With the 2023 college football season underway, and this year the last of the four-team playoff, I decided to delve into the new playoff format, and what I think they should do differently. This is something that has been long overdue. For years, the powers that be resisted changes to how college football determined the national champion. Until 1997, it was a mythical national championship based on polls. Starting in 1998, the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) was created to insure the top two ranked teams would play each other for the national championship, but the 16 years of the BCS was filled with controversy. Many years, there were huge debates over who would play for the national championship with multiple teams presenting a case to play.
The BCS stated that certain conference champions would get automatic bids to a BCS game, leading to the creation of the term BCS Conference (now Power 5), and the other conferences being considered mid-majors (now group of 5). There were seasons where the mid-majors were undefeated and would still be left out of the national championship game over BCS conference teams with 1 loss due to a perceived weak schedule. They would still get a BCS bowl game, as what was termed a “BCS Buster” and they went 4-2 in those games against BCS Conference teams. Additionally, there was often controversy about who would play in the other BCS bowl games.
The controversy over the BCS even extended into the political spectrum, as politicians got involved, introducing legislation to scrap the BCS and holding congressional hearings on the BCS. Even the Justice Department got involved, investigating if anti-trust violations were being committed. Even ESPN got involved in the controversy. Due to holding the games the last 4 years of the BCS, along their massive contract with the SEC, ESPN would regularly stump for them. Even heading into the last week of the 2013 season, ESPN was stumping for them. Heading into the last week, the only undefeated teams were Florida State and Ohio State. The 3rd ranked team Auburn had 1 loss. The ESPN anchors said on air even if Florida State and Ohio State win, the writers should still vote for Auburn to play for the national championship over Ohio State because they don’t have to be held accountable for their votes as it’s the last vote they’ll get.
The inception of the 4-team playoff in 2014 and selection by a committee instead of computers and writers with axes to grind and agendas to advance, was thought to have tempered down the controversy, but it’s only fanned the flames. The first year of the playoff, the final spot was down to Ohio State, Baylor, and TCU. Ohio State got in with their 12-1 record due to their 59-0 thrashing of Wisconsin in the Big 10 Championship Game, while Baylor and TCU were left out at 11-1 due to the Big 12 not having a conference championship game, and the opportunity for that 13th data point the playoff selection committee values. Ohio State would go on to win the first-ever playoff with their third-string quarterback. With the BCS, they wouldn’t have gotten in, and neither would have their opponent in the game, Oregon.
After 2014, the powers that be were bent on seeing their golden boys from the ACC and SEC not get embarrassed, and would come up with any excuse they could to keep Big 10, Big 12, and Pac-12 teams out. Ohio State was one of the four best teams in 2015, but they were left out because they didn’t win their conference or play for the Big 10 title. In 2017, Ohio State won the Big 10 with an 11-2 record, while Alabama didn’t win their division and had an 11-1 record. Alabama was selected for the final spot, despite not winning their division and playing a weak schedule. While Ohio State lost to Oklahoma in non-conference play, Alabama beat up on Mercer and Colorado State. Alabama would go on to win the national championship.
Starting next year, the playoff will be a 12-team playoff. While it’s a welcome sight over the previous formats, it’s still not enough. As of this writing, six of the ten conference champions will get automatic bids, along with 6 at-large bids. Until the Pac-12’s disintegration last month, this format was thought to guarantee a bid to all the Power 5 conference champions, along with 1 Group of Five champion. However, I feel that this isn’t enough. They should have expanded the playoff to 16 teams. Division 1-A college football is the only sport and the only level where winning your conference doesn’t guarantee you a chance to play for the national title. It’s just not right. College basketball gives an automatic bid to every conference champion and it leads to Cinderella stories come March. Why can’t college football do the same?
They can easily add four more teams and make it a true playoff. The arguments that have been made against a 16 team playoff went out the window when they expanded it to 12 and will have the first round games on college campuses, followed by using the New Year’s 6 bowl games for the quarterfinals and semifinals. For years they resisted a 16 team playoff because it would interfere with academics. Rubbish. At most, it would go a week into each side of winter break depending on the schools calendar. Basketball has a 3 week tournament when classes are actually in session. They said it would ruin the bowl experience for everyone else. Even before the 4 team playoff, the bowl games aside from the national championship game were nothing more than a consolation game. They’ll still be that way. Plus, players with NFL aspirations usually opt out. They said it would endanger players health. Garbage. The teams playing for the national championship would end up playing an additional 2 games, and now the clock will keep running after a first down except in the last 2 minutes of each half. All their arguments have gone out the window. Give every conference champion a chance and expand it to 16.