Why Expanding the CFP Doesn’t Work & How to Fix It
by Rick Bouch Scores & Statson
As there is at the end of every college football season, there has been talking of expanding the College Football Playoff to accommodate more teams. Some suggest eight teams and others cite the FCS, Division II, and Division III playoff systems that allow anywhere from 24 to 32 teams. I would argue that any expansion from the current system just doesn’t work. I also propose a solution that will leave us with what we are looking for every season – the nation’s best team.
The 8-team Playoff – Why? As we head to the bowl season, we have three unbeatens – Alabama, Clemson, and Notre Dame. Each is certainly deserving of playing for a national title and they will. If you expanded the playoff to eight teams, you would need a method for qualifying. Using the current system where conference championships matter, Oklahoma and Ohio State would be in as would 10-3 Washington. It would be great for 12-0 UCF which would get in as the top Group of 5 team, but really…10-3 Washington? Do you honestly believe they are one of the nation’s best teams? Georgia would likely get in as a wild card, but the Bulldogs didn’t win their conference and lost to LSU, a three-loss team. Are they deserving?
If you look at the FCS, D-II, and D-III models, they all accept more teams. Could you imagine 9-4 Texas or 8-5 Northwestern playing for a national championship? Look, I played at the Division II level and I played and coached in the national playoffs (in a national championship game as well). I loved it. I just don’t think it’s right for the FBS. You make mediocrity acceptable. You give everybody a trophy. You make college football like every other sport when it’s not. You give undeserving teams a chance, but that isn’t what the playoff is about. It’s about finding the nation’s best team.
The Solution – Kind of So, I have a solution and it’s different. It goes way beyond the scope of this article and requires much more time to discuss. Here’s the gist of it though (it also requires some assumptions that likely will never happen). The first thing that needs to happen is the NCAA needs to restructure the FBS to contain 128 teams. Two have to go. The remaining 128 teams are then organized into the Power 4 and Group of 4. Yes, four conferences. I know. One of them has to go and that isn’t likely, but bear with me.
Teams will play only 11 games. That isn’t going to happen either, but we play too many right now. There are too many bowl games as well. Pare it down to 25. Fifty teams get in. That’s it. There are four major bowl games – Rose, Sugar, Orange, and whichever one you want Fiesta or Cotton. These games serve a purpose. We go back to the tradition of the Big Ten against the Pac-12. They play in the Rose Bowl. The SEC plays the ACC in the Sugar Bowl. The two next highest ranked non-conference champions play in the Orange Bowl. The highest-ranked Group of 4 teams and the next highest-ranked nonconference champ play in the Fiesta/Cotton Bowl.
In order to automatically make the playoff, a team must win a Power 4 conference, win a major bowl game, and be ranked No. 1, 2, or 3. A team can also make it if they are a Group of 4 conference champ that wins a major bowl game and is unbeaten. Finally, teams can enter as a wildcard if they have one of a conference title or a major bowl victory and are ranked No. 1 or 2.
Then, you add some subjectivity and have a committee that makes sure we get it right. The committee would always look to play it out on the field as well as maintain the importance of the regular season. In some years, only the top two teams play for the title. In other years, maybe three teams make it. Two play and the winner plays the top seed for the championship. In other years, you get a full four-team playoff like we have now. The idea is to make every single game in the regular season matter, make bowl games matter, and decide the national champion on the field.
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