The CFP Administration is currently going into their third year of a 12 year contract with ESPN. In order to adjust the format of the championship, the new College Football Playoff contract would need to be adjusted and restructured before its end, much like what happened with the BCS contract. Implementing a playoff was admittedly a brilliant plan that fans had been begging for since before the BCS began, let’s not force fans to wait another 10 years before we perfect the college football postseason. The CFP Administration needs to admit their system is not what it could be, and strive to make whatever changes are needed. The system has an obligation to the players, to the coaches, and to the fans to be the best despite having no other direct competition forcing it to do so. To be the best, the CFP Administration needs to ensure that each potential champion has the opportunity to win. Considering the committee cannot currently guarantee they are including the best team in the nation in the tournament, more teams need to be included. This slippery slope is why some people were concerned with having a playoff at all, but with every team added, the likelihood of including the champion increases. What needs to be determined however, is how many teams are required to make it statistically likely that the top team in college football has the chance to prove it.
12 Team Playoff
In every other league, the playoffs work to include an appropriate amount of teams to determine the true champion. Professional baseball, football, basketball, and hockey include 33%, 38%, 53%, and 53% of their teams in their playoff, respectively, while college basketball includes 19%. Currently college football includes 3%. To only include 3% of the teams in your league in a playoff, and then declare the winner of the tournament the champion of the entire league is a joke. Now it is not necessary to include 30% of the teams in the playoff to get the potential champion, but the NFL including 12 teams and still maintaining an excellent product during the regular season should bring solace to those who are trying to protect college football. Including a few more teams while adding incentives to the top ranked teams would ensure the integrity of what we can all agree is one of the best regular seasons in sports. While an eight team playoff would provide a massive increase in entertainment, as well as integrity, a 12 team playoff would ensure a true champion.
A 12 team playoff would include 9% of the league which would still be less than half of any other major U.S. Sport. Currently, no one argues that the 13th ranked team in the nation could win the championship, or that they even deserve a shot to play for it so the need to expand beyond 12 teams is not in the near future. The parody provided by one or two players being able to completely carry a team is not felt in college football like it is in college basketball. In fact, many might argue that in most years, teams ranked 9-12 wouldn’t deserve a chance either. The reason that these additional four teams are necessary for the playoff system is to provide a buffer for those crazy years where many teams are seen as pretty even. This buffer is essential to warding off critics before they call for more expansion, while at the same time, forcing teams ranked 1-8 to prove that those last four teams don’t belong. Upon implementing the 12 team playoff, a statement could even be explicitly made that teams 11 & 12 do not belong in the playoff group, but are only there to provide a buffer in case the selection system got the teams wrong. Then, as people complain that teams 13 and 14 are just as deserving as teams 11 and 12, the argument is immediately put to bed saying that none of the teams above 10 should have been included so teams 11 and 12 just got lucky and should be counting their lucky stars.
The 12 team playoff provides immense benefits from a fan’s perspective. Not only are we able to determine the true champion of college football, but we would all be treated to more games of intense interconference play. These added games will allow for a better understanding as to which conferences actually hold the most elite teams, all the while providing for four additional games of 8 titans battling it out for a chance to be crowned a champion. How is this not selling itself?
There have been many proposals for how an expanded playoff would work. There have also been, as mentioned previously, many concerns suggesting that an expanded playoff would ruin what is arguably one of the best regular seasons in sports. What appears to be the best solution under the 12 team playoff, would be to have the top 4 teams given byes as incentive to continue dominating the regular season. The remaining 8 teams would face off with the higher seeded team getting to play at home. The next round would be played using 4 of the New Year’s Six Bowls with the final three games played the same as the current system. This would guarantee every New Year’s Six Bowl now being played in the playoffs with a rotation for which bowls host the semi-finals. The proximity to the highest seeded teams would determine the location of where each matchup is played ensuring the lower seeded team is not given an advantage. Each of the Power 5 conferences would be represented by their top ranking team as per the aforementioned computer formula (not necessarily the conference champion though that could be included as a factor for the formula if it is deemed to be important) and the overall top ranked Group of 5 team would be included (based on the past performances by Group of 5 teams, these teams have shown they can hold their own against the college elite going 6-2 versus Power 5 teams including non-playoff and BCS bowls). The remaining 6 teams would be at-large bids selected based on the next highest ranked teams. These at-large bids are what would prevent teams from scheduling so called “cupcake” teams in their out of conference play. Independents will have to earn their way in as a top ranked at-large team. All other bowls will be played as normal and held in the same regard as they are held now. Conference championships would also remain the same.
A major concern that needs to be addressed is that an expanded playoffs would require players to play additional games for those who want to win it all. This just so happens to be the same for any postseason in any sport at any level. If all teams stuck to the 12 game regular season schedule, adding in a conference championship, a quarterfinal, a semifinal, and a national championship there would potentially be 16 games total. This is up from the possible 15 games teams play now and would only be for a team ranked within the 5-12 range that makes it all the way to the championship game. I think we can go ahead and guarantee that every kid from every team ranked in those positions would be more than happy to play in an extra game in order to have the chance to play in a National Championship game.
The current playoff system is leaps and bounds better than the past BCS system, but what this change did more than anything was opened the door to perfect the postseason in college football. Through revamping the selection process and adding additional teams, the college football playoff could come to rival the excitement and the audience of the Super Bowl, and no one should object to that.