As another entertaining college football regular season nears its end, all eyes are on the top of the rankings, as much has yet to be determined. LSU, Ohio State and Clemson have clearly distinguished themselves week in and week out as the three most complete teams. As the case in past years under the College Football Playoff format, much of the debate heading into bowl season will be about who is most deserving of the final spot into the four-team playoff. However, many fans have been asking the same simple question since the inception of this new format – “Why just four?”
The idea of an eight-team playoff has been gaining more and more momentum with each passing year. This season only furthers the case for a playoff expansion. As it stands, Georgia holds the final playoff spot and controls its own destiny. Alabama, Oregon, Utah, Oklahoma, Penn State and Minnesota fall behind Georgia and all have one loss. The beauty, and at times, the struggle with college football is that a committee of twelve individuals are left to tell the entire nations and many eager fan bases why one team with one loss is better and more deserving than all the others.
This year, the line is blurry. Bottom line is, each team has a case to get in, and there is no clear-cut best team at the moment for the fourth and final spot. Regardless of who gets the coveted final spot, several fan bases will be disappointed and relegated to a lesser bowl game.
This conundrum leads to debate about expanding the playoffs to eight teams. A large contingent believes a system where the quarterfinals would be played at the higher seeded teams home stadium and neutral sites for the semi-finals and finals would be the most viable system. There would be no conference tie-ins, only the eight best teams. This playoff would be independent of other bowl games, so classics like the Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Orange Bowl, and Cotton Bowl would still be played by some of the top non-playoff teams. Under an eight-team format there are many appealing advantages – besides giving the fans more high-stakes football to watch.
For starters, an expanded playoff allows for more conferences to have teams vie for a national title. Obviously, under a four-team playoff, one, and in many cases, two conferences will be left out each year whereas an eight-team system allows for more conferences to receive recognition and generate more revenue. Not only will the conferences benefit, but so will the sport as a whole. Last year’s playoff games were three of the four highest viewed games of the season. Adding four more playoff matchups means greater exposure for players and universities as well as more TV revenue.
A large shortcoming of the four-team system year after year has been the inconsistency of the committee in their selection criteria. Strength of schedule, conference championships, head-to-head amongst other items have varied in importance with each passing season. Being that there is no defined weight to each category, an eight-team system is more favorable because it allows the committee more flexibility and less scrutiny.
Teams who play head to head won’t spoil their seasons from one bad game, teams in tougher divisions won’t have to worry about not playing in their conference championships, and teams in lesser conferences will have a larger seat at the table. All in all, the college football playoff has proven to be a success thus far in comparison to the BCS, however, that does not mean the system is perfect.
An expansion to eight teams will only generate unprecedented excitement for the sport and give hope to far more teams.
Oh, and I don’t think the millions of die-hard fans will mind watching a few more games, either.
Uncle Jim is a guest columnist for the Setonian’s sports section. He prefers not to be contacted.