The College Football Playoff could use a facelift. The folks at Black Shoe Diaries have taken up the task of figuring out how many teams is the right amount of teams. Today, we look at six.
Seven seasons have gone by, and if you’re not an Alabama or Clemson fan, the College Football Playoff (CFP) has probably left you with as many questions as it has answers. The system that was supposed to solve all of the BCS’s problems has seemingly created its own. There hasn’t been a season without either Alabama or Clemson appearing, and for five of those seven seasons (that’s more than 70 percent), both teams have appeared. The CFP is starting to be more of a “Picking Clemson and Alabama’s Opponents”-off than an actual playoff. Some of that is merited, since both teams are at their peaks right now, but some of it is not.
The biggest qualm with the College Football Playoff so far has been that it doesn’t include the champions from every conference. Expanding from two to four was great, as it has given the opportunity to see teams that would have otherwise missed the cut in the old system. Furthermore, in the seven seasons there has been a playoff, four have included at least one team that was ranked third or fourth. In 2018, the championship, as a matter of fact, was between No. 3 Georgia and No. 4 Alabama*. In the BCS, that wouldn’t have even been a bowl game matchup!
As fun as it is to reminisce about how much better things have been under the playoff, there’s an undeniable fact that’s as giant as the elephant in the room: The College Football Playoff is still too exclusive a club. When there isn’t a clear cut line between the haves and have nots, reputation, and not accomplishments, play a big part in who gets in. Who can forget the first CFP season, where eventual champion Ohio State leapfrogged both Baylor and TCU in a week, to snatch that No. 4 spot from the co-Big 12 Champions? What about 2016, when Ohio State leapfrogged Big Ten Champion Penn State? Remember that 2018 game between Alabama and Georgia? That only happened because Alabama leapfrogged the aforementioned Ohio State, as well as undefeated UCF, to get that spot.
If you’re starting to see a pattern, it’s because there is one: There is no guarantee that having a great season, on its own, is enough to get you into the playoff. So let’s remedy that. The champions from every conference get a bid, and an at large team, whether it’s the highest group of five or a power five with a great season, takes the last spot.
This solves the biggest problem with the playoff today: As it stands, winning your conference doesn’t mean anything. Ask the aforementioned TCU, Penn State, and Baylor. You could even ask Ohio State the two seasons it got left out. By having a guaranteed path to the playoff, teams from every major conference know exactly what to do: Win your conference.
Once the top teams from each conference are selected, a team that’s had a great season then gets the chance at redemption if circumstance (or an untimely loss), kept it from getting that championship bid. In the case of a group of five team having a great season, they now have a more realistic shot at a championship.
If we looked back at some of the previous seven seasons, most of the gripes would have gone away with a six-team playoff. Both Baylor and TCU would have made it in 2014, along with Ohio State. Penn State, and any of Michigan, Oklahoma, or Wisconsin could have joined the party in 2016. Maybe Iowa fares better against Oklahoma than it did Stanford in 2015, and likewise, Maybe Stanford is a better matchup for Michigan State. UCF would have had its chance in 2017 and 2018!
It’s undeniable that the College Football Playoff has created more pathways for a championship than ever before. But its current iteration is still too restrictive. Expanding the field to six allows all Power 5 champions to get in, while also giving an opportunity to another team who had a great season the chance to prove it on the field. That’s why we play the games, right?
*Alabama benefits, no matter what.