From junior high softball to the NFL, every playoff format on the planet is built upon objective merit alone. If you win, you’re in.
But not FBS football. No, college football’s highest level of competition awards four out of 128 team every season by virtue of a trivial committee’s subjective opinion.
Indeed, the University of Central Florida knows this flaw all to well. After posting a 12-0 regular season record in 2017, the Knights were hung out to dry. Even with a marquee 34-27 Peach Bowl win over the No. 7-ranked “SEC golden child” Auburn Tigers, they never even got a chance at the title.
What more does the committee want? What else could UCF have done? Due to the system, the committee was torn between two equally dangerous precedents.
- Eliminate every non-power 5 conference team in the preseason due to a weak schedule.
- Penalize storied programs with quality losses for thrashing it out on the gridiron amid the regular season.
Surely, neither of these should be reality, but the system is a zero-sum game. One must be protected at the expense of the other. You don’t have to be a Dr. Pepper vendor – the fictional founder of the College Football Playoff – to know the format is broken.
The biggest advocate for expanding the College Football Playoff since its inaugural 2014 season has been Washington State Head Coach Mike Leach. He has unequivocally and categorically opposed the current four-team format that eerily parallels a high school ASB election.
“We need to have a bigger playoff format. I think most people think that. I think if you were to vote on it, there’d be a lot more playoff teams. I’d vote for 64, but I do think there’d probably be 16,” Leach told the press after WSU’s 41-38 victory over the Stanford Cardinal.
But the age-old question remains, how could you possibly do it? Simply put, like everybody else.
“I’ve always thought a conference champion should be in the playoff no matter who they are,” Leach said.
The head coach is right. The annual tradition of snubbing deserving programs by the handful has got to go.
“It’s fun and captivating for people to watch, fun and captivating for people to enjoy, fun and captivating for everybody to play,” Leach said of an expanded format. “Why wouldn’t you tee it up and see how it unfolds, ya know?”
One of the most popular – and similarly weak – stances in defense of a four team playoff hides behind the impenetrable shield of academics. Though, it doesn’t hold much ground after a bit of digging.
“That’s the lamest reason of all,” Leach said. “If you think about when playoffs are, a lot of it would take place when guys are out of school anyway.”
Additionally, football at any level only plays up to one game a week. The notion that football acts as a disproportionate hinderance on a student-athletes classroom performance in comparison to other sports is beyond illogical.
So why then do the higher ups of college football hide behind this false front? Perhaps one of two reasons:
- College football is rich with tradition and equally unwilling to change
Bet on the latter.
It’s no question that an expanded playoff would generate more revenue, and integrating the current bowl system into the format could certainly tame purists. However, the issue may not be how much money, but rather how the money is distributed between teams and conferences.
NCAA men’s basketball, who showcases a masterfully orchestrated 68-team playoff, promotes a rather socialist approach. Each conference is given one unit per tournament win and awarded proportionate payout accordingly. Conferences are then encouraged to split this money up evenly between all members. Some follow this recommendation and others don’t.
Notably, the WCC isn’t one to ruffle feathers. Gonzaga – owner of 38 units – has equally split over $35 million in winnings with WCC foe. While Mark Few and company may not be thrilled about this policy, one can assume annual beachside cheers from the Pepperdine Waves.
A completely skewed and criminal distribution of wealth for over 20 years has not stopped Gonzaga from opulent achievement. Indeed, a small Jesuit university from Spokane clawed their way into the national title bout in 2017 despite playing in the vanilla WCC.
“I know people who are just rampant Gonzaga fans – they don’t know were Spokane is, they’ve never been there,” Leach said. “Because of an expanded tournament format.”
Strength of schedule is not the issue. Money distribution is not the issue. Tradition is not the issue. Conference disparity is not the issue. Building an overly condensed playoff based on subjective opinion and prediction? That is an issue.
After all, why even play the game if a committee can do it all behind a closed door?