Every year for the past five years a committee of athletic directors, former head coaches and journalists join together to decide the four teams that will compete against each other in the College Football Playoffs. And every year there's been some sort of a controversy.
There's always an argument to be made for the first team out. For TCU in 2014, it was the ridiculous idea that a team previously ranked third could somehow end up at sixth after winning their last game of the season.their last game of the season. For Iowa in 2015, it was that their only loss of the season came from the #5 ranked Michigan by a field goal. In 2017, Alabama lost to #6 Auburn and somehow ended up as the #4 seed while a 12-1 Wisconsin missed the playoffs by losing to #8 Ohio State in the Big10 championship. Alabama did not win the SEC that year.
And now, here we are in 2018 and it's the same arguments all over again. The committee made their selections and the four teams in the playoffs are as follows:
Alabama and Clemson were guarantees in my eyes. Both teams are undefeated and both teams were conference champions. Historically, those are two things that the playoff committee has cared about.
Notre Dame is also undefeated, but I've got a huge problem with Notre Dame's independence. They have refused to join a conference, which has admittedly resulted in a lucrative TV deal that they do not have to share with any other team. However, Notre Dame therefore avoids having to play in a conference championship. Reportedly, if they were to join a conference, it would be the ACC. That means Notre Dame would have squared off with Clemson in the ACC Championship game. Ultimately, we'll know how those teams stack up against each other on December 29. But for some teams, having to play in a conference championship was a "make of break" moment for their season.
For instance, without having to play in any conference championships, the rankings would have been 1. Alabama 2. Clemson 3. Notre Dame and 4. Georgia. Georgia and Alabama squared off against each other and Georgia lost, which drops them to the #5 seed. Because of their Big 12 Championship win against Texas, Oklahoma therefore got to move up to #4. Ohio State win the Big 10 and remains the #6 seed. Washington wins the Pac-12 and raises from #11 to #9.
Teams that were in playoff contention had their season at risk by having to play an extra game for the conference championship. Georgia's season was ultimately in jeopardy because they came from the SEC, which many would argue is the toughest of the Power 5 conferences. Eight of the Top 25 teams ranked by the CFB playoff committee are from the SEC. Notre Dame completely avoided this conundrum by avoiding joining the ACC and potentially having to play Clemson in the championship game.
There was an argument floating around that the committee was looking to spread around the representation in the playoffs and that's why they left Georgia out. As in, in the week before conference championships, there were only two of the five power conferences represented in the playoffs: SEC and ACC. As I mentioned earlier, allowing Notre Dame to remain independent throws that argument out of the window. Additionally, why should Georgia and/or Alabama be punished for coming from a good conference? The job of the committee is to make sure the four best teams make it into the playoffs. If two of those teams happen to come from the SEC, then that should serve as a warning to the other conferences that they don't truly stack up to other teams on a national scale.
Also, the idea that there should be some sort of "fair representation" in the college football playoffs is inherently impossible. With five power conferences and only four playoff spots, it's impossible to ensure some sort of fairness in the amount of teams represented in the playoffs. Do I think #11Washington, the Pac 12 champion, deserves a spot in the playoffs with it's current structure? Of course not. But the committee needs to stop kidding its self with the idea that conferences representation is a high priority in determining who can make it into the playoffs.
On the idea that the committee suddenly cares about fairness and representation in the playoffs, let's take a look at the conferences that have gotten a chance to play in the playoffs including this year:
SEC: 6 appearances
ACC: 5 appearances
Big 10: 3 appearances
Big 12: 3 appearances
Pac-12: 3 appearances
Independent: 1 appearance
My main issue is the committee says they value one thing and then act or rank in a way that's directly contradictory to that. The structure of the playoffs will never be able to meet the committee's expectations and there will always be a case for a team on the fringe to make it in. Who doesn't want to see Ohio State or Georgia play in the playoffs? They're both fantastic teams who are either conference champions or had to unfortunately go toe-to-toe with the best team in college football in the last game of their season.
It's time for an eight team playoff. At this point, enough conferences and athletic directors are going to make complaints and noise to force some change. College Football could only stick with the BCS for 15 years and that was before the age of social media. My proposed playoff system would be as follows:
1. Each conference champion would automatically get a bid to the playoffs
2. Teams would still be ranked as in the past, with the Top 25 teams receiving a ranking
3. The remaining three teams receive bids based on their ranking from the top-down
Seeding would also determine a team's initial playoff matchups. So whatever conference champion was the highest seed would play either the lowest ranked conference champion or committee-invited team. So, for instance, this year's playoff bracket would look as follows:
In this system, teams are actually awarded for winning their conference but are slightly penalized for having a bad record by having to play a high seed. The "first out" mentality in choosing the #5 and #6 seed is eliminated as those teams will most likely either win their conference or get a bid for their high seeding. It also awards teams like Notre Dame who can remain independent with a probability of still making it into the playoffs. It's a shame that one or two loss teams have to miss the playoffs. As we've seen in the past, especially with Ohio State in 2014, teams on that threshold can make a serious run in the playoffs and even win. The current college football playoff system in dysfunctional in it's current state and something has to give eventually.