Richard Thaler prefers a playoff system to BCS

Even if you think the tradition of the bowl games is worth preserving, going to an eight-team playoff would help such bowls. Here is how it might work. In an eight-team playoff there are seven games. Give each of the existing bowl games one of the first-round games, played the first weekend in December. These games would attract more attention than any of the nonchampionship BCS games now because they determine who keeps playing. Then rotate the semifinal and final games among various locations, much as is done with the Super Bowl and the NCAA basketball tournament. For traditionalists, restore the championship game to New Year’s Day, thereby shortening the season by a week even for the teams that play in the championship.

This system would not only be attractive to college-football fans, it would also help curtail high-stakes conference-jumping by colleges that want a share of that BCS money. This turmoil is leaving some conferences desperately short of teams. Rumor has it that the Big East has offered a spot to the Sorbonne.

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Comments

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Now you economists are getting reckless.

Sure, economists are being so successful on macroeconomic issues, let them run everything.

Well, calling for a BCS tourney is a good first step in rebuilding their credibility.

Strangley for an economist he does not see the biggest flaw in his system, money.

The problem with a rotating playoff played at neutral sites is that you are asking the fans of a team to travel to as many as 4 different cities all over the country to follow thier team to the final game.

I follow my team to about every bowl game and the cost are pretty big. For a family of 4.

Tickets $300
Flights: $800-$1,200
Hotel: $200-$400
Food: $400

So right there you are looking at about $2,200 for a bowl trip to say the Orange bowl. That is doable once a season but would be pretty tough to do 4 times even for a die hard. And remember the bowls need to put 80k fannies in thier seats to make money. Yes some seats are sold to locals, but a big chunk is based on sellling tickets to the two fan bases. That is why you often see teams with better records get passed over by bowls in favor of teams with big fan bases.

Neither the NFL or FCS use neutral sites for thier playoffs and this is a big reason why. The NCAA basketball tourney does use neutral sites but the combine 4 teams at one site for 3 games and generally only need to sell tickets to 20k seats. I don't see anyway that a

Also Bowls don't want TCU or Boise State or othe small schools because their fans don't buy tickets no matter how good they are. Bowls want big state schools with big loyal fan bases not the conf USA champion.

Finally it is highly likely that a tournament would have to be run by the NCAA who would then control all of the money like they do for the NCAA basketball tournament and Div 1 AA football. The big schools who's fans create all the value don't want to share the revenue with the NCAA and smaller schools.

Edit to my above statements I see that Thaler is only calling for an eight team tourney so their would only be 3 games for a fan to follow, but still that is a big cost.

Right. You're asking, say, Wisconsin fans to travel to San Diego (Poinsetta Bowl), then Atlanta (Peach Bowl), then New Orleans (Sugar Bowl) in three consecutive weeks. And the fans won't even know if their teams are playing until the week before the game, compared to the current bowl system where you know a month ahead of time. People just gloss over this fact, which reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the original purpose of bowls -- as a tourism generator for the home city and state. Bowls will not accept a "solution" that hurts their attendance.

Something I've often remarked upon is that a eight or sixteen team playoff is the unanimous choice of people who don't really like college football. The more devoted a fan you are, the less likely you are to support the multi-team playoff.

There is plenty of silliness to go around. People whine about the extra games, but nevermind the 3 or 4 fillers at the beginning of the season where people play schools that travel...the band.

"Something I’ve often remarked upon is that a eight or sixteen team playoff is the unanimous choice of people who don’t really like college football. The more devoted a fan you are, the less likely you are to support the multi-team playoff."

Yep I totally agree with this phenomenon. Casual fans who watch on TV but don't buy season ticket or travel to bowls or even follow one team are the most vocal for a big playoff.

To me the simple solution that could work is just to have a plus one game at the end of the season. That does the least damage to the current system and solves 90% of the problems with the current system.

The other reform that I think would help would be to take the change the BCS powls from computer and human based to a simple formula that ranked teams without any subjectivitiy. Would it be flawed? Yes, but it would simply be a way to keep score and everyone would know at the start of the season the rules that determined who were the final 4 teams.

Sort of agree, but for the definition of people that like football being those that care about the details. I like the on-the-field football, I don't care much about the inside baseball. Yes, some things would change. Some oxes would be gored, but overall, aggregate revenue would almost certainly increase as the "bowl" games would go from meaningless to everyone to meaningful to everyone.

