As it stands now, the College Football Playoff isn't necessarily broken. It is not rife with holes and controversy—a theme that has stayed true since it was first introduced in 2014. But what has become increasingly apparent over time is that it still isn't quite sure what it wants to be.
For the first time since its inception, the idea of expanding to create a more legitimate, results-oriented selection process feels necessary. Sure, the idea of adding four more teams is intriguing. More games. More interest. More money. More football.
But most of all, an eight-team playoff would finally allow the sport to reward the best teams and the most deserving, something it simply cannot balance in present time with criteria that seem to change on a yearly, if not weekly, basis.
In many ways, that's part of the sport's charm. It is in college football's DNA to be somewhat cryptic and controversial. It's mastered it through the bowls and the BCS and now the playoff, and this season is no different.
The top three seeds—Alabama, Clemson and Notre Dame—didn't have to wait to learn their football fates. All three finished the year unbeaten, which meant there was no argument surrounding their inclusion. It also meant the College Football Playoff selection committee had one final spot to debate.
In selecting Big 12 champion Oklahoma over Georgia (No. 5) and Ohio State (No. 6) to round out the top four, the committee made a decision that would upset the least amount of people: It pegged a team that won its conference and avenged the only loss on its schedule against Texas.
In the current format, it feels appropriate. But that's part of the problem: What exactly is this format, and what is the committee truly searching for in how it ultimately ranks teams?
"Well, it boils down to one thing," Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said following the team's loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. "Do you want the four best teams in or not? It's that simple. ... Give that coach across the sideline a vote who he doesn't want to play. He'll start with us. I promise you, you don't want to play us."
As emotional as the moment was for Smart, who knew his team was out, he isn't necessarily wrong—despite the bias with which he presents his point. Georgia, even with two losses, is one of the four best teams in college football. The Bulldogs would be a four-point favorite on a neutral field, according to Aaron Kessler, the sportsbook director at Golden Nugget Las Vegas.
Georgia also lost to two of the best teams in the nation. And it's not often that a defeat generates the biggest takeaway after a day of results and wins, but that is what the Bulldogs managed to do on Saturday.
Their omission from the playoff isn't necessarily a shock. They did lose, after all, which is important. The selection committee says conference championships matter, which is why Oklahoma felt like the right decision. But then why rank Georgia over Ohio State, which won the Big Ten in impressive fashion, in the final rankings? It's as if the committee's criteria and guidelines, which are growing increasingly more difficult to follow, are used until they are no longer appropriate.
And as we witnessed last year with Alabama, which found its way into the playoff without a conference championship, the criteria cannot handle the nuances from one season to the next.
Why not put an emphasis on winning your conference by directly rewarding those that do just that? Give five playoff spots to the five Power Five conference champions. If these games are as important as advertised, make them mean everything.
The three remaining spots could then go to those most deserving in an at-large selection process that the committee could oversee. This would cover conference-less Notre Dame, Georgia and potentially a program like Central Florida.
Allowing a pathway for a team outside of a major conference to actually have a legitimate crack at the playoff would be a positive outcome of expansion, and one that would impact the future UCFs of the world in a meaningful way.
The College Football Playoff website states: "Every FBS team has equal access to the playoff based on its performance." As it stands now, this is a farce. And while teams will still have to have magical seasons simply to be considered, why not allow them that chance?
This isn't meant to be deeply controversial. Nor is this for Georgia, which had its chance on Saturday. Or Ohio State, which understood the impact its lopsided loss to Purdue would have.
The College Football Playoff as it stands has done a fabulous job generating interest in the postseason. This year is no different; Alabama-Oklahoma and Clemson-Notre Dame will provide fitting spotlights to cap off its year that no one will have issues with days from now, when the reality of this new postseason settles in.
But it doesn't have to be this way. There is a system in which both talent and results could be rewarded while creating a more inclusive format that would touch more teams and fanbases and turn conference championship weekend—a weekend that used to mean more than it feels like it does right now—into its own playoff.
It wouldn't water things down, an argument that was overstated when the idea of a four-team bracket was floated. This is less about adding more football and far more about applying logic to a system that feels like it deserves more than weekly group discussions and reveals. It would create a spectacle while also legitimizing a process that is becoming increasingly more frustrating to understand.
And, sure. More football. That part wouldn't be bad, either.