College Football Playoff should follow NFL’s lead, expand to six teams.
Chris Price is an award-winning journalist and public relations principal. When he’s not writing, he’s avid about music, the outdoors, and Saints, Ole Miss and Chelsea football. Price also authors the Friday Sports Column at BizNewOrleans.com
illustration by Tony Healey
When the College Football Playoff was introduced five years ago, it was supposed to quiet the controversy of deciding the annual national champion. Unfortunately, it hasn’t.
While the two best teams made the final, it’s arguable that the nation’s best four teams did not make the single-elimination tournament. That was evident in the semifinal games. No. 1 Alabama walloped No. 4 Oklahoma 45-34 in a game that saw the Crimson Tide get up 28-0 before halftime, while No. 2 Clemson destroyed No. 3 Notre Dame 30-3. The results placed Alabama in the championship game for the fourth straight year and Clemson for the third time in four years. The two Southern schools faced off previously in 2016 and 2017, splitting championships in games that were settled by five or fewer points.
While the Sooners and Fighting Irish were flailing, college football fans and casual followers were, rightly, wondering if the football final four might have provided better contests if No. 5 Georgia and No. 6 Ohio State had replaced Notre Dame and OU. This year’s semifinal games were duds, controversy is still at hand, and it’s bad for the overall good of the sport. There is a lingering feeling that the conclusion of the college football season is not the best it can be and further change needs to come.
One way to minimize risk of unbalanced games that are decided with more than half the game to play is for college football to follow the NFL’s conference playoff format. That would mean inviting the top six teams and expanding the tournament by a week. Just like the professionals, the top two seeds would get a bye in the first round, while the No. 3 and No. 6 teams and No. 4 and No. 5 teams would play each other. The second-round semifinal would feature the No. 1 team taking on the lowest-ranked winner and the No. 2 team playing the highest-ranked winner from the first round. The winners of the semifinals would play for the championship.
There would, of course, be naysayers. Some will say an extra week takes students away from classes and puts the playoffs too close to exams, but technology has freed the student from the tether of the classroom. Others will ask why not expand it to eight teams to ensure even more inclusion and representation? Eight teams would likely dilute the talent level and allow for more unbalanced games.
With 10 FBS (Division 1) conferences – half of which are considered superior – and independents like Notre Dame, there is no way to create a tournament featuring conference champions.
It is impossible to completely eliminate subjective biases in the current format. While it’s easy to say reward the unbeaten teams, many would argue that an undefeated American Athletic Conference team is not better than a three-loss Southeastern Conference team.
With six teams, the committee can cover its mandate to preserve “the excitement and significance of college football’s unique regular season where every game counts.” Teams would still be selected based on their performance, including winning conference championships, strength of schedule, head-to-head results, and comparison of results against common opponents.
Additionally, adding two games is much more feasible. Currently, the two semifinal games rotate annually among the Cotton, Fiesta, Orange, Peach, Rose and Sugar bowls. With another round added, these same bowls can host the first and semi-final rounds. The final will continue to go to the city that bids on and wins hosting responsibilities.
While improving teams’ chances of making the playoffs, expanding the playoff to six will also increase the financial haul for every FBS school, as increased TV and ticket revenue will be split among the teams involved, their conferences and member institutions.
Despite many changes, deciding college football’s National Champion is still controversial. Increasing the College Football Playoff from four teams to six will add intrigue, improve the overall outcome and move closer to a true National Champion.