Why an 8-team Playoff Will Save College Football

Fans have been clamoring for a college football playoff for years.  The BCS did a poor job of giving teams a chance at a true national championship.  The 4-team playoff has not done much better.  It has routinely excluded conference champions, excluded many really good football teams, and ultimately has become system that employs beauty pagent criteria to get access.  If you are not a blue-blood program without any flaws, you have no chance to win it on the field.  Lose an early game…you are out.  Suffer a critical injury at a core position, you might be left out even if you are playing amazing football by the end of the season.

Ultimately, in the current system, teams outside of Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State are routinely left out despite an incredible season.  The effects of this can be seen around the country as teams with a realistic playoff aspiration are seeing significant drop offs in fan interest after they suffer a first loss, and recognize they have zero chance with two losses.

Look at these five reasons to expand to 8 teams, you will see how important this move will be for college football.

  1. Schedules are set too far in advance.
  2. Conference Championships really only thing a team controls year-to-year.
  3. Injuries can keep out deserving teams.
  4. Flukely plays and/or bad officiating could keep a team out.
  5. Home Field is an enormous benefit.
  6. More teams in the running in November.
  7. Criteria are inconsistently applied
  1. Schedules are set too far in advance.

Non-Conference games played in 2019 were likely scheduled sometime between 2006 and 2012.  Are the power programs today the same as they were in those years?  Can you predict how good a Power 5 team will be 7 to 13 years (or more) in advance.  Judging a program’s success by the strength of that Non-Conference schedule makes little logical sense, because it is not like the school could predict the “strength” at the time it was schedule.

  • Conference Championships really only thing a team controls year-to-year.

The only item in the control of a team each year is to win its games.  Ultimately, for every team, in every conference, one of their main goals each season is to win their conference.  That accomplishment alone should be sufficient to get a Power 5 team into the CFP.  The beauty pagent conversations of the CPF Committee (which we discuss further below) should not be allowed to override a conference championship.

  • Injuries can keep out deserving teams.

Take a look at Tua’s recent injury.  If Alabama had lost a close game which was missed by their star QB, shouldn’t they still have an opportunity to be considered if he was healthy come playoff time? Under the current format, there would be little chance to that to occur.

  • Flukey plays and/or bad officiating could keep a team out.

Do we really want a team left out of the CFP with a bad call or a flukey play?  Yes, I recognize that this could occur at any level, no matter how many teams we put into the CFP.  However, an expansion to 8 teams would give an aggrieved team the opportunity to overcome a hiccup, something that does not exist in the current format.

  • Home Field is an enormous benefit.

A common complaint against expanding the playoff, is that it would make games less meaningful.  To the contrary, I think it would make the games MORE meaningful.  Teams would be battling for home field in the Quarterfinals all the way through the conference championship games.  We have seen situations where it has been clear that a team may be in the CFP, even with a loss in the championship (or conversely, eliminated even with a close loss).  The distinction between playing at home or traveling across the country to another power school would keep the stakes high.

  • More teams in the running in November.

A team with two losses currently has no chance to get into the CFP.  For some of the reasons set forth above, you can see that could unfairly penalize a team.  If you look at the Top 25 right now, there are probably a dozen teams who could reasonably have a chance to make an 8 team playoff that would have zero chance to make a 4 team playoff.  As currently situated today, there are really only about 8 teams with a chance:  Ohio State, Clemson, LSU, Georgia, Alabama, Oregon, Utah and Oklahoma.  You might be able to make arguments for a few others, but it would take a lot of upsets. In an 8 team playoff, you would still see a path to the playoff for: Baylor, Penn State, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida, Notre Dame and Auburn.  This basically doubles the pool of candidates and sets up critical games down the stretch as we head to rivalry week.  The importance of this breadth and diversity cannot be overstated since it will allow many programs to see a viable route to the program even when they understand that likelihood of finishing in the Top 4 is not a realistic goal.

  • Conference Championship games frequently lack energy

So now let’s look at the actual selection process.  My proposal is for 8 teams, rewarding all 5 Power Conference Champions with a bid.  This ensures that all Conference Championships mean something.  On the rare occasion that a truly “undeserving” team wins the championship, so what? They become an underdog and a darling and maybe they make a run!  The Group of 5 teams would have a spot reserved for them as long as the highest ranked team in that group is in the Top 12 (or Top 15).  I don’t think anyone minds seeing a Central Florida take a spot in the tournament, but nobody wants to see a three loss Group of 5 team ranked 20th or worse taking up a valuable spot.

  • Criteria are inconsistently applied.

When you look at the way the committee approaches the conversation, you essentially see three distinct conversations:

  • Body of Work—Your body of work can only be as good as your schedule.  So these all relate to each other, but sometimes a school just wins and wins and wins, but may not look as impressive.  Does that team deserved to be excluded because they do not blow out every opponent?  Put them on the field and they will just win games…and they should get that chance.
  • Best Win—another function of the schedule. Not only your schedule, but the schedule of an opponent.  Beat a really good team who has beaten nobody else and you will get little credit, no matter how good that team is.  Beat a mediocre team that has a win over another mediocre team  (i.e. overrated in preseason polls) and you will jump up the charts.
  • Worst Loss—If multiple teams have one loss, is the primary consideration who they lost to?  Or who else they have beaten?  This year, Georgia has a terrible, home loss to South Carolina.   Alabama has a close home loss to LSU.  Georgia’s loss is clearly worse, but they are rated higher due to wins over Florida, Notre Dame and Auburn.  The committee flip flops every year on how they apply this criteria.
  • Strength of Schedule—Subject to the same problem noted above based on how far the games are scheduled in advance.

Ultimately, the expansion to 8 will be great for college football.  What used to be the best college sports season out there, has now largely been reduced to watching which team between Alabama, Ohio State or Clemson can run up the score the highest.  That is not a sustainable model.

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