Why an 8-team College Football Playoff is the Last Logical System Moving Forward

Every season, it seems, college football finds itself victim to it’s own process. Who deserves to be in? Who deserves to be out? The ongoing debate, which universities deserve to be in college football’s playoff system, is as warranted as it is frustrating. Since moving from the Bowl Championship System (BCS), a process in which a formula determined the championship game, the debate still continues on who is the real national champion and who deserves to be in the playoffs.

The current format, known as the plus-one system, sees four out of over 140 schools make the postseason. These four schools are chosen by a College Football Playoff Committee compromised of 13 individuals with current or past experience in the game. According to the College Football Playoff website, there is five different criteria for selecting the four schools.

  1. Performance on the field (added this past season)
  2. Conference championships won
  3. Strength of schedule
  4. Head-to-head game results
  5. Comparison of results against common opponents

Since the four short seasons the plus-one system has been in effect, the five criteria points listed above have already been jeopardized (specifically the past two years). In 2016, the Penn State Nittany Lions won the Big Ten Conference as well as defeating the Ohio State Buckeyes. When the playoff committee selected teams, they decided to skip over conference champion Penn State and award Ohio State the fourth and final spot.

How did Ohio State fair in the playoffs? They were shutout 31-0 by eventual champion Clemson. In 2016, it’s safe to say the committee placed the wrong team into the postseason while also contradicting criteria points when determining a worthy playoff school. This past season, something similar happened although not to the extent of 2016.

This past season the committee decided to put another non-conference champion into the postseason, the Alabama Crimson Tide. Conference champions Georgia, Oklahoma and Clemson all received an invitation to the playoff – but conference champions Southern California and Ohio State were both left out. With Alabama only having one loss, and with USC and Ohio State suffering awful losses to both Iowa and Notre Dame; it was hard to argue putting either team over Alabama.

Ohio State and USC are not the concerns, however. A mid-major school from the American Conference named Central Florida finished the season undefeated, but were left out of the playoffs. Not too many were concerned with UCF’s playoff absence, as Western Michigan had gone undefeated a season ago only to lose to Wisconsin in a non-semifinal bowl game. UCF changed that perception once they defeated Auburn in a non-semifinal bowl game, the same Auburn team that handed both Georgia and Alabama their only losses (two schools in this year’s national championship game).

As a result, UCF claimed themselves national champions and even gave all their coaches the national championship bonus that is in their contracts! To everyone outside UCF, the result is yet another season in college football where we do not have a clear cut champion. This isn’t the first time this has happened, as there have been many ‘co-champions’ during the BCS days. However, the fact we are in 2018 and still having this debate makes it clear that the college football playoffs need to adjust to the times we are currently living in.

There is just simply too much talent spread out throughout the country now, and mid-major teams are able to compete (and sometimes defeat) against richer conference schools. With the committee under constant attack, college football fans complaining about deserving champions on a yearly basis and schools claiming themselves (with valid points) as national champions we have a solution. A simple one really. Expand the playoffs.

Originally, we wanted to see a 16-team playoff to include all 10 conference champions. However, an 8-team playoff system seems to be a much more realistic and much more needed structure to avoid the ongoing problem in college football. An 8-team playoff system would allow each of the five power conference (ACC, Big XII, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC) champions to receive an automatic invitation, and give wiggle room for undefeated mid-major conference champions or worthy non-conference champion schools.

Having eight schools instead of four protects the committee from fan complaints and enforces integrity to a system that is currently flawed. Having eight teams would allow the committee to enforce an automatic bid rule to the power five conference champions, while also allowing the committee to enforce an automatic bid rule to undefeated teams (regardless of conference). With those two rules applied to this season, it would have Clemson, Oklahoma, Georgia, USC, UCF and Ohio State in the playoffs. That leaves two at-large bids, which would be awarded to Alabama and Wisconsin (based on final rankings).

Yes, fans from other schools (I.E. Auburn) could still complain that they didn’t receive one of the final two spots. However, with a known rule beginning each season that states power conference champions and undefeated schools get automatic bids, the committee could simply state ‘win your conference and don’t leave it to us.’ Adding these rules with an 8-team playoff system helps ensure protection for the committee while also addressing any issues with not allowing worthy teams in.

Scheduling seems to be a big concern when the idea of expanding the playoffs is discussed. Adding four more teams to the current plus-one system would only add an extra game for eight of the 150 schools in the football bowl subdivision (FBS). Yes, the risk for injuring players increases when adding more games although the sample size is smaller than small, at .053% of increased injuries.

Many suggest removing a non-conference game from each school’s schedule, which would work but is not entirely necessary if not wanted. This season, the conference championship weekend was played on Dec. 2 with the Army vs. Navy game being played on Dec. 9. The first bowl game began on Dec. 16, which is two weeks after championship weekend. The first semifinal playoff game was played on Jan. 1, with the national championship scheduled for Jan. 8. An 8-team playoff system can be scheduled in many different ways, working around this year’s schedule as an example.

The first round of the 8-team playoff can be held on the Dec. 9 weekend, when Navy faces Army. This would also be scheduled one week before bowl games start, meaning the first round of the playoffs would not be part of the bowl game schedule. The first round of an 8-team playoff could also start on Dec. 16 when the first bowl game is played, but still not be part of the bowl game schedule. You could even schedule the first round of the 8-team playoff system to begin on the weekend of Dec. 23, and still not have it part of the bowl game schedule.

