So we're hearing a lot of whisperings about how the impending 4-team college football playoff will go down (I'm taking it as a given at this point that there will be 4 teams involved in some form of playoff/plus-1 starting in 2014). It appears that one of the most contentious issues on the table is whether to include a conference champion requirement (that is, you must be a conference champion to qualify for the playoffs). Several conference commissioners not residing in the former Confederacy favor the requirement. Mike Slive and Stewart Mandel (among probably a host of other sportswriters) oppose it.
Being from Missouri, the home of perhaps the most famous compromise in our nation's history, I am instinctively compelled to seek a middle ground in the face of any divisive argument. I therefore propose the following Brilliant Compromise (okay I'm kidding about the Brilliant part, but I actually think this is a pretty good idea)...
First off, I actually like the idea of requiring playoff participants to be conference champions. It moves the national championship one step closer to being settled on the field, and a step further away from being a beauty contest. It moves the criteria away from some subjective idea of who we all think the best teams are, and towards a set of objective requirements (win your conference championship based on clearly defined criteria in each conference). Of course it doesn't solve everything -- you still have to decide who the "best" four conference champions are (and you have to deal with Notre Dame), but that seems much less contentious than the current situation.
But I also understand that any system that doesn't include the "best" two teams would be a deal-breaker for many, and in cases like this past season just wouldn't pass the laugh test.
So here's what I propose: take the top 4 conference champions, UNLESS the 1st or 2nd ranked team (using whatever ranking system is in place) is not a conference champion. In that case, the wildcard team would bump the 4th ranked conference champ. Note that this is different from having 3 champs and a wildcard. In this case the wildcard would ONLY be eligible if ranked #1-2.
I'd like to think this would satisfy most people on both sides of the issue. We're allowing for a wildcard, but that wildcard would have a higher bar to pass than in most sports. The conference champion requirement would be the rule and would apply in probably 9 of 10 seasons. The wildcard would be the exception and would allow for cases like Alabama in 2011. If the system were in place last year, Alabama would have bumped #10 Wisconsin.
There are other details to sort out. Would the wildcard get the seed corresponding to their ranking, or drop to the 4 seed as a penalty for not winning their conference? What would happen if both 1 and 2 were not conference champs (two wildcards)? How would you account for Notre Dame? I could also consider an argument for relaxing the wildcard ranking threshold (maybe include the top ranked non-champ if ranked in top 4, for example). But those are relatively minor in comparison.
I like it, it seems like a rational compromise, so of course it will never happen (unless Mike Slive is reading this on his way home from KC).