Wes and Jonathan are back with the latest hot topic for discussion during your weekend. The spring semester is winding down, which means football season will be here soon. After the inaugural season of the playoff, there was much debate over how effective it worked to crown our champion. Are 4 teams enough? Do we need more?
If the idea of the college playoff is to crown the best team the champion, there is no need to expand beyond four teams. If the goal is to create a March Madness-type bracket with crazy upsets and wild excitement plus lots more money for the NCAA, then it should be expanded. I am of the former school of thought. I think the goal of any sport should be to crown the best team champion for that particular year. The English Premier League is the best league in terms of crowing a champion, because all teams play each other twice, once at home and once on the road. The team that accumulates the most points wins the league. There is no end of the year tournament. Now we all know that system can't be replicated for college football and besides here in the states we have gotten used to crowning the best tournament team as champion. I can appreciate and enjoy the excitement of a tournament but have never felt it is the most accurate way to crown a champion.
Let's start with the obvious argument that played out with Baylor and TCU last season. I understand there will always be an argument for teams on the cusp that were left out. I will hide behind the "you have to crack a few eggs to make an omelet" idiom. Sometimes the wrong team may be left out, but if those teams take care of business with the opponents they lost to, they are undefeated and have a seat at the table. Ultimately they only have themselves to blame. Expansion will shift the debate from the fifth and sixth place teams getting left out to the ninth and tenth place teams getting left out or the seventeenth and eighteenth teams. They will all claim they can win the whole thing if given a shot and it is robbery that they were left out. These teams don't have a legitimate shot at the title. The fifth team maybe, sixth, maybe but beyond that it would be a very rare case that the lower ranked teams would make a push to win it all. There's a good chance that one of the top four teams has beaten teams five through eight and definitely nine through sixteen. Last year #7 Mississippi State had been beaten by #1 Alabama and #8 Michigan State had lost to #4 Ohio State and #2 Oregon. Why are we giving them a second shot or third shot in this case?
To compare this to the NFL, since 1990 when the NFL expanded the playoffs to six teams per conference only 3 times has a 5th or 6th seed won the Super Bowl. With two conferences that means there are two 5th and 6th seeds competing each year, meaning it is extremely rare for lower seeds to succeed (less than 6%).
March Madness fits the same mold. The tournament is exciting for the lower seeded teams for the first round or two, but after that they get brought down to reality quickly most years. You will have an 11-seeded George Mason from 2006 sneak into the Final Four occasionally. The numbers show that the higher seeds prevail the majority of the time though. Only 3 teams seeded lower than #4 have ever won the tournament. That would happen in an expanded football field as well. There would be an occasional exception to the rule but ultimately the lower seeds will only knock out a team that put together a better season and for that deserve a shot at the championship.
Please understand I do not believe the system is perfect. With the current conference landscape of college football, I don't think there can be a perfect system. Maybe one day we can tackle the perfect system for college football, but until then let's leave it as is. I am sure the NCAA will ultimately expand the playoff mostly for money but I disagree. Give me the best four teams and let's roll.
Ohio State doesn't belong. There's no way they will be able to beat Alabama. They are playing their 3rd string quarterback. They lost to Virginia Tech at home. A Virginia Tech team led by some kid named Brewer. The Hokies barely qualified for a bowl, and struggled to beat a lowly Virginia team just to get there. Virginia Tech scored less against William and Mary than they did against Ohio State. Even the odds makers in Vegas had OSU in 6th behind both TCU and Baylor. There's no way that the Buckeyes should be included in the Final Four of College Football this year. They just don't belong.
These were the sentiments around the college football community after selection day. About how a team that had a bad loss early in the season and then soared through conference play just didn't belong in the top 4 at the end of the year. How Baylor or TCU were both a stronger team than the kids from Columbus. And then it happened. They did it. They actually beat Alabama. Even then, there were some doubters. Mark May of ESPN still didn't think they belonged, even if he wouldn't completely admit it.
And then they won the whole thing. They beat Oregon and won the shiny new trophy. But the #4 team that barely qualified for the playoff at all won. If the #4 team could do it, who else in future years might be able to? What could Baylor have done? (Other than blow a lead late, which seems to be their favorite thing to do) Would TCU have been able to continue their unexpected magic? Mississippi State and Michigan State may have been able to give Alabama and Oregon a great game. I believe that the current college football playoff system needs to expand to 8 teams.
The bowl system is still a mess with the slew of seemingly meaningless bowl games. In the 2015 bowl season, there will be 42 bowls (including the National Championship) that will involve 82 teams of the 127 total programs in the FBS. This means that over 60 percent of all programs qualify to play in the post season, but only 3 percent actually have a shot at winning the championship. In the NFL over 35 percent of teams in the league have a shot at the Super Bowl. The bowl system is an entire other animal that is more of a mess than the recruiting tactics of a certain school down I-35 , but the fact is that more teams need to have a chance at winning the National Championship.
With 5 power conferences, having only 4 teams in the playoff guarantees that at least 1 conference will not have a chance at the title. There are years when multiple teams in a conference can be considered "elite". If one conference has 2 teams with 1 loss apiece, but other conferences have a 13-0 team, and all conferences involved have a championship game, how would the committee view this situation? Most people can agree that 8 total teams would be a good place to start. We don't need to model football after the madness in March (as awesome as that might be), but limiting the playoff to 4 teams is too restrictive. The process to crown our national champion has improved from the BCS era, but I feel it could be improved with an 8 team playoff.