The case not to expand the College Football Playoff

A four-team format is the only way to go


Brent Gelick/Talon

The College Football Playoff Championship Trophy depicted in a cartoon with “FOR WHO?” inscribed on the nameplate.

In 2014, the NCAA made the necessary decision to switch from the computer-generated “Bowl Championship Series” (BCS) playoff system to what they called the College Football Playoff (CFP) format. 

Prior to this change, two teams were chosen to go to the College Football Championship game based on a mix of polls and computer algorithms. There were no playoffs — just a championship game. The switch to the CFP system brought in much needed human discretion to the decision-making process. The new system is a four-team playoff decided by the College Football Playoff Committee, who make a 1-25 ranking, with the top four teams making the playoffs — No. 1 vs No. 4 and No. 2 vs No. 3.

Critics of the CFP system argue that there should be an eight-team format: the winner of each Power Five conference (Pac-12, Big 10, Big 12, SEC, ACC) each get automatic bids by winning their conference championship game, and then there would be three at-large bids that can go to any team at the discretion of the committee. This idea is riddled with issues. 

First, the idea of giving automatic bids to conference winners is ludicrous. Take, for example, the Pac-12 this year. One could argue that there wasn’t even a bonafide top-25 team in the conference, let alone a playoff team. It seems like there is a conference such as this season’s Pac-12 every year — one that falls completely short of expectations and is nowhere near deserving of an automatic playoff bid.

A unique part of the CFP system is how much importance it puts on individual games. There are a high number of great teams in the sport, but only four available playoff spots. This forces elite teams to treat every single regular season game as a playoff game — win, or your chances of making the CFP plummet significantly. Players’ and fans’ stake in the game alike increase, making for a much more entertaining game for the spectator and more money for the network broadcasting the game. 

No two-loss team has ever made the CFP, though that is not to say one never will. That is the beauty of the four-team CFP system — it is all in the eye of the beholder, and that makes it all the more interesting. An eight-team system would depreciate the weight that losses have in decision making, which would be a travesty.

Finally, there is the issue of a competitive discrepancy between the one-seed and a proposed eight-seed matching up together. The one vs four matchup has seldom been close, with the exception of Ohio State’s upset victory vs. Alabama in the inaugural CFP. So what is the rationale for thinking that a No. 1 vs No. 8 matchup would be any more entertaining or competitive? There is none! It would be an absolute blowout, as would the No. 2 vs No. 7 matchup.

All in all, an eight-team format would be a disaster for the NCAA. While proponents of the idea may argue that it would allow more deserving teams to have a shot at the title, it simply would not work. The four-team playoff is not without its flaws, but it is the only way to go — period.