The College Football Playoff Needs to Expand to 8 Teams, and Here’s How They Should Do It
Ever since the inception of the College Football Playoff in 2014, there have been controversies surrounding how teams are selected to participate for the National Championship Game. The BCS System had become archaic and inconsistent to what the human eye perceived as being the best two teams in the country, so the four-team playoff was created to take the guesswork out of the selection process and focused the efforts of the committee on finding the four best teams in the country. This seemed easy to accomplish: find the four best teams and put them in a bracket, so that no one gets left out like the old BCS system would consistently do.
The problem is, however, that every year since the playoff system was first used, there have been more than four teams deserving to compete for the national championship. In 2014, TCU was dropped from 3rd to 6th in the final rankings, even with a 55-3 win on the final week of the regular season over Iowa State. In 2015, previously undefeated Iowa lost their conference championship game, and in turn, were dropped to 5th in the final rankings. They were still one of the best teams in the country, and the Big 10 Champion, Michigan State, went on to get shut out by Alabama in the Cotton Bowl. In 2016, Big 10 Champion Penn State was left out of the field behind Ohio State, who did not win their division in Big 10 play and had a loss to Penn State in the regular season. In 2017, Alabama was selected over the Big 10 Champion Ohio State, as well as a Central Florida team that was the only undefeated team in college football at season’s end.
The playoff committee has a definite problem on their hands: how do they pick the best four teams when there are potentially 6-8 deserving teams every season?
There’s an easy answer to that question that will make most people happy, whether it be TV executives, fans, analysts, conference commissioners, and athletic directors alike: put an eight-team playoff together.
The format is simple: Take the five Power 5 conference champions, 2 at large teams from any conference, and the highest ranked Group-of-5 team. The Power 5 Champions will be locked into the top 5 seeds (the top 4 seeds would host their first-round games), with the other 3 teams being seeded based on the final CFP rankings. To illustrate how this would look in the 2017 season, here’s the projected matchups based on the final rankings released Sunday afternoon.
#8 UCF vs. #1 Clemson (in Clemson, SC)
#5 USC vs. #4 Ohio State (in Columbus, OH)
#6 Alabama vs. #3 Georgia (in Athens, GA)
#7 Wisconsin vs. #2 Oklahoma (in Norman, OK)
Having those first-round games on campus sites rewards the best of the best teams with another home game against a marquee opponent, meaning a large amount of potential revenue for local business owners. The small conferences also get representation to prove themselves on the biggest stage of college football, and can potentially spark a Cinderella run akin to its basketball counterpart. The Group-of-5 teams have been clamoring for a chance to prove themselves to the nation, and Central Florida taking an undefeated record into Death Valley to play Clemson garners national exposure for UCF, which will help their recruiting efforts in the long-run, as well as giving them that opportunity to show what they’re made of against teams that they wouldn’t get to normally play.
Granted, the group that is the College Football Playoff committee would probably never go for an increase in playoff games due to the optics of being all-inclusive and “easy” to get into the playoff, as well as probably having to reduce the amount of regular-season contests that teams can play to not have the season drag on too long, as well as not playing a total of 16 games in the season, which gets to a scheduling level that is similar to the NFL. However, those scheduling issues can be dealt with relatively easily by rolling out these changes in a few seasons so that currently existing game contracts don’t have to be canceled.
All in all, this eight-team system caters to the masses that were upset that their team didn’t make the playoff. Finding a way to satisfy everyone isn’t the business that the committee should be in, but an easy change that makes everyone happy that can also be beneficial to the competitive balance of the sport should at least be considered by the decision-makers of college football. The sport would benefit from a change that brings more people closer to their team winning a national title, as well as increasing the parity that currently exists in the sport. Parity is always good for ratings, so the committee should really take the eight-team-playoff dynamic into consideration.