The College Football Playoff system is in the midst of its first year of true controversy. Going into the final week before the Final Four was to be determined, ten schools held strong arguments to be included among them based on the results of their conference championship matchups. This leaves many wondering whether the breadth of playoff contenders should be expanded yet again, to either six or eight teams. The answer should be a resounding no.
No matter how much the field is expanded, there will always be that one school that feels as if it was snubbed. There will always be controversy, and that is clearly evident in March Madness. Mediocre teams who have no shot of competing with the annual powerhouses like Kentucky or Kansas are often clamoring that the committee made a mistake. Qualifying for a postseason tournament should be hard – leave the participation trophies in youth sports. The College Football Playoff should be reserved for the truly elite teams.
The playoff field was set at four so that it would not diminish the excitement and importance of the regular season. Expanding the field too much would diminish the intensity of a game like the one we witnessed a several weeks ago between Ohio State and Michigan. That game will go down as one of the best games of our generation because of the playoff implications. If both teams knew they would make the postseason going into the matchup, the rivalry would still be fierce, but the energy of that thriller was amplified by the fact that the loser would be eliminated from the national title conversation. If Michigan has any complaints, then it simply should not have lost.
It’s not as if these teams being left out have perfect resumes. Alabama is the only Power 5 school with a perfect record. Ohio State, Clemson and Washington are the only other three with one loss. Those four schools deserve to play for the national championship, and they have proven this consistently. They have the right to battle it out with the best of the best. The remainder of the field had good seasons, but they simply weren’t good enough, and don’t deserve a reward.
Another conundrum that the playoff committee faced this year was how to value conference championship winners. Penn State won the Big Ten title in a thrilling 21-point comeback over Wisconsin, but it was snubbed by the committee. The committee reaffirmed its goal of selecting the “four very best teams in football” for the playoff, according to CFP Committee Chairman Kirby Hocutt, by excluding a two-loss Penn State squad in favor of one-loss Ohio State. The Nittany Lions beat the Buckeyes earlier in the season, and many felt that a conference championship and a head-to-head victory were enough to supplant the Buckeyes if the decision needed any sort of tiebreaker. However, those facts are just a piece of the discussion, and they are merely supplemental parts. While Penn State had a successful season, the committee, as well as much of the U.S., views Ohio State as the better team. Their record proves it. The goal of the playoff is to select the four best teams, and the committee did just that.
The playoff system as it stands now will always leave out at least one worthy school, and a mid-major college will likely never get a shot at the title under this format. Maybe expanding to six teams could solve that problem, but then you risk conforming to the styles of every professional sports league. The regular season won’t matter as much, and fans won’t have to tune in weekly to catch the season-altering upsets that shake up the college football landscape nearly every Saturday. To be considered a national champion, you must truly be an elite team. Losing two or three games in college football is not elite. Save the playoffs for the teams that deserve it. If teams don’t like it, then they shouldn’t give the committee a reason to snub them in the first place.