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Why the College Football Playoff should expand to 8 teams

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The College Football Playoff could be improved with these proposals.

College Football Playoff National Championship Media Day Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

Two of our writers at Maize n Brew believe the College Football Playoff should be expanded.

One perspective will outline a solution to the CFP, while the other states why expanding the playoff is absolutely necessary.

Andrew Vailliencourt:

College Football Playoff Solution

The College Football Playoff is great, but it could be better.

There’s been plenty of discussion in recent days about whether the NCAA should adopt an eight-team playoff format instead of limiting it to four teams. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the way things are now, I’ll admit. I believe the committee has selected the correct four teams each year, however, why not make something better if you can?

An eight-team playoff would allow the eight most deserving teams to have a shot at a national championship. No one-loss Power Five conference champions would be left out, undefeated Group of Five teams would have a better chance at being selected and there would be three weeks of exciting, meaningful football games instead of two.

More games, more fun, more money, more intrigue, more excitement, more upsets and a system that keeps conference championship games and the regular season meaningful.

Here’s what I propose:

  • The College Football Playoff Committee continues to rank the nation’s top 25 teams just like it does now. Same release dates, same basic criteria.
  • The Committee selects the top eight teams in these rankings to compete in the College Football Playoff. These should be the eight most deserving teams based on resume. That means looking at non-conferences opponents (looking at you SEC), strength of schedule, conference championships, ranked wins and obviously overall record.
  • No automatic selections. I’ve seen a lot of ideas about a playoff that includes the five conference champs, the highest ranked Group of Five team and two at-large teams. That’s a big no from me. I want the top eight teams regardless of conference. If the top eight teams doesn’t include a Group of Five team, then so be be it. If it doesn’t include one of the Power Five conference champions, then so be it. In most years, the top eight will include all five of the major conference champions - this year would be an exception (Washington). There won’t be an undefeated Group of Five team like UCF every year. When it happens, awesome, put them in. However, I don’t need to see an 11-2 Fresno State or 12-1 Toledo unless they’ve played a tough enough schedule, have the ranked wins, etc. that any other major contender would have. There should absolutely be more respect given to schools like Western Michigan or UCF that go undefeated, but if those schools don’t have the ranked wins to go with that record, it’s understandable why those teams might not make the playoff. The correct format is simple: eight at-large teams that can come from any conference. This ensures the four best match-ups.
  • Keep New Year’s Six Bowl tie-ins in tact. Conferences like the Big Ten and Pac-12 place high value on their Rose Bowl tie-ins, and just because we’ve changed the playoff to eight teams, it doesn’t mean these storied games have to end. With an eight-team playoff, you’d play seven total games. The first two rounds would take place at the current New Year’s Six bowl games: The Rose, Sugar, Cotton, Peach, Orange and Fiesta Bowls. The championship game would rotate around the country just how it does now.

The top four teams would determine which stadiums the first round would be played at. Of the top four teams, the highest ranked Big Ten OR Pac-12 team would play their opponent at the Rose Bowl, the highest ranked SEC OR Big 12 team would play their opponent in the Sugar Bowl, the highest ranked ACC team would play their opponent in the Orange Bowl and the remaining teams would choose which of the remaining bowls they would like to play in. If two teams from the same conference or a Group of Five team are in the top four, the second team would pick from the remaining bowls as well. Here’s how this would look using this year’s top eight:

  1. Alabama vs. UCF at the Sugar Bowl
  2. Clemson vs. Michigan at the Orange Bowl
  3. Notre Dame vs. Ohio State at the Rose Bowl*
  4. Oklahoma vs. Georgia at the Cotton Bowl**

*Notre Dame chooses the Rose Bowl over the Cotton, Peach and Fiesta Bowls

**Oklahoma chooses the Cotton Bowl over the Peach and Fiesta Bowls

The semifinal round of games would be played at the remaining two bowl sites, which in this case would be the Peach and Fiesta Bowls, while the national championship game is played at the pre-determined site (this year it’s Santa Clara, Calif.)

  • Simplify the bowl schedule and add one more week. With eight teams, there will be three weeks of games. You can make this work by simply adding one more week to the slate of games in January, and by moving the semifinal and championship games to Saturday’s instead of Monday nights. This year, for example, the four quarterfinal games would be played on Saturday, Dec. 29, the semifinal games would take place on Saturday, Jan. 5 and the national championship would be on Saturday, Jan. 12. That extends the season by a mere five days and doesn’t impact the rest of bowl season.

So there you have it. Eight teams, seven awesome football games and every conference has a chance. All while the regular season still matters as much as ever. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Trevor Woods:

College Football Playoff Expansion Is Necessary

Before the days of the CFP, we relied on computer metrics to determine who were the two best teams. Those days are now over with a committee deciding who are the top 4 teams.

I don’t hate the system, it’s a step in the right direction. The criteria used weighs strength of schedule, head-to-head results against common opponents, conference championships, and crunch all sorts of analytics to come up with their top 4.

The thing is, when you limit a playoff to only 4 teams, you’re bound to get the top 4 wrong sometimes. Sure, if they expand the playoff to 8, the 9th team will be bent out of shape, but 8 is good for the reasons Andrew already outlined.

