At this early stage of the 2018 college football season, 16 of the Associated Press (AP) Top 25 are unbeaten. As it stands, the top 4 teams are Alabama, Georgia, Clemson and Ohio State. If the season finished today those 4 would likely be the 4 teams heading to the College Football Playoff (CFP). But why do they stand out over the other 12 unbeaten teams in the Top 25? Rankings are worked out based on record, strength of schedule and conference strength amongst other things, which explains the abundance of Top 5 conference teams in the Top 25. History is also accounted for in the rankings, that was the reasoning behind unbeaten UCF being omitted from the CFP playoffs last year. The omission of an unbeaten team last year only increased discussion on the potential expansion to the CFP.
Re-running 2017’s controversial finish
Breaking down the 2017 CFP, the 4 participants were Clemson (12-1), Oklahoma (12-1), Georgia (12-1) and Alabama (11-1). Interestingly Georgia beating Auburn in the SEC championship game (which Alabama had failed to qualify for) pushed Alabama up into the top 4. The Wisconsin Badgers also fell foul to a Conference Championship loss after their loss against Ohio State cost them an unbeaten season and a spot in the CFP, despite finishing with a 12-1 record.
Ultimately the CFP selections were not to everyone’s liking and this naturally led to calls for the playoffs to be expanded, most calling for 8 teams but some even calling for 24 teams, in an attempt to revolutionise bowl games into being more than just consolation prizes.
So what if last season had an 8 team playoff, who makes the cut? According to the rankings, Ohio State (11-2), Wisconsin (12-1), Auburn (10-3) and USC (11-2) would of been the additional 4 teams. The obvious questions which would be asked about this are how can a 10-3 team in Auburn make the CFP and not a 12-0 team in UCF? How comes USC deserve to make the playoffs after already losing twice to lower ranked opposition? This would however act as a reprieve for both Auburn and Wisconsin who’s punishment for losing there conference championship games was being removed from playoff contention in favour of one team who didn’t even make their conference championship game.
Money over tradition?
Why would an institution built on the tradition of the best two teams facing each other for the most prestigious prize want a playoff in the first place? The answer is money. The old BCS Championship game was much maligned because of how hard it was to fairly select the two best teams. It also made huge bowl games such as the Rose Bowl seem more and more like a consolation prize. Whilst it’s proven to be just as hard to select the four best teams, we now have 3 major bowl games which garner nationwide attention due to the implications involved. Extending the playoffs further only increases that attention and therefore revenue for the NCAA.
Just how fair is it for the National Collegiate Athletic Association to profit more and more off the back of the efforts and sacrifice of unpaid, amateur athletes? More competitive games means more tackles absorbed, more chances of severe, life changing injuries for the student athletes on the field, all for a bigger pay cheque for someone else. Now this isn’t an argument for why college football players should get paid because, quite frankly, they shouldn’t. They are amateur athletes who are often granted full academic scholarships to the world’s greatest learning institutes due to their athletic abilities, that alone is enough. However, the NCAA needs to consider those factors when looking at expanding the playoffs.
Expansion risks diluting the quality
The NCAA need to understand the roots of the game and it’s traditions too. Hands up if you want to the College Football National Championship Game to be contested by a 3 loss team and a 2 loss team? Unless one of those schools is your alma mater, no one wants that. An expanded playoff could have lead to that last season if Ohio State or USC had matched up with Auburn in the eventual National Championship game. This is the exact reason why some coaches are calling for the expansion, such as Washington State HC Mike Leach, as it gives coaches a greater chance to win the National Championship. It gives teams a get out of jail free card if they lose a game earlier in the season.
Ultimately, in terms of excitement and revenue, expanding the CFP is a positive. More teams equals more meaningful bowl games. However, by expanding the CFP, you’re destroying the cornerstone of what college football was built on: Win or bust, heart on sleeve football.