If you’re a diehard college football fan like myself, you are no doubt paying very close attention to what’s happening on Tuesday nights on ESPN when the college football playoff committee announces the top 25 teams in the nation.
For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, the college football championship game was previously determined via a combination of using computer models and polls in a system called the BCS throughout the 21st century until 2013.
The system was criticized for being motivated by profits which prevented smaller schools a fair chance at playing in the championship or the other four biggest bowl games of the college football postseason.
Others complained that the system didn’t factor in strength of schedule so a team could play a season against bad teams and because they’re undefeated they would get in over a team that had one loss in a season where they played a stronger schedule.
The result was people calling for a playoff system that would include a human element which would oversee the flaws of having a computer system that can’t factor in all the elements that go into football like how/when a team loses, strength of schedule and other factors such as those. What began in 2014 was the college football playoff committee which consisted of athletic directors from around the country along with former NCAA officials, reporters and university presidents.
Each member remains on the committee for three years and then replaced along with the committee’s chair who also rotates. This ensures that all five power conferences – ACC, Big 12, Big 10, PAC-12 and SEC – are represented and rotation ensures no longtime invested interests pollute the decision making.
The committee has turned the college football season into a vastly more interesting and talked-about spectacle as every week starting in late October, the committee announces their top 25 after pouring over binders-full of advanced statistics and considering things like strength of schedule and conference championships. The top four teams make the playoffs to compete for the national championship while the others are left to compete in the other bowl games.
This system is undoubtedly better than the BCS system despite many fan bases being unhappy with perceived, and perhaps true, biases towards bigger brands. While it is a better system, that doesn’t mean it is the best system.
One of the more unique problems that have arisen due to the committee’s human subjectivity, the same thing that allows for more flexibility in which teams get in, is the fact that it seems like a team is more likely to get in if they lose earlier in the season rather than later.
This is a problem because teams like the 2014 Ohio State team had a bad loss to an unranked Virginia Tech team early in the season but due to a good stretch late in the season, they were put in over Baylor and TCU. The move was questioned by many all over the country outside of Ohio.
Financially, four teams doesn’t guarantee all power five conferences will have a conference which obviously does not sit well with those atop the conference should they miss out. Some would say that they should develop better teams in that case but how much can a conference’s commissioner really affect that?
The proposal has been put forward to expand the number of teams that compete in the playoffs to eight to address these concerns. While that may sound good on the surface, there is one big problem with doubling the number of contenders.
Having nearly the entire top ten make the playoffs would eliminate the drama of seeing the committee take in legitimate arguments for multiple teams earning one of the few spots to make the playoffs and interpret it into a final decision.
If we were to expand that number too greatly, the drama would disappear. College football is still in a place where when a team loses, even if it is early in the season, it severely hampers their chances of making the playoffs. If an eight-team playoff were to be implemented, losses would lose all their significance.
You may say that one loss would put greater emphasis on the team to win out as they surely would drop out of the top eight with two losses but that’s not true. 2014 and 2015 both saw two teams with two losses in the top eight and last year had three teams with two losses and one with three losses.
So expanding it to such a high amount of teams dilutes the importance of the regular season by a good amount. People regularly complain about the consistency of Alabama’s dominance and how they are bored from it. That disdain for Alabama makes every time they’re upset more exciting because it means it’s very possible they won’t make the playoffs. If it were an eight-team playoff, that would no longer be the case.
So the way to expand the playoffs but still keep the excitement of the regular season is to expand the playoffs but only to six teams. This way the each power five conference gets their champion in the playoffs and there is one at-large bid remaining.
The at-large bid is an important added bonus because should there be a good team from a power five conference that barely misses out on the playoffs should it stay at four can get in. It also allows smaller conferences like the AAC to see their champion make it if they finish the season undefeated. This would eliminate any big-brand bias the committee has been accused of.
This would also reward the best teams in the nation as the top two seeds would get a bye week while the third through sixth seeds play each other. The toll of adding an extra game is a big ask of the players given the grueling nature of the game so there would be two possibilities to handle that.
The first is adding another bye week to the team’s regular season while the second would be to space out the playoff games in a way to ensure quality rest for the players. Both would require an extension of the college football season but I doubt any sports fan would have a problem with that.
The masses are correct that the way to build on an already good idea is playoff expansion but they need to rethink how big that expansion needs to be. Eight teams would kill most of the drama surrounding the playoff system and regular season that makes it so great. Six teams would be the perfect amount to include all teams that have proven themselves to be the best in the nation yet ensure the atmosphere surrounding the playoffs remains the same.
Tad Desai covers sports and education for The Sealy News. He can be reached at 979-885-3562 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.