The College Football Playoff System Needs an Overhaul Because This Format Stinks

Adam Kramer@kegsneggsNational College Football Lead WriterDecember 20, 2020

The trophy is displayed before a news conference for the NCAA College Football Playoff national championship game Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020, in New Orleans. Clemson is scheduled to play LSU on Monday. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip).
David J. Phillip/Associated Press

The system stinks. This year, more than any year, has proved that the four-team College Football Playoff as it stands, seven years in, is overcomplicated and lacking direction.

It does what it's asked. It gives a champion each year, and that champion is largely worthy. But how we arrive at that moment often takes us on a turbulent, inconsistent path that is wildly excessive. The process, from start to finish, is broken.

Change is needed. Change is likely coming—if not now, then soon. And the next version of the playoff should include more teams; fewer goofy, overhyped closed-door meetings; and a bracket that can be easily filled without human influence.

We don't need a group of 13 human beings—aka the selection committee—deciding a playoff. We need clarity, transparency and a system that awards greatness across the sport's landscape. 

Not just big, well-known brands. Not just Power Five teams. But a system that allows any dream season to be rewarded regardless of where it comes from. Not one that provides false hope for so many that they can gain access if the stars align. Real opportunity.

The four teams this year are set. No. 2 Clemson will play No. 3 Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl. No. 1 Alabama will play No. 4 Notre Dame in what was the Rose Bowl. (That game, because of COVID-19 issues in the state of California, will be played in Arlington, Texas.) 

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Deciding the playoff in any year is difficult enough, even when the total games played are largely even across the board. With cancellations and postponements, with rosters being largely impacted from week to week because of positive COVID tests and contact tracing, an abstract process was always going to be put to the test in a year unlike any other. And it was. 

The committee shouldn't be blamed for selecting Ohio State, a team with only six games played. It shouldn't be blamed for picking Notre Dame over Texas A&M, the No. 5 team in the final rankings. It shouldn't even be blamed for inexplicably ranking two-loss Oklahoma over unbeaten Cincinnati in the final ranking. Well, maybe this last one is hard to justify. 

"The committee has great respect for Cincinnati," committee chairman Gary Barta said when asked about the Bearcats' ranking. "They're undefeated. They won their conference championship. They're a terrific team. But it's comparing them to the six teams you see on your board, and it was believed by the committee that those resumes were stronger overall than Cincinnati's resume."

Sure. 

Aaron Doster/Associated Press

This decision, while infuriating, is exactly how the playoff was constructed and why it needs a massive overhaul. Cincinnati, even after an unblemished, overpowering season that culminated with an AAC conference championship win over Tulsa, a ranked team, was never supposed to make the playoff. The deck is and has always been stacked against it.

But in a year when there really is no good answer for one or perhaps two of the playoff teams, it's clear that the pageantry format is no longer appropriate. It just took a disjoined, pandemic-heavy regular season for these conclusions to be reached.

The solution is not rocket science. In fact, the way to solve this is straightforward, streamlined and far easier to consume.

Eight teams. Expand the playoff, and don't think twice about it. Coming from someone who loves football in all shapes and forms: An extra round will create more unique matchups between programs that likely will not play each other in a given season. 

Not just more football. More captivating matchups.

Those eight teams should be decided as such: The winner of all five Power Five conference championship games get a spot in the bracket. The top Group of Five team gets a spot as well, and this one is frankly a long time coming. The remaining two vacancies will be awarded as at-large bids.

We don't need a committee for this. Resurrect the BCS rankings, or something similar, and let it do the heavy lifting when it comes to the Group of Five teams and at-large bids. Also, let the BCS 2.0—the working title—seed the tournament. 

No matter how hard the playoff committee tries to eliminate bias from its rankings, the task is impossible. If it were Northwestern or Michigan State in Ohio State's position this season—with the same resume across a Big 10 schedule—those teams would likely not have a place in the final four. That's just the reality.

Although the committee does what it can to review these teams through the proper lenses, decades of football hierarchy cannot be erased no matter how hard it tries. That has become abundantly clear. So, let's eliminate the committee from the process entirely.

This could also turn conference championship weekend into a mini-playoff. It wouldn't cheapen the season like some assume it would; it would add significance to those individual games, expand the horizon for the number of teams within reach and create a frenzy before the playoffs even begin.

Brian Blanco/Associated Press

Winning your conference would mean something again. In fact, it would mean more than ever. And the safety net for the at-large and Group of Five teams would ensure that what happened to Cincinnati this year never happens again.

There will still be controversy. Of course there will be. College basketball obsesses over the programs that just miss out on its 68-team tournament. College football, in an eight-team format, would still generate discussion over the worth of teams just out of reach.

The parameters to get to the playoff, however, would be more defined. The arguments would be lessened and centered. The criteria more straightforward. It would still possess a certain element of "choice" to fill the eight, but those choices would be made without statements that often contradict themselves during the cycle.

As weird it sounds, bring back the computers. The BCS was never a problem; the lack of teams that could've benefited from it was. 

This is not a wildly original concept being proposed. It's likely the answer many have thought of and pondered, largely because it makes the most sense.

The College Football Playoff has gotten us here. It has served its purpose, and its influence over the past seven years has been positive overall. But it cannot and shouldn't go on like this. 

The sport deserves better. Teams, like Cincinnati and even Coastal Carolina, deserve much better. You deserve better.

And in time, hopefully sooner than later, better will be delivered in a system that does what the College Football Playoff set out to do.