Should College Football Playoffs Expand? (Flavor of the Week)

Should College Football Playoffs Expand?

Well this article took a little longer to write than I expected but you’re not here to read about my creative issues. It seems that for well over a decade, since an undefeated Auburn was left out of the National Title game preceded by a season in which LSU took the BCS title in the same year USC was awarded the AP throne, fans have been grumbling and clamoring for a playoff system in college football. Well, last year we finally got it, to great success.

But barely a year into the twelve year four team playoff contract, fans (especially TCU’s & Baylor’s) along with college football executives who finally see the potential ($$$) of a playoff system, are starting to wonder if four teams is enough. I mean it was readily apparent that TCU was a formidable force worthy of being included in the exclusive four team club and if not for eleven abysmal minutes at Baylor, the eventual champs (Ohio State) would not have even been in the playoffs at all. So the question is…should the College Football Playoffs expand and if so then by how much and who should be included?

Let’s take one possibility off the table IMMEDIATELY…sixteen teams? No, never, not happening nor should it. The charm of college football over the NFL (where a 9-7 team can win the Super Bowl) is that regular season games carry a lot more weight. One slip up could permanently dash your hopes and chances of playing for the ultimate prize in January. If you expand to sixteen teams you could easily lose three games and still have a shot at the title game *yawn*. Talk about neutering the suspense of a conference championship game.

So if not sixteen teams how about eight? Hmm well, this is a possibility I’m not too thrilled about either. Why, you ask? Well let’s take a look at the end of season rankings for the past ten years for some perspective. I’m not posting a link to the actual number but if you’d like to do the research yourself (takes about ten minutes) then have a ball, otherwise you’re just going to have to trust me.

27…that’s the cumulative number of two-loss teams ranked in the top eight at the end of the regular season for the past ten years. For those without a Harvard education, that’s an average of almost three two-loss teams that would have been included in an eight team playoff for the past decade. Why do I despise this number because college football has and always should be, about rewarding perfection or the next best thing. One loss is the next best thing; it’s the hick up/bad call/fluke play/brutal away game/let down game/slight blemish that can be ignored as a mulligan. But two losses is not a blemish…it’s a flaw.

And I don’t want to hear about how tough your conference is because in the past decade the SEC has had seven national title winning teams. Guess how many of those teams had two losses…only one (in a year virtually every team had two losses). Great teams overcome great obstacles; two losses is good but it ain’t great. Only exceptional seasons should be rewarded with a postseason invitation. And yes, a two loss team could probably beat an undefeated team on any given Saturday but these playoffs aren’t about what could happen, it’s about what you’ve earned.

So if not eight how about compromising with a six team playoff? This is a tough decision because last’s years TCU/Baylor situation is not a rare occurrence. Though 12 two-loss teams have been ranked in the top six over the past decade, there’re a lot of worthy one loss (sometimes undefeated) teams in the 5 & 6 slots that can make a great case for being included in the postseason festivities. With so many one-loss teams, playoff selection ends coming down to team/conference perception and potential (almost definite) regional bias. But isn’t having the competition decided on the field the whole reason we created the playoffs? Of course…so I’ve decided to look at this from a different angle that may of may not convince you.

Any factor that increases the chances of a conference title game serving as a de facto play-in game to the playoffs, I’m for. This means if you have two teams ranked in the top three or four playing against one another in a conference title then that game should eliminate one of those teams from playoff discussion. Why? Because if I play you and beat you on a neutral field at the end of the season I’ve essentially fulfilled the intentions of the established College Football Playoffs…determine the best team on the field. It becomes ridiculously redundant for my team to beat you in a conference title just to turn around and potentially play you again in the semifinals of the college playoffs. Isn’t that the final straw that led to the formulation of the playoffs…to eliminate redundancy and expand the geographical reach of postseason play/interest?

If the #2 team beats the #1 team in a close game in a conference title then it would be unfair for the #1 team to drop further than #6 in the rankings. But I could see them sliding to #5 if you use the argument that the conference game served as a playoff play-in game. Now I know a lot of you won’t like that idea (have the best four teams no matter the situation) but rankings are still heavily based off biases and assumptions that only the field of play can discard. Who is to say the presumed #1 & #2 ranked teams are really the best in the nation. Where one has fallen, let another team get a shot at challenging for the throne.

But what about the Boise States of the world and teams that come from non-Power 5 conferences with weaker schedules/competition? Over the years Boise has shown they can compete with the big boys. Along with the epic victory against Oklahoma, they’ve beaten UGA and Oregon in the past decade. These blue turf boys are legit but will they ever get a shot in the playoffs? Should they (or any non-Power 5 team) ever get a shot in the playoffs?

The last time a non-Power 5 team ended the regular season ranked in the top ten was Boise State in 2011. Since then we’ve had a three year drought where not a single other conference team has even sniffed the top ten, let alone being ranked high enough to get into a four team playoff. The gap between haves and haves not is widening when it comes to championship aspirations but should any action be taken? Should we extend the playoffs to six teams and have the highest ranked non-Power 5 team invited just for the sake of equal representation? Or maybe the non-Power 5 conferences should have their own four team playoff which includes the highest ranked non-Power 5 teams…a championship crown to represent schools caught in between the Power 5 & FCS levels. And if a smaller conference team ever were to be ranked high enough to get an invite to the big boy table then they can opt out of the non-Power 5 playoff. Does that work? I really don’t have a good answer for this so maybe we’ll just have to settle for the status quo here.

And status quo is how I feel we should proceed with the current playoff system (at least for the duration of the 12 year contract). Could my opinion be swayed? Sure but it’ll take some serious and consistently egregious, selection committee results for that to happen. And just think of the logistical problems of expanding the playoffs. Remember, these games are played at neutral sites often far from the campuses of these teams, unlike FCS where the playoff games are played at home stadiums until they reach the final. The playoff games are essentially converted bowl games and things could start to get pretty expensive if you’re traveling by plane up to three times (including game tix with holiday season travel prices). Just a few things to think about when you’re considering playoff expansion…

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