If I had a vote, my top 4 would have looked the same as what the committee decided on, but I also wouldn’t have been sure if Oklahoma really was better than Ohio State, Georgia, or even Michigan.

Therein lies the problem, no matter how much objectively the committee vote on a top 4, an underlying amount of subjectivity will always be there. Don’t take my word for it, committee chair Rob Mullens said there was division, deep debate, and things even got contentious during committee discussions.

If the debate is that heated between committee members, that’s a big issue, and the problem isn’t their fault, it’s the systems fault. While the committee may have settled on a top 4, you know they weren’t all happy with what the final 4 ultimately was. That’s a red flag, a flag the screams “expand the playoff!”

Ohio State and Oklahoma both won conference championships, both have Heisman finalist quarterbacks, both have prolific offenses and weak defenses, both are 12-1. The Sooners loss was a little better than Ohio State’s, being a 3-point home loss to Texas opposed to Purdue spanking OSU 49-20.

The committee decided the loss to Purdue was enough to keep the Buckeyes out of the playoff, and put Oklahoma in it. But Ohio State also put up a ton of points against Michigan, winning 62-39. The Wolverines had the No. 1 defense heading into the game. Both OSU and Oklahoma won close games against inferior opponents throughout the season, and when you do an eye test and watch both teams, there’s no way of telling what team is better than the other.

Then there’s what I would classify as crazy talk, and it came from someone I respect, Kirk Herbstreit. After Georgia lost to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game 35-28, Herbstreit was adamant that the Bulldogs deserved to be the No. 4 team in the CFP.

I’m sorry Herbie, but that just isn’t logical. Georgia is 11-2, and they shouldn’t get rewarded for playing Alabama close. Herbstreit says asks Chris Fowler how he can watch Oklahoma’s defense and tell him they’re a top 4 team, to which Fowler countered how can Herbstreit watch Oklahoma’s offense and tell him they aren’t a top 4 team. Fowler went on to say that the games played have to matter, and losses need to be punished, not rewarded.

In reality, Georgia’s season wasn’t all that different from Michigan’s:

Georgia: 11-2

Best Wins: +19 vs #10, +17 at #14, +13 at #23

Losses: -20 at #11, -7 vs #1

Michigan: 10-2

Best Wins: +35 vs #12, +3 at #20

Losses: -7 at #3, -23 at #6

Although I completely disagree with the Herbstreit’s premise that Georgia should have been put in the CFP, I also think they’d have a shot at winning the National Championship if the CFP was expanded to 8 teams.

See where I’m going with this? Arguments can be made for this team being better or comparable to another team in the top 8, but none of these arguments are concrete. The debates lead to confusion, and that’s okay, it’s okay to not be sure who the best 4 teams are. It’s only a problem that they don’t know because they are in charge of selecting the 4 best teams. It would be easier finding out who the best 4 teams are by making the playoff consist of 8 teams.

Washington State coach Mike Leach summarized why the CFP is flawed, citing how every other level of college football has a bigger playoff than what we see in the FBS. Leach is spot on.

Give more teams a shot, just add 4 more. Think about if the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, changed their playoff to only feature 4 teams. Think about if the NCAA Tournament just made the tournament a Final Four, March Madness would turn into March Blandness. If you really think about the CFP in comparison to those examples it’s a no brainer to expand the playoff, anything other than doing so would be a mistake.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart said that if his team wasn’t selected to the CFP it would be an injustice. Well, Kirby, I encourage you, I encourage Jim Harbaugh, I encourage UCF coach Josh Heupel, and every other FBS coach to push hard and persistently to expand the playoff as quickly as possible.

UCF has won 25 games in a row, expanding the playoff would shut them up, as they’d have their shot as a top 8 team to play Bama. “We want Bama!”, they say. Expanding the playoff would give them Bama, and they’d shock the world or get their butts kicked. Either way, it would be good television.

There are tons of reasons to expand, and not many to warrant keeping the playoff threshold at 4.

While the playoff won’t be expanding as early as 2019, it appears expansion will be coming sooner rather than later:

The structure of the playoff right now sets up the committee for failure. If Oklahoma gets demolished by Alabama, everyone will be saying how Georgia or Ohio State should have made the playoff instead.

Something like this has already happened. In 2016, the committee selected Washington at No. 4, and Ohio State at No. 3, only to see Washington lose to Alabama 24-7, and OSU getting embarrassed by Clemson 31-0. That was a year where it was easy to say (in retrospect) that No. 5 Penn State, No. 6 Michigan, No. 7 Oklahoma would have fared better than OSU and Washington. Not that those teams were more deserving to be placed in the top 4, but after the fact it was clear one of the teams 5-7 might have played Alabama or Clemson better.

Some years the CFP matchups will be better than others and competitive games will ensue. But when the games aren’t competitive, the fans start pointing fingers at the committee claiming they should have put Team Y at No. 4 instead of Team Z.

Expanding the playoff to 8 wouldn’t be some heavenly type infallible system, but the types of debates we’ve been hearing would no longer exist. Only having 4 teams in a playoff already feels outdated, and to that I say get with the times, FBS.