It’s December and after three months of weekly who deserves to be ranked where we finally get the culmination all college football fans were waiting months for, the field of four for the 2016 College Football Playoffs. This year’s field will include traditional powers Alabama and Ohio State, one of the preseason favorites in Clemson, and a resurgent Washington team that has finally capitalized on years of promise. But are those the correct four teams?
In my opinion these are likely the four best teams in college football this year, but I do have a problem with how they ended up here. The reason for my issue is because of the ever-changing guidelines that the committee deems important not just from year to year but from week to week. I will be honest, do I think that Penn State is a better team that Ohio State? No. But Penn State did beat Ohio State head to head, and did win the conference championship game.
When the committee decided to keep Ohio State up high in the weekly playoff rankings it showed that they were putting more of an emphasis on the eye test. But is it really an eye test or is it a “program” test. Do you think that if the roles were reversed, with exact same schedules and seasons switched between Ohio State and Penn State, that Ohio State would be on the outside looking in? No, I think they got the benefit of the doubt because they are THE Ohio State. And that is the big issue here. We heard how Michigan should have gotten consideration over Washington, why?
Two years ago TCU was left out of the final four, in addition to Baylor, because the Big 12 did not have a championship game. TCU, which was ranked #3 in the final regular season playoff rankings, defeated Iowa State 55-3 in their final game yet dropped out of the final four. All because they did not have that 13th game and a championship title. This year however Ohio State, which did not even win their conference division, was a shoe-in and Michigan, who failed to win the division as well, was deemed a worthy choice as well.
Yes these games are the money makers, and Ohio State and Michigan bring in large viewership ratings and fans that travel. But when College Football decided to institute rankings to better determine a national champion, beginning with the original plus one format from the BCS days back in 1998, I am pretty sure that program prestige was not included among variables used for the ratings.
The playoff committee needs to be more transparent. Why are they ranking teams where they are? Is it simply the eye test? Clemson has six games this year of wins under 10 points, not including their loss to Pitt. Does strength of schedule matter? USC was playing perhaps the best football of anyone in the country and had a S.O.S. of 5th in the country but they weren’t considered like Michigan, Penn State, or Wisconsin. What about non-conference opponents? Take a look at Washington’s non-conference opponents (Rutgers was their biggest non-conference win). Does a conference championship matter or not? Because it did in 2014 but in 2016 it’s obvious that it doesn’t. So what are the criteria that the committee is judging by?
There is of course one simple solution. Expanding the playoffs to eight teams. That is the number that should have been put in place when they moved from the BCS to the current format. But you know how people are, afraid of change. It took them how many years to get to the BCS from the bowl format. And it took them almost two decades to go from the BCS to the four game playoffs. I understand that argument that no matter how much you expand you will be alienating those next tier teams that will have an argument to be in. Expand to eight and teams nine and ten will argue, expand to 16 and teams 17 and 18 will be upset. But that’s only if you are expanding for that purpose of including more teams. My reasoning isn’t to just include more teams but to choose the teams who HAVE a right to be included in playoffs, the conference champions.
Eight is the perfect number because you could give the five power conference champions an automatic bid into the playoffs. A conference championship should mean something. Then with the three remaining spots you give one to the highest ranked non-power five team and then have two wild card spots which go to highest remaining ranked teams, whether that be a power five team or not. Doing this would also put more emphasis on the conference championships. It is unlikely that had Colorado defeated Washington in the Pac-12 championship game that the Buffaloes would have been in the final four. But why is that? Why shouldn’t they have had that opportunity. Same goes for Penn State who won their conference championship AND defeated a team that is in the final four (Ohio State).
By expanding the playoffs to eight teams you are eliminating the debate over which conference is better than the other. In a four team format at least one power five conference will always be left out. An eight team format also allows for teams that may have got off to a slow start this season (USC) to fight for a national title. The conference championship games in essence become part of the playoffs too, giving an automatic bid for a chance at the trophy. But this only makes too much sense. We have seen how hard it is to change the minds of those that run college football. Why would they want to make things simple? In fact I kind of think they like the chaos that surrounds the playoffs. Because who cares if it’s a fair system or that they get it right, there is no such thing as bad press right?