? Why play that game at all? If I was a coach in that situation, I’d rest my first-string players in the conference title game and save them for the first round of the playoff.

Your strict TOC format is intriguing and has definite appeal for many fans of G5 (non-Power 5 conference) schools, since it places their teams on (almost) equal standing with P5 champions. It would be more difficult for a G5 team (e.g., Boise State) to earn a national championship because of the extra playoff game (plus the fact the surviving G5 teams would have no bye week while the P5 teams with deeper talent and rosters they’d play would), but at least they’d have a chance–more than they have now. Of course, fans of teams like Alabama would claim their teams are more “deserving” because of strength of schedule, but if they can’t win a conference, regardless of the hand they’re dealt, I agree that they shouldn’t get in; they didn’t play (let alone win) that 13th (championship) game. The only reason Alabama is in this year is because CFP only has 4 slots and they wanted the teams that would generate the most viewership (revenue). Your format would remove the ability to “fix” the playoffs. Unfortunately, that may be the very reason why your proposal probably will never be considered.

You really think Stanford, Miami and TCU are worthy of a shot at the NC? Not after what I saw this season.

I contend that the best solution is a 12-team format (10 conference champs and 2 at-larges) with the top 4 seeds getting a first-round bye. That way, the top seeds are rewarded with a week off, the possibility of regular season re-matches are reduced and you have fewer games that waste everyone’s time.

Totally agree with your last statement about CCG losers. It’s simply not fair to the teams that win. It’s another reason why I believe 16 teams would be too many. 12 would be much better.


If every conference was equal, fine. But, they aren’t.

Alabama and Wisconsin didn’t win their conferences, but those two teams could probably beat most of the teams that did win their conference. That’s why this whole “win your conference” argument doesn’t work and it’s honestly why they don’t use that criteria. They are putting the four best teams in the playoff and like it or not that’s exactly what they did this year.

And stop saying winning your conference doesn’t matter. It clearly matters because over the four years of the playoffs, most of the teams that have gotten in HAVE won their conference. It’s just not the only thing that matters.

All of this “what if stuff” is just silly.

Here’s some food for thought. These are major changes to the entire structure of the season.

12 conferences of 8-11 teams playing no more than 8 conference games for a total of 11 regular season games. NO CONFERENCE TITLE GAMES, winner from each conference qualifies for College Football Playoff, plus 4 at-large teams. Regular Season would start Labor Day weekend and conclude Thanksgiving weekend. Each FBS team can play an exhibition game 9-11 days before Labor Day against either an FBS or FCS team, outcome and records from that game SHALL NOT count in rankings, standings or record books.
College Football Playoff would begin on the 1st Saturday in December with 8 games at campus sites, with match-ups chosen by the committee. 2nd Round games would take place at neutral sites (Atlanta, Dallas, Indianapolis, San Francisco) on the Saturday that falls between December 17-23. Semi-Finals on January 1 or 2 if Jan 2 is a Monday and the final would take place the 2nd Monday in January (8-14).

American (10)
Boston College
Virginia Tech
West Virginia

Atlantic Coastal (10)
Florida State
Georgia Tech
Miami (FL)
North Carolina
North Carolina State
Wake Forest

Big Eight (8)
Iowa State
Kansas State
Oklahoma State

Big Ten (11)
Michigan State
Ohio State
Penn State

Conference USA (8)
Southern Methodist
Southern Mississippi
Texas-El Paso

East Coast (10)
Central Florida
East Carolina
Florida Atlantic
Florida International
Old Dominion
South Florida
Western Kentucky

Independents (13)
Bringham Young
New Mexico
New Mexico State
North Texas
Notre Dame
Utah State
Texas San Antonio
Texas State

Mid-American (11)
Ball State
Bowling Green
Central Michigan
Eastern Michigan
Kent State
Miami (OH)
Northern Illinois
Western Michigan

Mountain West (10)
Air Force
Boise State
Colorado State
Fresno State
Nevada-Las Vegas
San Diego State
San Jose State

Pac-10 (10)
Arizona State
Oregon State
Washington State

Southeastern (8)
South Carolina

Southwestern (9)
Louisiana State
Mississippi State
Texas A&M
Texas Christian
Texas Tech

Sunbelt (10)
Appalachian State
Coastal Carolina
Georgia Southern
Georgia State
Louisiana Lafayette
Louisiana Monroe
Louisiana Tech
South Alabama

So you want to have a championship tournament full of teams that won conferences that didn’t have actual on field games to determine the champion?

Yeah, this completely makes sense.

My God, where do you people get the time to redraw conferences? Is the PlayStation broken or something?

Wow, that was quite an effort! But it does not at all address the main problem of the strength differences between the conferences. If we really want a true solution we have to stand up against the “non-profit” gimmick and restructure intercollegiate athletics altogether. This is coming from a former student athlete. In my personal opinion I’d love to see schools stick to schooling.

I love the concept, but of course the issue will turn into “too many games played per team”. Also, I’m not fun of 5 GUARANTEED CCG losers getting into the playoffs. I feel that every team that gets in, must have won their last game or at least played the same amount of games. What is actually needed, is wildcard games during the CCG (conference championship games) week. With that bracket, you could have 4 WCG during CCG week, with the Top 8 non-CCG participants playing for a possible spot in the playoffs, limiting two teams max per conference. (I prefer the wildcard games usage, because the 2nd best team in a conference maybe from the same division as the best team, and they need to be able to prove that they deserve to be in the playoffs over the other divisional winner.) This also put the contenders at 13 games, like the champions. Now with the wildcard games, the committee can choose between filling the last 6 teams with CCG losers or WCG winners. Some CCG losers still get in. It still may be too many games for a 12-game regular season schedule.

Now, I think a 8-team playoff would be just fine, but most have rules to get in and not using the “Top 8” system or “All Power 5 champions” system. Both system either keeps out the Group of 5 teams or too many bias selections on the final teams in. Here is my concept that should be very simple:

CvC 8-team playoffs (Top 4 Champions versus Top 4 Contenders)

*Group of Five champion is auto-bid as a champion or contender, depending on ranking*
*Highest ranked 4 champions are auto-bid to the playoffs and host the 1st round, with the exception that an independent teams will be considered champions if record is 13-0^*
*Contenders can only be either champions, wildcard winners^, or only one may be the best CC loser (redemption team)*
^Wildcard games are two games (played during CCG week) among the top 4 non-CCG participants. Only one team per conference and undefeated independent teams are auto-bid to the wildcard games. (These games can be hosted on campus or a neutral site.)*

(1st round played during the 1st bowl week, and the semi-finals are still the same.)