Why would the first round of an 8-team playoff system not be included in the bowl game schedule? There are currently six bowl games that rotate yearly as semifinal playoff games. Those six games include the Cotton, Peach, Fiesta, Orange, Sugar & Rose Bowls (this season the semifinal games were the Rose & Sugar Bowls). When four of the six bowl games are not semifinal playoff games, they are considered ‘non-semifinal big bowl games’. With an 8-team playoff system, it would be ideal to keep the current bowl game schedule and just have the playoff’s first round losers placed in one of the four non-semifinal big bowl games. Having the remaining four non-semifinal big bowl games as first round playoff games is also an option, just rotating the six bowl games as quarterfinal and semifinal games. That could work, but it would be tough to convince people that a school should be able to win two separate bowl games in one season.

Keeping the current bowl game schedule while placing first round losers into non-semifinal big bowl games would help avoid schools winning more than one bowl game in a season. This would also allow the payout system to remain the same. Currently, the power five conferences split an average of $250 million ($50 million per conference) per season. The remaining five conferences (AAC, MAC, MWest, Sun Belt & CUSA) receive an average of $90 million ($18 million per conference) per season. Notre Dame gets about $3.5 million while Massachusetts, Brigham Young and Army receive less than that.

If a conference gets a school into the current plus-one system (meaning they make a semifinal game – this year Rose & Sugar Bowls), then that conference receives an extra $6 million. If a conference gets a school into one of the four non-semifinal big bowl games (this year Cotton, Fiesta, Orange & Peach Bowls), then they receive an extra $4 million. Adding an 8-team playoff system can still allow this payout formula to work, especially if the first round games are not part of the bowl game schedule. First round games could theoretically be hosted by the higher seeded school, with payouts being split between the two conferences represented in that game (parking, food, merchandise, ticket sales, etc…).

If that doesn’t appease the committee, then perhaps having all the first round games in one city (like March Madness’ First Four games in Dayton, Ohio) over the course of a weekend would work? Doing that would probably result in the College Football Playoff organization agreeing to new terms on a set payout for conferences based on overall revenue income (like how the current semifinals and championship game have a set payout total in place).

It costs money to send schools around the country to play in games, but having one round of games in one location would be cost effective. Speaking of money, adding four more teams to the postseason would make the playoff a bigger spectacle, much like March Madness. According to WalletHub, an average of 70 million brackets for March Madness are filled out each year. Due to the spectacle of a big tournament, many non-basketball fans still participate which expands the college basketball fan base during it’s most important time of the year.

Traveling has been an issue for many college football fans. A good example from this season is Central Michigan in the Potato Bowl; as it is very difficult to get Central Michigan fans to attend these type of bowl games. It’s very burdensome convincing a Central Michigan fan to attend a consolation game in Idaho over the holidays, when they could be at home with their family watching on a high definition television (HDTV)..

Having the first round of the playoffs at either…

  1. a home stadium from one of the participating schools or
  2. one central location all weekend long

…would make traveling simple for both team’s fan base. March Madness has many central locations throughout the tournament, which sees an increase in economic revenue yearly. Phoenix, the city that hosted the Final Four, saw an economic impact of $150 million along with 125,000 fans visiting (90% of which were from a different state). Dayton, a city that hosts the First Four games (something similar to what we are suggesting in the first round of an 8-team playoff system), sees an average of $66 million in economic revenue. Visitors pay an average of $2,100 on food, hotel and transportation while attending a March Madness game.

In 2016, March Madness saw 703,854 fans attend 36 different sessions. Part of the reason you see these numbers (despite them being down) is because these games have meaning, as all of the sessions potentially lead schools to a national championship game. Many college football bowl games don’t have meaning, as they are viewed as consolation games to a majority of the fans watching. Travel for fans wouldn’t be a concern for the first round of an 8-team playoff due to the game having a potential path to the national championship. This, along with scheduling the first round games at the home stadium of a higher seed or one central location is why traveling would be less of a concern for fans if the playoffs were expanded.

With the tournament potentially becoming a bigger spectacle with more teams, that means more money could be asked for from TV networks to advertisements. According to WalletHub, March Madness is responsible for CBS paying $19.6 billion to broadcast the rights. Imagine what ESPN or other networks would pay if the college football playoff became bigger! Since 1986, the average increase in March Madness’ overall value has gone up 4,535%! This is mainly because college basketball has expanded the number of teams allowed into the tournament, adapting to the changing times through the decades. Allowing more teams into the postseason also puts smaller schools on a bigger map, essentially creating a new team/brand for fans to support and route for.

March Madness also gets about $1.19 billion in TV advertisement revenues and an average of $213.3 million from corporate sponsors such as Capital One. It’s easy to see that expanding the playoffs helped increase the value of the event as years progres. With scheduling and payouts not being too much of a concern, moving to an 8-team playoff system is the only logical move for college football moving forward.

Moving to an 8-team playoff system ensures…

  1. protection of the committee
  2. all 150 schools receiving a fair start to make the playoffs beginning each season
  3. an economic boost/savings for cities/traveling
  4. an overall value increase for the event on a yearly basis.


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