I'd like Thaler to spend some time on the nudging. The biggest nudge in years is this LSU vs Bama rematch fiasco. I think that is going to kick a lot of people off the fence. Between the +1 (then +2, then...), home field advantage, conference autobids, etc. there is plenty of smooth transition potential. Your conference game is the first game of the playoff, the national champ is the last game. Nothing changed thus far. In-between is the +1 and that's no problem. People will be happy to be there. Beyond that ditch two filler games noone cares about in return for one game that means something regionally located. This is compared to bowl games that have people from the East Coast traveling to Boise and Miami. Currently, so many games mean nothing. After you lose one game, you are mostly out of the national championship running (if you aren't from the SEC, that is) and there is nothing additional to play for except the conference championship. There is a lot on the pro side. A real analysis would be nice.

Really I think consolidation of the conferences is the easiest transition to playoff.

If you just have 4 major 16 team conferences then the championship can be the first round of the playoff, followed by a bowl season as the second round and a plus one as the final round.

Andrew,

If Ohio fans don't want to travel to Boise in December rhey should play better. I don't think a playoff would have helped that. The Humanitarian Bowl, ohh sorry the Famous Potato Bowl, is even considered a boobie prize in the WAC. Rejiggering the BCS to a playoff would do nothing for schools like Ohio and Utah State, either they would keep fighting to play on the in tropical weather on smurf turf, or they would do even worse and these sorts of consolation bowls would dry up.

I don't think a bowl system helps that per se, but it's probably not worse. In a +1 there is no difference. However you could have something like regional 'super-conferences' so you'll travel to closer bowl sites. So, the only difference is you now know which bowls you might be going to rather than often having no clue.

Well unless you're the devoted fan of a team that isn't in a BCS conference...

I mean, you solved your own problem by talking about getting rid of neutral sites (and in all reality, some sites are more neutral than others). And you eluded to why there would be resistance to this, by commenting on the money that these bowls bring in. But that has nothing to do with football.

Isn't the problem, though, that the only people interested in even supposedly high profile bowl games are dedicated fans of the two teams? Even as a serious college football fan, I have trouble watching a lot of the garbage match-ups that the bowl committees put together just for the sake of having teams with well-traveling fan bases. Of course, when nothing is riding on the outcome of the game, the bowls do need something to drive ticket sales. Fan affinity is about all there is for the irrelevant bowls.

A playoff system would not need to rely on fan affinity, because the match-ups would be more compelling and, most importantly, the outcomes would matter. Since these games would appeal to a much broader audience, ticket sales would be no problem and television revenue would be higher. Am I missing something?

I think ticket sales would be a problem for the early round of an 8 or 16 team playoff. Heck ticket sales are difficult for the conf championship games some years (Like when Wake Forest played in the ACC championship game) and they are located regionally and you can't argue that they don't mean something.

I think the TV revenue would likely be better for semifinals as interest from casual fans would be greater. I don't think the final game would change as far as TV revenue or attendance and the early rounds of a playoff might likely be worse for TV revenue.

How jazzed do you get to watch the NFL wildcard game if you don't have a dog in the fight? How much interest would you have in watching LSU play Southern Miss (conf USA champion)?

An ACC championship game featuring Wake Forest does not mean anything. The teams involved are not in the running for the national championship and no one but Wake Forest fans care what second-tier irrelevant bowl game it goes to. By contrast, a round of 16 game in a playoff would involve teams that a chance to win a national championship. This makes all the difference.

The other thing that needs to be taken into consideration is that, while bowl games are currently held during weekdays--even days in the middle of the week--the playoff games could be held on weekends. This greatly increases the number of people who are able to travel to attend the game. Under the current system, if your bowl game is held on a Tuesday, you might miss three days of work to go see it. If the game were held on a Saturday instead, you could leave work early Friday and come back on Sunday. (Yes, I realize there would be competition from the NFL schedule).

I hate to admit it, but I do get jazzed up to watch NFL wildcard games. Superbowl champions can be forged on wildcard Saturdays and Sundays and every game counts. Also, if there were a playoff and the top 16 teams were invited, LSU you would be playing a team like Baylor or TCU. Either would be a compelling match-up in my opinion. Hell, even Southern Miss would be compelling if the winner advanced one-step closer to the national championship game.

