Jim Delany’s Playoff Plan Makes No Sense

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The four best teams should play in college football’s playoff. 


End of story.

Anything else is needlessly complicated and likely to end in stupidity.

Which brings me to Jim Delany’s new “hybrid” playoff plan. You take the three highest ranked conference champs in the top six and then if there isn’t another conference champ you take the highest rated non-conference champ.  

Just stop. 

Right now. 

Delany’s plan is designed to keep the SEC from getting two teams in to the playoff, but his “plan” also sabotages the regular season and needlessly complicates the playoff process. 

And for what?

The fiction that if you don’t win your conference championship you shouldn’t be able to compete for a national title.

It’s a backhanded attempted slap at Alabama’s title last year. A petty retrograde action from a man whose petty, retrograde actions are legion.

There are lots of stupid arguments that sports fans trot out as a faux logical checkmates, but arguing that if you don’t win your conference you shouldn’t be able to play for the national title is the dumbest. 

Because it’s only applied in college football. Tons of NCAA tournament champs haven’t won their conferences, lots of Super Bowl champs haven’t won their divisions, the same holds true with Major League Baseball, the NHL, and the NBA. 

That’s what a playoff is, a gathering of the best teams in a tournament.

If you believe that a team that didn’t win it’s conference (or division) shouldn’t be able to win a title, fine, but that means that you also have to argue that the way the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, and NCAA tournament award championships is flawed.

You should also plan on attacking every high school state tournament in the country. 

You should never be able to win a state title without winnning your regular season division, right?

At least be consistent in your awful argument.  

You have to be good enough to make the playoff, but once you’re there all of the best teams start on equal footing.

But Delany’s “plan” doesn’t even manage that.   

In fact, here’s a tally of what the four team playoff would have looked like since 1998. As you can see, the BCS rankings work pretty well when it comes to selecting the top four teams.  

I think a modified BCS standings is the best possible way to select the four teams for a playoff. 

What’s more, it’s actually pretty even and fair: SEC would lead conferences with 14 teams, the Big 12 would have 13, the Big Ten would have ten teams, the Pac 12 would have ten, the ACC would have eight, and the Big East would have one team.

So what happens if you apply Delany’s top six formula using existing conference affiliation:

Nothing changes in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007, and 2009.

That is in nine years the teams would be the exact same.  

Delany’s system seems to provide a solid result in 2004 when USC, Oklahoma and Auburn are 1,2,3 and Texas is number four. Only, you guessed it, Texas didn’t win its conference. And neither did California at five, so you take undefeated Utah at six.

This looks good on paper, but remember that Utah is now in the Pac 12 so it wouldn’t be possible for Utah and USC to advance — one would have won the conference — so in the present day system you’d still end up with Texas. 

So, nothing changes in 2004.

The first time Delany’s plan makes a difference in the BCS era is in 2005 when you’d take USC, Texas, Penn State, and instead of Ohio State at the four spot or Oregon in the five spot, you jump 9-2 Notre Dame in to the playoff. Notre Dame, the team that, you know already lost to USC and didn’t win any conference title at all.

The outrage at Ohio State and Oregon would have been palpable.  

In 2006 you take Ohio State and Florida as your number one and two teams, but then skip over Michigan and LSU at three and four to select USC and Louisville. 


Can you imagine how angry Michigan and LSU fans would have been over this?

In 2008, you’d have Oklahoma and Florida playing for the title, but then you’d skip Texas and Alabama in favor of USC and Utah. Only, you guessed it, that scenario doesn’t happen in today’s era. You’d take either USC or Utah since they’re both in the Pac 12 and then bounce back up to take Texas. 

Alabama would have been screwed out of a playoff spot in 2008.

In 2009 things get complicated, nothing would have changed using the then-existing 2009 conference affilations, you’d have a playoff featuring Alabama, Texas, Cincinnati, and TCU. But with TCU now in the Big 12, this couldn’t happen since Texas and TCU are both in the Big 12, so you’d bounce down to Florida at five, but the Gators lost the SEC title to Alabama, so you’d go to Boise State at six, but Boise State and Cincinnati couldn’t both be there since they’re now both in the Big East. So you’d bounce back up to TCU and the top four would still go.

Yep, nothing changes even after all this sturm and drang.  

In 2010, Stanford loses its spot to Wisconsin. 

In 2011, Oregon goes instead of the higher ranked Stanford. If Boise State had managed to advance to six instead of seven then the Crimson Tide would have lost its spot in the playoff to a one-loss Boise State team.

So in nine of the 14 BCS years, Delany’s plan changes nothing at all. (You can also argue that voters would have placed Oregon above Stanford in 2011’s polls in which case ten of the 14 years would have had no changes at all). But in five of those years it needlessly complicates the system without “righting” a single extreme wrong in the system. In particular, the inclusion of Notre Dame in 2005 and the odd result in 2006 when the number three and four teams are excluded from the playoff in favor of two less accomplished teams, would have been incredibly controversial.

And probably unfair.

So far no team ranked number two has lost a spot in Delany’s playoff, but Alabama would have come close in 2011.

And eventually it would happen. 

In totality Delany’s plan is more complicated and gives us worse results. Congress excluded, we tend not to adopt plans such as these.      

What’s the net impact of Delany’s plan on playoff spots by conference? The SEC loses two spots, the Big Ten loses one spot, the Pac 12 picks up one spot, and the Big East notches an additional spot. 

Put simply, this playoff plan makes no sense as a compromise between the top four teams and only conference champs. 

The only way to set up the best possible playoff is to select the top four teams regardless of conference affiliation and eliminate the unnecessary complexity.

We already having a ranking system that has been proven to work over the past 14 years, why pick one that’s worse? 

Written by Clay Travis

Clay Travis is the founder of the fastest growing national multimedia platform, OutKick, that produces and distributes engaging content across sports and pop culture to millions of fans across the country. OutKick was created by Travis in 2011 and sold to the Fox Corporation in 2021.

One of the most electrifying and outspoken personalities in the industry, Travis hosts OutKick The Show where he provides his unfiltered opinion on the most compelling headlines throughout sports, culture, and politics. He also makes regular appearances on FOX News Media as a contributor providing analysis on a variety of subjects ranging from sports news to the cultural landscape. Throughout the college football season, Travis is on Big Noon Kickoff for Fox Sports breaking down the game and the latest storylines.

Additionally, Travis serves as a co-host of The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show, a three-hour conservative radio talk program syndicated across Premiere Networks radio stations nationwide.

Previously, he launched OutKick The Coverage on Fox Sports Radio that included interviews and listener interactions and was on Fox Sports Bet for four years. Additionally, Travis started an iHeartRadio Original Podcast called Wins & Losses that featured in-depth conversations with the biggest names in sports.

Travis is a graduate of George Washington University as well as Vanderbilt Law School. Based in Nashville, he is the author of Dixieland Delight, On Rocky Top, and Republicans Buy Sneakers Too.


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