Friday, November 21, 2008

The College Football Superleague

Recently Barack Obama showed that one of the first elements of our nation in need of his brand of change is the way we decide a national champion in college football. Barack Obama, reheating the annual stew of sportswriters and jock-talkers, has come out in favor of an 8-team playoff system, rather than the current 2-team playoff of one game. But for a man who has been the face of change, this is an especially small-ball populist approach to the main problem in college football; that is, the subjectiveness of the sportswriters determining which teams are the most worthy. If we were to implement an 8-team playoff system, the annual stew would be about why the 9th and 10th place teams didn't get in. The NCAA basketball tournament has the same problem with subjectivity, but their solution was to expand the field to such a gargantuan size that the difficult decision on if a bubble team gets in or not is practically moot. Who cares if the Richmond Spiders or the Creighton Blue Jays didn't quite make it? They were probably going to lose in the first round anyways.

Real professional sports leagues don't require a human to determine which teams deserve a post-season. This is because there are only 20 or 30 possible teams to choose from. Everyone's schedule has relatively the same factor of difficulty, and so no team has to be handicapped by a sportswriter or poll voter. In college football, there are 100+ teams to choose from, and one team can only play at most 12 or 13 other teams. This means comparing teams necessarily requires some subjective factors, because head-to-head matchups are rare between non-conference foes.

But not everything is subjective. Athletic conference winners are determined not by sportswriters or strength-of-schedule, but by teams actually playing each other. There are tiebreak rules and everything in case two teams have an equal record at the end of the season. Conferences can do this because there are only between 8 and 12 teams to choose from. But unfortunately not all conferences are created equal. If we just had conference winners play each other as a playoff system, the new argument would be something like "why does the Big East #1 get to have a chance at a championship while the clearly superior Big 12 #2 doesn't?"

What I am proposing is that we blow-up the conferences and create a 32-team Superleague. The Superleague will consist of 4 divisions of 8 regionally-similar teams. Each team will play 12 games: 7 games within the division, one game each from the other 3 divisions, and 2 games from the pool of college teams outside the Superleague. This way old-fashioned college rivalries can remain intact even when one team is in the Superleague and the other team is not.

If you don't want to get into the nuts and bolts of such a league, just stop reading now and go look at some LOLcats.

For the rest of you, I will now bore you to tears with details. After the end of the Superleague season (the first week in December), a twelve-team playoff will commence. The playoff will be a seeded tournament, with the top four seeds given to each division's champion. The seeding will be based on best overall record. Tiebreaks outside the division will be, in order, as follows: head-to-head matchups, if applicable, then league record, then divisional record, then record against common teams (minimum possible = 2), then quality of best win, then quality of second best win, etc., and then coin flip. Division winners will be based on the divisional record. Tiebreaks within the division will be based on head-to-head record. In the event of a three-way tie, divisional winner will be determined based on tiebreak rules similar to interdivisional tiebreak rules. When there are two teams with the same overall record within the same division, the team with the better divisional record cannot be seeded lower than the team with the worse divisional record.

Okay, so the top four seeds earn a bye week and a home game similar to the NFL's playoff system. The playoffs will occupy four straight weekends starting in the second weekend in December and ending the first weekend of January.

But here's the part that makes this Superleague more interesting than every other professional league: the bottom team in each division should be kicked out of the Superleague for the next year. The best four teams from the remaining 88 college teams outside the Superleague would get to join the Superleague the next year. Because every crappy team needs a healthy dose of fear to get them to perform to their fullest.


As for which teams should get into this Superleague, I decided that it shouldn't just be the 32 best teams from this year. To make the Superleague palatable, it needs to include the best teams, but also perennial contenders who are going through some down times (like Michigan). So I came up with a very simple formula based on the final AP rating of each college team since 1993 that expands geometrically as seed approaches 1 and year approaches 2008, or actually (since I tweaked it a bit), as seed approaches -2 and year approaches 2012. The 32 teams this particular formula chose are as follows, in order:

1. USC
2. Florida
3. Ohio State
4. Texas
5. LSU
6. Oklahoma
7. Georgia
8. Florida State
9. Miami (FL)
10. Alabama
11. Nebraska
12. Michigan
13. Tennessee
14. Penn State
15. Virginia Tech
16. Auburn
17. Texas Tech
18. Wisconsin
19. Oregon
20. West Virginia
21. Boise State
22. Kansas State
23. Missouri
24. Notre Dame
25. Utah
26. BYU
27. Louisville
28. Boston College
29. TCU
30. Colorado
31. Oregon State
32. Iowa

Four out of the next 5 teams were PAC-10 teams.

From these 32 teams, I would place them in the following divisions:

Boise State
Oregon State

Texas Tech
Kansas State
West Virginia

Ohio State
Penn State
Notre Dame
Virginia Tech
Boston College

Florida State

For fun, I made a schedule and created simulations based on KRACH ratings from this year. Texas Tech usually got the overall #1 seed at the end of the Superleague season in my simulations, but Utah and Alabama also laid claim to that spot. The most frequently relegated teams were Oregon, Colorado, Michigan, Louisville, Kansas State, Tennessee and Auburn.

Download my Excel spreadsheet and play along if you'd like!

1 comment:

vac513 said...

Thanks for warning me! I got to see cute kitties. :)