Alabama. Oregon. Florida State. Ohio State. It's a final four any college football fan would dream of in the inaugural four-team playoff system. The College Football Playoff selection committee got it right, or they at least didn't get it wrong, and that decision between selecting Florida State, Ohio State, TCU and/or Baylor has made for some lively debate all across the country.
Four teams are better than two, sure, but is four better than…more?
The question the College Football Playoff committee is answering in the wake of its first football final four announcement is why they decided to include Ohio State over Big 12 competitors Baylor and TCU. The question they really should be answering today is: When do we get to eight, so we no longer have to have that debate and can, instead, see that decided on the field?
Four is good. Eight would be better. And look, I admit the system worked this season. The first year of the playoff system has given us the opportunity to see Nick Saban and Alabama go up against Urban Meyer and Ohio State in a game that will move the winner into a matchup against either Marcus Mariota and Oregon or Jameis Winston and Florida State.
This year's playoff is set up to be incredible drama, hand-picked by a committee of a dozen or so college football enthusiasts, coaches and current athletic directors as part of a new system that is horribly flawed despite giving us a reasonable and credible outcome.
The transparent process of weekly voting only served to confuse people and give teams a false sense of hope throughout the process. How is it possible that a Big Ten team didn't appear in the Top Four a single week until the final vote came in? Why did the resume matter more than the eye test some weeks and less others? What exactly is "game control?"
Yes, the process needs work, and no, the Big 12 teams cannot really complain about getting screwed out of a system their league was ill-equipped to process. Without a championship game—a 13th game for its playoff candidates to get a win over another top opponent—the league was relying on an overall body of work that, for TCU and Baylor, proved insufficient for inclusion.
In other words, TCU and Baylor didn't do enough to get into the tournament because their league doesn't have enough teams, and their collectively undefeated out-of-conference schedules are worse, somehow, than losing to Virginia Tech.
Wouldn't it just make more sense to let them all in and figure it out on the field?
The playoff committee can say all it wants that Ohio State's victory over Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game provided all the tiebreaking needed to include them in the final four, but until this week, TCU was ranked third—ahead of Florida State—and the Horned Frogs went out and trounced a conference opponent by more than 50 points, yet dropped from third to sixth in the process.
Granted, beating Georgia Tech may have been undefeated FSU's best win of the year, and the Buckeyes' win over the Badgers was the signature moment of the weekend, but Baylor beat a top-10 team this weekend—a better opponent than either Florida State or Ohio State had to face, per the playoff rankings from last week—and all they did was leapfrog their amphibious conference foe and get left out in the cold in the process.
So I'll ask the question again: Isn't more better? Isn't including every team that has a legitimate claim to the Top Four into the conversation better than letting a group of voters with clear interests in mind decide which four teams get to fight for the title?
If we clamor for teams to schedule tougher opponents so we can decide who the best teams are on the field and not in the weekly rankings, why can't we manufacture a system where we force them to do exactly that?
If the beauty of college football is that every game matters, what would be the harm in creating four additional games that matter even more?
There wouldn't be a devaluation of the regular season if the playoff committee went from four teams to eight any less than there was going from two to four. In fact—and I hasten to use that word in anything as subjective as the college playoff system—going to four teams over the BCS model of picking the top two may have made this regular season matter more than any in recent memory.
Has anyone ever been this interested in the goings-on of two teams from Mississippi? The two-loss Arizona Wildcats had a stake in the college playoff system until losing to Oregon this week that the BCS system never would have provided, and other two-loss teams that ended up on the outside looking in had great chances to make their seasons count deep into November and December.
This year, six teams with one loss or fewer were vying for four spots, and we're left debating Baylor, TCU and Ohio State for the final spot.
Last year, we would have spent all day debating why in the world Oregon is being left out of the national-championship game while Florida State gets to play Alabama. So, yes, progress has been made.
Four is great. It's just not eight.
An eight-team playoff makes the most sense for a sport that has more than 120 teams—we're talking about the difference between the top three percent and the top six percent of the FBS teams getting a chance to play for the national title—especially considering the fact the Power Five conferences aren't guaranteed a seat at the table in the current model, and even more because the committee expressed just how hard it was (until miraculously this week when the decision needed to be finalized) to pick their top four teams at all.
Do eight teams deserve a chance to play for the national title this year? Probably not, no, but six legitimately do, so why isn't more better than less? Would it be that bad if, say, Michigan State was invited to the party and happened to win? We're talking about some incredible upsets if that were to happen, meaning the televised event of determining a college football champion would be even that much more memorable.
Remember, this is all about television revenue. Let's not think for one second that Ohio State didn't get in over two schools from Texas because they were named TCU and Baylor, not Texas and Texas A&M. The current television contract between the power brokers involved in the college football playoff and ESPN is a 12-year deal worth about $470 million. Per season.
Do not tell me than an additional round of playoff games would not be good for the deep-pocketed television wizards, too.
Everybody wins with more teams. The networks win. The conferences win. The teams win. The fans win.
The only loser is the team that finishes ninth. And probably Notre Dame, and right now, nobody cares about either of them.
Imagine, if you will, a system that has the top four seeds hosting first-round games on December 20 against the four teams just on the outside of the current playoff system.
Alabama would host Michigan State, Oregon would face Mississippi State, Florida State would host TCU and Ohio State would invite Baylor into the Horseshoe to see, on the field, which team deserves to be in the final four.
Making the first round on campus would do two things: First, a distinct advantage would go to the teams hosting those games, and second, there would be no additional strain on the fans being asked to travel to multiple neutral-site games.
Then, after a round of eight on campus sites, the semifinals would be held in Pasadena and New Orleans, with the four teams that won those games on the field facing each other in a proper semifinal round.
Would Alabama beat Michigan State? Sure, especially in Tuscaloosa. Would Oregon take care of Mississippi State? In Eugene, almost certainly.
Would Florida State be able to thwart TCU? Would Ohio State be able to handle Baylor? Who has any idea? Nobody knows, and that's the fun of getting the chance to see it happen on the field.
Given the home-field advantage, one could only assume the four teams that got into this year's playoffs would advance in an eight-team tournament, but who can possibly suggest it wouldn't be more fun to see that happen than debate the notion in theory?
Now, granted, inviting more teams could be a lot like inviting more guests to a wedding. Once you get to a certain part of the list, it's even harder to differentiate between the eighth guest and the 16th. There's a case to be made that even including eight would mean inviting all the conference champions, and what would have happened if Missouri had beaten Alabama this past weekend? What would the committee do about the Mountain West, and would that change in years Boise State doesn't win the title?
More is good, but too much is not. We certainly don't want to be left with every team making the tournament and SMU facing Georgia State because more teams is better!
Eight teams is what's better. Any more than that becomes noticeably unwieldy. But don't get me wrong here. Four is good, but it comes down to this: Why rely on a boardroom full of voters to decide who is four and who is five, six, seven and eight when we could get four amazing games between the best teams in the sport, in December, with the season on the line?
How is more good football not better? Four is awesome. I just can't wait until it gets to eight.