The prospect of three or four road games would kill the sport. How man cheerleaders, band members, trainers want to give up their December to hang around a dead campus so that they can travel to a first round playoff game. The first two rounds of march madness have lousy crowds. The stands look like holiday tournaments with mianly empty seats. Schools like Southern Mississippi, Boise St, etc or even West Virginia would probably leave the band and dance team behind when faced with funding four road games.

Most schools lose money on bowl games. If a school does not stand a real chance of making it to the final game, the school would lose money on everyround.

How many fans are going to travel to San Diego or San Antonio to watch a first round game a week before two week before Christmas.

Also, a playoff system would mean that the WAC, MWC, MAC, Conference, and Sunbelt confernece schools would need to move down to I-AA (old term) or give up football.

Start an eight team playoff and there will soon be less than 64 schools in Division I and then who would Alabama or Florida schedule when there is no more La Tech or Troy?

I hate to say itbut the BCS system has for the most part worked these past few years, and with the development of true market segmentation and a competitive Championship among Football schools the conferences have needed a shakeup anyway.

Especially in the intermountain, great plains and Texas, the old system was based on a very different social world, the days where UT or A&M would be content to play in a tiny little sandbox like the SWC were gone thirty years ago. And for schools like, the hugely overrated, BSU it was a straightjacket.

I think you also have to look at increased mobility of Alumni into other parts of the country. That really changes the media market. And Finally I don't see what is in this for the teams either, whining about unfairness is a huge part of being a college fan, and even though I never went to an SEC school, I am finding it pretty funny watching the old Big-10/Pac-10 crowd whining about how the system is broken.

But I love the majesty and tradition of the Bob's Big Boy Burrito Bowl.

Yes, this would be much better.

Any playoff system should build off of the conference championships that are emerging as significant revenue generators - and recognize their value...

So why not have...

Six conference champions automatically in and getting a bye for the first round...

4 teams from the "outside" would play the week after conference championship weekend for the remaining two slots...

I would try and return the New Years day bowls to their historic importance by playing the first round of games - 4 on New Years day - Rose, Sugar, Orange and Cotton [all would be great sites if the Cotton used Jerry's world]

The Fiesta bowl and Gator would get the semifinal round a week or more later [a variation on my plan would rotate the six bowls across the two rounds - but I like having the big four bowls back on NYD]

The final game would be a week after that - might be rotated among the four NYD sites -

My approach would avoid the rematch of LSU and Alabama that mars this years BCS Bowl - unless you allow one of the "play-in" teams to come from a conference with a championship...

"My approach would avoid the rematch of LSU and Alabama that mars this years BCS Bowl – unless you allow one of the “play-in” teams to come from a conference with a championship…"

Rematches are an inevitable part of playoff systems. This year's rematch is startling in the BCS era because of its rarity. In an 8 or 16 team playoff, there'd be a rematch somewhere almost every year. For instance, under your conference champions only plan, it's true that LSU wouldn't have to replay Bama. But LSU would end up having to replay either Oregon or WVU, both of whom they beat way worse than they beat Bama. Is that really any better?

The problem with this year's rematch is because the system is built on the assumption that all wins are the same until we need to determine tiebreakers. And the tiebreaker here is that LSU already beat Bama, and if you then arbitrarily jump to strength of schedule, that doesn't save Bama either.

Under a playoff system, we don't have to make the same assumptions, and thus can formalize that any one game doesn't prove anything. As a friend once said, the purpose is to crown a champion not determine the best team. The problem with current system is the champion is crowned by non-football considerations.

You would also likely get rid of the out-of-conference games during the regular season as there is no need for them in a playoff.

No argument on the "non-football considerations" playing a disgustingly large part in this years' selection. If you took this year's Alabama team and this year's OSU team, kept the talent and resumes the same, and flipped the logos, OSU would be going to the championship. Pollsters irrationally bumped Alabama because of the history and the Bear and the national championships in the 70s. Crazy.

"As a friend once said, the purpose is to crown a champion not determine the best team."
And I have no problem with playoff proponents who admit that a playoff is essentially arbitrary. Too many people seem to believe that, if you win a playoff (however it's designed), you are the "best team," QED.

For all the criticism, the BCS has this year's game right- LSU and Alabama are the two best teams.

In any case, you don't need to go deeper than a 4 team playoff to pretty much solve the criticisms as they stand today.

