Why College Football Playoff Should Always Remain at 4 Teams

Samuel Chi@@ThePlayoffGuruCollege Football Playoff GuruMarch 31, 2014

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What if last season's college football playoff yielded this quartet of teams vying for the national championship: Florida State, South Carolina, USC and Vanderbilt?

Would you be OK with that?

That's exactly what the basketball Final Four has given us if we line up the teams according to the official rankings given by the selection committee (for basketball) against the final regular season AP poll (for football).

The parallels are pretty apt, actually. We have a consensus No. 1 (Florida/Florida State), a very good team from a top conference that didn't win its title (Wisconsin/South Carolina), an extremely talented team that underachieved for part of the season (Kentucky/USC) and a middle-of-the-pack team from a power conference (UConn/Vandy). 

But unless Florida wins the basketball title, as Florida State did in football, would anybody say the NCAA tournament gave us the best team of the season?

No, it'd have given us the best team in a six-game stretcha mere 15 percent of the year.

This is why when someone clamors for a full-blown "playoff" for college football, you should climb to the peak of the nearest mountain and yell, "stop!"

College Football Playoff will debut next season and give us a four-team playoff. That is going to be good enough. Any more it will significantly reduce the importance of the regular season. A 16-team playoff, as some have proposed, will render it nearly meaningless.

As it is right now, a 16-team playoff will allow 13 percent of all FBS teams to have a shot at the national championship. That's only slightly lower than the 19 percent of Division I teams that gets to play in the 68-team NCAA tournament.

Playoff Participant as a Percentage of Teams
LeagueTotal TeamsPlayoff TeamsPercentage
*As of 2014 season

Why does college football want to emulate that model? Does a team that finished ninth in its conference with a .500 record really deserve to be crowned "national champion" as UConn was in 2011? That would be like allowing Vanderbilt or Texas A&M to win last year's football title if they were to get hot in a playoff.

The thing is, college football's extremely narrow path to the national championship—from the poll era to the BCS and now the CFP—makes for the most meaningful and rigorous regular season. Except for rare cases, such as 2003 and 2011, there really is no such thing as a "meaningless regular-season game" for any team with aspirations for the national title.

In American sportspro or collegethere is no regular season that is remotely close to college football's in terms of integrity. There will never be a game where a title contender gets to rest its starters in preparation for a playoff game (OK, those late-season SEC vs. FCS games excluded, but that's a different issue). 

Any playoff that's more watered down than the four-team version of the CFP will do irrevocable damage to the regular season. If you want to observe what a meaningless regular-season game looks like for a title contender, just tune to any NCAA basketball game that takes place before the show on Selection Sunday.

Does college football want that?

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