College football fans are among the loudest voices in America, and the debate for eight has picked up steam this bowl season.
In 2014, the NCAA made the much anticipated switch over from the BCS system to the four-team playoffs. In this new system, a committee would choose the top four teams in the country, seed them, and have them duke it out in the sports most coveted bowls to earn their spot in the National Championship. However, it wasn’t long before fans were clamoring for change yet again. Fueled by the runs made by the University of Central Florida and Ohio State, 2017 presented the fans’ strongest case yet to expand the number of playoff teams from four to eight, adding a quarterfinal round to the postseason.
Sounds like a pretty good plan, right?
Who wouldn’t want more playoff games in arguably one of, if not THE most, exciting sports in America… who wouldn’t want another game like the Rose Bowl we saw on New Years day?
While watching more football will always be a huge pull for the expansion, the NCAA would be foolish to expand to eight teams, and fans need to look past their own viewing pleasure to figure out what is best for college football. In college football’s case, that’s sticking to four teams in the playoff.
There’s some magic in choosing the elite of the elite
First and foremost, the difference between what the College Football Playoffs are doing and what professional league playoffs do is that college football starts out with the four most elite teams in the country.
Despite the controversy, there has always been a certain magic about figuring out the four best teams in the country. The margin of error shrinks down considerably when the amount of teams in the postseason tournament also shrink. As Ohio State fans know all too well, one bad loss can take you out of that conversation in a heartbeat.
So with that in mind, what is the reason to substitute the exclusivity of the postseason for the purpose of accessibility? More teams have access to the playoffs in an eight-team format — but it also takes the exclusiveness of the elites out of the conversation.
Every other sport gives multiple teams the chance to compete for a championship, while college football tells its teams “If you want to make it to the playoffs, you better not lose in the regular season.” There is a sense of urgency to the current system, and the pressure to play mistake-free football for the entire season is what gives us A+ regular season games throughout the season.
Most proponents for expansion propose an eight-team playoff guarantee six playoff spots: the Power 5 conference championship game winners and and the top-ranked Group of 5 school following championship weekend. Most agree that the last two spots are at-large bids. There’s plenty of logic to this proposal.
But what happens when an upset happens in a conference title game — especially if that team wouldn’t otherwise be deserving of a playoff spot? That team would take the spot of a team much more deserving even if the team isn’t valued as one of the best eight teams in the country.
Automatic bids will end up potentially making for an incredibly awkward playoff.
Look back at the Big 10 Championship in 2012: 7-5 Wisconsin throttled 10-2 Nebraska by a score of 70-31. That year, Wisconsin ended up being the Big 10 champions despite losing to Oregon State, Nebraska, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State.
In this hypothetical situation, an expansion does nothing to add more elite teams to the playoffs, and instead takes a spot away from a more deserving team. If a five-loss team is in the playoffs, consider me out.
You can’t argue that Wisconsin proved itself as one of the nation’s top teams. Just look at Urban Meyer and Ohio State, conference champions who were left out of this year’s playoff because the committee clearly valued the Buckeyes’ losses more.
We can’t trade exclusivity for accessibility.
Do we trust the CFP committee?
Many hope a playoff expansion will provide less bias — or at least add more fairness to schools not named Alabama and Ohio State. I mean, six of the eight spots are filled right off the bat and can’t be disputed. But come on, this is college football, and you will never truly find something that everyone agrees on. Debating the unfolding college football season for the impeding playoff will remain the same.
As for bias, it won’t just go away. Do we really expect anything other than the Group of 5 bid to be a No. 6 seed or lower? Do we trust the committee to seed a team like UCF higher instead of assuming it won’t match up to the Power 5 schools?
“Alabama shouldn’t have made it because it didn’t win the SEC championship!” sounds a lot like a future argument that goes something like “USC should have been the No. 5 seed because UCF isn’t even a Power 5 conference!” Six spots might be filled, but the scrutiny will transfer from the first teams left out to the bottom half of the seeding.
I love the idea of watching more football during each bowl season. But, I’m also perfectly content watching the New Years Six bowls as they are — they rarely disappoint. Don’t cram more teams into the playoffs just because people would rather watch a “playoff game” than the “Orange Bowl.”
Let’s keep college football where it is because it really is in a great spot. We’re getting top notch football from opening night to Week 13 and competitive bowl games already without complicating things. The four-team playoff is doing its job; pitting the two best teams in the nation against each other with a championship on the line.