But we "know" LSU is better than Alabama (because all we have to judge is the game) and we don't "know" if the SEC is better than the Big 12 or Boise State, et. al. The problem with this game is we've already played it under the principles of this system or many of the proposed playoffs. You still aren't absolutely sure after a game, but that's a more solid assumption than predicting the performance of such a game. Because, if Alabama beats LSU did we learn something from a Bayesian perspective, or did we just learn what we already knew about "any given Saturday"?

Oh I think we KNOW LSU is better than Boise State. That LSU-Alabama game was a very good game, I'm looking forward to seeing that particular rematch.

I hope that is sarcasm. Only Alabama fans want to see a 9-6 game replayed. For the rest of us, it just shows how an algorithm should not displace matters of subjective human judgment.

All I can say is that I don't care to ever "know" who the best team is, I just want to see the best game, and that is Alabama vs LSU.

Would a playoff take significant numbers of injured players out of the championship game? Would a conference championship at the beginning of December and then two or three win-or-go-home rounds against high quality teams produce a couple of bruised teams showing up on New Year's Day missing some of the season's starters? Would the ability to recruit a deep roster become more important?

Or even players taking themselves out of the playoffs? If you were a sure first-round NFL draft pick, with a million dollars or more guaranteed, how eager would you be to face three more games with the chance of blowing out a knee? At some point the precedent would get set, and then the stars would drop out left and right.

Bowls have been played since 1930 or so. I doubt there's one example, in all that time, where a player has voluntarily held himself out of a major bowl for the purposes of keeping his NFL draft stock high or fear of injury.

Please extend the playing season for our best football teams right into the end of the semester when major projects are due and exams need to be prepared for. Young people need to learn once and for all that you can be a student, or you can be an athlete, but never both at the same time.

A +1 format is just fine (in nearly all years, #5 and below really do not have a fair claim to the championship). But, it seems to me that the NCAA, or the mega-conferences through the NCAA, should eliminate the bowls completely from the championship playoff. Little risk exists that games pitting the top four against each other will lose money. The conferences already know how to put on big games, so why not eliminate the middlemen and then let the bowls pick the match-ups from #5 and below that make financial sense to them in accordance with their traditional conference tie-ins?

Screw the BCS, and screw the bowls. Run it like the English football league system.

amen

Here, here. I'm confident there will be college football playoffs in my lifetime, people just need to remove their heads from wherever they've stuck them, put said heads together, and figure out how everyone can play along, make money, and be happy.800 numbers. Though, if the BCS were to collapse, Mack Brown wouldn't have anywhere to spew his incessant vitriol (except when it works for him because he gets on his knees *cough* 2004 *cough*).

What happens if we have a playoff with 8 teams (or 16 teams) and conference champions are guaranteed a spot? If I am the SEC, I split my conference into 2 conferences or lobby to have the SEC East Champion represented and the SEC West Champion represented. There is no way I am sharing my potential revenue with Arkansas State or Northern Illinois when they can't generate 15,000 fans for a home game.

If you look at the history of disputes over who deserved to be the #1 college football team, it's easy to see that a FOUR team playoff would be sufficient.

Actually, much of this can be done and still keep the tradition and money into the equation.

So let's do what is described -- but let's quit pretending we need to see teams. Let's keep some tradition in line afterall and make traveling for the fans much better.

The 8 team, 3 week playoff can all be played on Saturdays. If you like, keep all of the 2nd tier bowls and allow them to play during the week like they are now. Fans of those teams, and fans in general can watch those games and know they don't matter -- just as they really don't now.

The first round consists of 4 games:

The Rose Bowl -- played between the Big 10/Pac 10 Champs (as is its tradition)
The Cotton Bowl - played between the Big 12 champ and and western most At-Large
The Gator Bowl (or Orange)-- played Between the SEC and ACC Champs
The Peach Bowl (atlanta) played between the Big East Champ and Eastern most at-large.

Round 2:

The Fiesta Bowl: Rose Bowl vs Cotton Bowl winners
The Sugar Bowl: Gator and Peach Bowl Winners

Round 3:

New Year's Day: either rotate this -- OR, give it back to the Rose Bowl so you can keep the tradition of the Tournament of Roses Parade.

Also, an additional benefit of this is that if you win your conference, you're guaranteed a chance at a national championship opportunity. Thus, the 3 or 4 games prior to conference season matters little, which will open teams up to instead of playing easy wins, can schedule higher profile/revenue games that will be much more fun for fans.

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