What will become of the College Football Playoff?


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We are now five years removed from the first College Football Playoff, and the questions that were raised prior to its inception are still prevalent today. Should it expand to include eight teams? How much weight does a conference championship carry? Should Group of Five teams have a shot at the national title? It was reasonable to believe that by now the solutions to those issues would be hammered out by now, but they only seem to have gotten worse. The College Football Playoff was supposed to be the be-all-end-all for crowing the true national champion for a given season, but it hasn’t lived up to the hype with many experts, fans, coaches, and players now calling for something to be done about the dysfunctional system before it becomes unable to fix.

Before venturing into potential solutions for the Playoff, it’s important to give some background on how it came to be. Prior to the inaugural 2014 season, D1 college football operated in the BCS system. The BCS system involved the national championship being played between the first and second ranked teams in the polls, with all other teams playing in bowl games based on either their rankings or what conference they play in. For example, the Rose Bowl was always played between the champions of the Big-10 conference and the Pac-12 conference (except for if one of the champions were ranked in the top two). Aside from the conference-orientated bowl games and the national championship, there was never uniformity in the rules and regulations on who would make the title game from year to year. Highly ranked teams who theoretically should’ve played in a high-caliber bowl game would sometimes play in lower profile ones, and a team from a conference who typically played in a certain bowl game would sometimes miss out.

One case of a highly ranked team missing out on a popular bowl game involved the Baylor University football team in 2011. Led by Heisman winner Robert Griffin III and ranked 12th in the BCS polls, most expected the Bears to play in a New Year’s Six bowl game. New Year’s Six bowl games are usually the most highly anticipated games of the year and showcase the NCAA’s best teams and players, which made Baylor’s appearance in the Alamo Bowl against un-ranked Washington so baffling.

Cases like Baylor’s and a multitude of others, like the infamously bad 2012 National Championship game between Alabama and LSU, contributed to the national conversation leaning more and more towards a total rejuvenation of the way a national champion was crowned. When it came to deciding what the best option was, there was one clear solution that emerged. The only way to crown a true national champion would be to install some sort of playoff system, and the 2014 season saw the beginning of a new era in college football.

However, to think that this new format solved all of the problems that were present with the BCS system and had no problems of its’ own would be ludicrous. For starters, the decisions that determine the four teams who will earn a spot in the playoff are made by a committee of 13 current or former coaches, athletic directors, professors, and alumni. Initially, there doesn’t seem to be much wrong with that statement, but let’s take a closer look. It’s important to remember that that each person has ties to a certain university and may be looking to push their individual agenda. If each person on the committee is favoring their home conference or team, there is no way an objective ranking can be achieved.

Many believe that this very issue manifested itself this season, primarily involving committee member and former Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer. A big part of the committee’s rankings involve a metric called ‘quality wins’. A quality win could be a road win against a conference foe, or a win against a top 25 ranked team. However, due to the committee having the ultimate say in the rankings someone like Frank Beamer could sway the standing of a whole conference, beefing up wins for one team while putting other teams and conferences at a disadvantage. And that’s exactly what Beamer did, ranking teams from the ACC higher than they probably should’ve been in order to prop up Clemson University, the second ranked team in the playoff. Meanwhile, teams in the Big 10 conference like Ohio State and Michigan had much more at stake in pursuing a better ranking even though the Big 10 was an objectively better conference in terms of amount of quality teams in 2018.

Another problem arises when it comes to what teams are allowed into the playoff each year. Historically, every team that has made the playoff has been from a power-five conference (ACC, Big-10, Big-12, SEC, Pac-12), and for the most part been a conference champion. The problem arises, however, when you have a team like undefeated University of Central Florida, who doesn’t play in a power-five conference and in the eyes of the committee, doesn’t deserve to get in. They’ve won 25 games in a row, but due to their strength of schedule they just don’t have the resume to warrant a spot. It begs the question; if a team like UCF can’t get into the playoff, what do teams from conferences that aren’t a power-five have to play for? Not much apparently.

All in all, the question of what will become of the College Football Playoff is still yet to be fully answered. Whether or not it will expand or remain the same will be an interesting topic to follow in the coming years and whatever state it ends up in will determine the future of the sport for decades to come.