November 26, 2020

Should the CFP Format Be Changed?

The College Football Playoff was first implemented in the 2014-2015 college football season. Even though it’s been such a short run, many people are already calling for it to be changed. Most people like a playoff format rather than the AP deciding the top two teams to play in the championship game. The problem people have is the number of teams being in the playoff. 

Rather than having only four teams in the playoff, there are proposals for a six-team or eight-team playoff and some people even suggest more teams. These proposals are intriguing, especially with the picks the CFP committee selects every year still being controversial. Teams are left out every year that are debatably worthy of a spot and there are no set criteria to make the playoff. Because of that, the demand for an expansion grows every year. 

In 2020, the demand seems to be even higher with every conference playing a different number of games, the constant postponements or cancellations, players having to sit out and two Group of Five teams being at the top of the competition, BYU and Cincinnati. Looking back to UCF in 2018, they were left out of the CFP with a ranking of #8 and no team outside of the Power Five conferences have come closer. This year, both BYU and Cincinnati are higher ranked than UCF in 2018, yet they may not get the opportunity to play in the CFP simply because of their conference.

Even though I like the idea of a six or eight-team playoff and I think it will happen eventually, I believe a five-team playoff might be best right now. The CFP committee is skeptical of expanding to six or eight teams, so why not test it out first with a small step-up to five teams? This format would be the same as the MLB’s format. The fourth and fifth-ranked teams would play first to get into the semifinals. Whoever wins faces off against the top-ranked team and number two and three continue their matchup. It’s different and it’s a small change, but I think it might be the best option.

For one, it’s tougher to say that the two or four teams left out of the playoff every year are genuinely worthy of a spot. However, you can make an argument for almost all fifth-ranked teams in the past. This new format may even lead to different rankings or criteria, like giving more opportunities to Group of Five teams. If this format would’ve been implemented in the past, these would be the “wild card” matchups:

  1. 2014: #4 Ohio State vs. #5 Baylor
  2. 2015: #4 Oklahoma vs. #5 Iowa
  3. 2015: #4 Washington vs. #5 Penn State
  4. 2015: #4 Alabama vs. #5 Ohio State
  5. 2015: #4 Oklahoma vs. #5 Georgia
  6. 2015: #4 Oklahoma vs. #5 Georgia

I think some of these matchups may have been different if this rule was in effect, but the Alabama vs. Ohio State game is reason enough to make this change. If we’re trying to appeal to the CFP committee, this would be a great way to earn even more money. More people would be likely to watch this game than a bowl game with no impact on the championship. It might also make the #1 matchup more intriguing if the #5 team is better than the #4 team and wins the “wild card” game. In the four out of six games where the #1 team won, they won by an average margin of 20.75 points. Those games are not the exciting games we hope they will be. Any chance to give us more competitive games, I’ll take it.

Having an eight-team playoff gives more chances for blowout games and a six-team playoff creates two bye weeks that don’t work well with the long time off they already receive in bowl season. If we want to add the criteria we ask for you could even say each Power Five conference gets their champion in the playoff and the five seed can be a Group of Five team if they are undefeated and one Power Five champion has two or more losses. I think the criteria isn’t necessary, but this format opens up more opportunities for them to be established, like this example.

Lastly, this change can be easily made with bowl games. Currently, there is a rotation of six bowl games that host the semifinals, meaning these games can remain in the new rotation. Rather than two every year, it would be three every year. Yes, one would be left with the “wild card” game, but they would still get better ratings and more money than a non-CFP matchup would. There would be a rotation, too, so that everyone hosts that game an even amount. 

Will this change ever happen? Probably not. But it’s still interesting to think about, especially in a year like 2020. More games are always better, so I’ll be happy with any change. What do you think the CFP should do in the future?

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