Capece: Keep the four-team CFP format
Colin Capece | Friday, December 6, 2019
As someone who has been enamored with college football for as long as I can remember, this coming Saturday will be an absolute dream. Beginning at noon with the Big 12 championship game between Oklahoma and Baylor, there will be conference championship games to watch all day long. Every Power Five final features a matchup between ranked teams, and it will certainly be thrilling to watch the action on the field. However, what may be even more enjoyable for college football fans is the debate that will ensue after the day’s contests have concluded, as a handful of committee members in some remote location in Texas will work until the sun comes up on Sunday to select the four College Football Playoff teams.
Every year on this day, however, another debate takes place. Since the Playoff’s inception in 2014, I have heard some analysts advocate that the College Football Playoff should expand to eight teams from its current four. They argue that there would be no opportunity for SEC or west coast bias if the CFP field expanded to eight. And what could be better than more meaningful football games at the end of the season? However, college football would be wise to keep its current four-team playoff system for a number of reasons.
The four-team playoff selected by a committee makes the regular season incredibly meaningful for teams in the hunt. The playoff committee has shown in recent years that it values things like strength of schedule when it makes its final judgement, and conferences have responded by changing the way they create schedules. In 2016, the Big Ten began playing nine conferences games instead of eight and mandated that schools could not schedule FCS opponents. The Big 12 has added a conference championship game since the playoff’s creation to pit the league’s two best teams against one another. These changes are definitely a good thing for college football, as there are entertaining games for fans to watch every weekend.
Additionally, every regular season game is a chance to make an impression on the committee and could make or break a team’s CFP hopes at the end of the season. For example, No. 8 Wisconsin could have had a chance to play in a national semifinal this year, except that it blew a fourth-quarter lead to a 3-4, unranked Illinois team on Oct. 19. Slip-ups against weaker opponents are usually unforgiving and leave teams no margin for error, which in turn raises the stakes on a typical Saturday in October. In an eight-team playoff system, this year’s Wisconsin squad would be the last team in at the moment, which leads me to my next point.
Having a four-team playoff as opposed to an eight-team one means that the first-round playoff matchups are more likely to be competitive games. Wisconsin was clobbered earlier in the year by No. 1 Ohio State and would likely meet the same fate with the entire country watching in an eight-team system. In most years, the seventh- and eighth-best teams in the country can’t hang with the best and second-best teams. Hopefully the committee learned last year that nothing but negative sentiments arise when what’s supposed to be a showcase of the sport’s best competition quickly turns into a bloodbath as the Orange and Cotton Bowls did. If the committee does its job correctly, the four team playoff ensures that only the sport’s best are playing when it matters most.
Lastly, a four-team playoff can spark much more heated debates than an eight-team system can, which gets people thinking and talking about the game more and more. The gray areas and subjectivity created by the committee having to choose the four best teams has done nothing but increase the popularity of college football. I might just be a super nerdy sports fan, but I can’t think of a day that’s gone by in the last month where my friends and I weren’t debating the College Football Playoff.
There are an infinite number of factors and scenarios to consider when trying to discern who’s in and who’s out. Is a conference champion with a ranked loss better than a conference champion with an unranked loss but more ranked wins? Will two SEC teams make the playoff again if Georgia wins the championship game? What the heck does the “eye-test” even mean? With more teams making the playoffs, some of these fun thought experiments would cease to exist, and the buildup to selection Sunday wouldn’t be nearly as enticing.
College football is simply the most exciting it’s ever been at this point in time, and keeping the playoff at four teams will ensure it remains that way.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.