The independent news organization of Duke University

Expand the playoff

There should be eight teams in the College Football Playoff to include every power conference

Nick Saban’s Alabama squad snuck into this year’s College Football Playoff as the No. 4 seed despite not playing in its conference championship game.
Nick Saban’s Alabama squad snuck into this year’s College Football Playoff as the No. 4 seed despite not playing in its conference championship game.

This past Sunday, the eyes of the college football world were trained on a room where the 12 members of the College Football Playoff committee had to answer an almost impossible question: Which teams are worthy of the four spots in the Playoff?

Clemson, Oklahoma and Georgia were easy choices, but the battle between Alabama and Ohio State for the fourth spot was fierce. The committee ultimately decided to favor the Crimson Tide, but what if they didn’t have to choose?

The four-team playoff is a fundamentally-flawed design with five so-called power conferences, guaranteeing that at least one major conference champion will be left out every year. This year, both the Big Ten and the Pac-12 were shut out of the playoff, and Alabama, which did not even make the SEC championship, snuck into the Final Four.

Central Florida, the only team in the nation to finish the season undefeated, was not even considered in the playoff discussion after it did not face a ranked opponent until playing No. 20 Memphis in the AAC championship. But it is hard to predict how the Knights’ high-powered offense would have fared against the best teams in the nation. 

The ideal structure for the playoff has always been eight teams, with the five power-conference champions getting automatic bids and one bid being reserved for the best team not in a power conference if any are ranked in the top 15. This would create two at-large bids available for deserving teams.

If this structure was in place this fall, seven clear playoff participants would have been Clemson, Oklahoma, Georgia, Alabama, Ohio State, Southern California and Central Florida. The final at-large spot would have been a debate between Auburn and Wisconsin, and the committee placed the 12-1 Badgers one spot ahead of the Tigers in their final rankings this season. 

This size allows the committee to reward teams that play challenging schedules and may suffer a loss or two, as well as the teams that emerge victorious from the slog of conference play. It also gives every team in the country a chance at the national championship when the season starts. Now, teams outside the power conferences often have no chance at cracking the field from the start of the season. 

The new system could also allow the playoff to feature one of the defining characteristics of college football—the passionate and vibrant stadiums and traditions. The higher seed in the quarterfinals should be able to host the quarterfinal at its home stadium. Imagine Clemson charging down the hill after touching Howard’s Rock or the Sooner Schooner rolling onto the field in a playoff environment.

The current system is a significant improvement on the old Bowl Championship Series system that only allowed two teams to compete for the national championship, but it is far from perfect. The eight-team bracket allows for more teams to have a shot at the crown while still maintaining the importance of the regular season, one of the main things that makes college football great.

It’s time to give more deserving teams a shot at the championship and embrace the madness of college football. I for one want to live in a world where the words “Central Florida: National Champion” are possible. Let chaos reign. 


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