first_imgI’m thinking of a number between one and 10. Can you guess what it is by the end of this column?I’ll give you a hint: it’s the number of teams I think should be included in the College Football Playoff format. A week after the CFP’s first season, it’s time to look back on how well it worked, what didn’t work and if any changes will come to the format in the future.To start off, let’s assume that I’m only talking about even numbers. Organizing a single elimination playoff tournament with an odd number of teams wouldn’t make much sense.We can also assume I’m not talking about two, seeing as we’re still talking about some sort of a playoff. Sure, the old BCS system put together some great championship game matchups but I don’t think there’s a single college football fan who wants the old way back.Can you imagine the problem such a format would have caused this year? Between five one-loss teams and one undefeated team, only two could have been selected to play for the national championship. Would an unbeaten, defending national champion team in Florida State have been left out for two one-loss teams? Would Alabama, the powerhouse of the new millennium, be left out because of one conference loss? Would Oregon’s smashing of Arizona in the Pac-12 title game still not have been enough to make up for the narrow loss to the Wildcats earlier in the season?It’s impossible to guess how exactly it would have played out, but at least one of those three that absolutely deserved to still be playing would have been left out. The Oregon team that dominated FSU in the Rose Bowl semifinal game likely would have been left out, the championship game would have likely matched up two teams that lost in their semifinals and the Ohio State team that won it all almost certainly would not have been included in the final.Two is just not enough teams to capture everyone who can legitimately claim being the best team in the country. Plus, everybody likes the excitement of the additional playoff games, and any changes certainly won’t result in less TV time.So how about four? We saw two perfectly interesting semifinal games and a very exciting title game matchup. To the excitement of any CFP selection committee member, the last team given an invitation to the playoff proved to be very deserving by winning it all. The regular season was still one of the most exciting ever, as any regular season loss seemed like it could knock a team out of the playoff, but the expanded format  got even more teams to be involved in the drama.But there were problems with the four-team format. Both of them came from the Big 12.TCU and Baylor were both perfectly qualified to take the fourth playoff spot. TCU’s one loss to Baylor didn’t look as bad as Ohio State’s to Virginia Tech, and Baylor’s signature regular season win over TCU looked better than Ohio State’s over Michigan State. But the lack of a Big 12 conference title game forced TCU and Baylor to settle as co-champions of the conference, while Ohio State smashed Wisconsin in the Big 10 title game. Both Big 12 teams were arguably better than Ohio State, but neither could separate well enough to claim to fourth and final spot.It’s not shocking that there was some controversy with a playoff format that invites four teams from five major conferences to play for the national championship. There’s almost guaranteed to be a qualified but left out conference champion from the bunch. Could TCU or Baylor have upset Alabama and Oregon en route to an unforgettable national title? Absolutely, but instead of playing that scenario out on the field, Horned Frogs and Bears fans will just have to play it over and over again in their head.Well then, why not bump the playoff number to eight? That seems to be the logical and popular next step. The playoff games were amazing, wouldn’t more of them be even more amazing? And with more teams, the better we know who the real national champion is, right? I would disagree on both accounts.Yes, the playoffs are awesome, so  much more so than the old bowl system. But an eight-team playoff would have totally changed the excitement level of this season. As mentioned above, every regular season game involving a playoff contender felt like it could have made or broken that team’s playoff resume.When Alabama lost to Ole Miss, I thought the state of Mississippi was sure to have the SEC’s representative in the Top 4. Alabama ultimately climbed back into the Top 4, but there was no doubt the Rebels had spoiled the dream season of in-state rival Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl on the last game of the regular season by handing the Bulldogs their second loss and knocking them out of playoff contention. When Michigan State took on Oregon and Ohio State, it felt like the winner was set for the playoff and the loser was set for a random bowl game. During the TCU-Baylor shootout, you knew the last team standing would be in perfect position to claim a spot and the loser have a very hard time recovering.Of course, not all of those wins or loses turned out to be make-or-break. Alabama still made it after a high-profile loss; Baylor still missed out after a high-profile win. But the important part is that all of that was up in the air going into those games, and an eight-team playoff would have provided too much margin for error. Ole Miss wouldn’t have spoiled Mississippi State’s playoff hopes. The TCU-Baylor game would have felt like a battle for a better seed, not for an actual playoff spot.Not only do eight teams dilute the regular season too much, but the added round of playoffs and extra teams competing in the playoff also increases the chances that some team other than the best team in the nation wins the national championship. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Any team can beat any other team on any given day, and upsets are what make sports fun.But I think there should be some value in what’s earned over the course of an entire 12-game or 13-game season, not just a couple postseason games or even in one fluke upset. There’s no disputing that Ohio State deserves the national championship after beating two powerhouses in the playoff, but I’m not convinced that the Buckeyes were the best team in college football last year. If we could simulate those playoffs again 100 times, I think Ohio State would win less than 25 times.Given the final CFP selection committee rankings, a two-loss Mississippi State and Michigan State team would have been added to the mix. Could anyone in their right mind argue that based off of their regular season performance, the Spartans or Bulldogs could legitimately be considered the best team in the country?Again, maybe a system that encourages results like that is good. But I personally would be more excited about two dynastic, heavyweights going at it most years and really settling who was the best in the country.So that leaves us with the number six. If four is not enough, but eight is too much, the logical next step would be right in between. In theory, this plan would have worked absolutely perfectly this year.The top two teams in the ranking would get a bye in the first round of playoffs. The fourth-ranked and fifth-ranked team would go at it in the afternoon then the third-ranked and sixth-ranked team would battle in the nightcap. These games would substitute for the two former BCS bowls that wouldn’t be in the four-team playoff rotation — the Orange and Fiesta Bowls this year. These “wildcard” rounds would have to happen a week before the semifinals on New Years Day, but the NCAA should have no problem finding some TV time during the preliminary bowl season — heck, they could even capitalize on another major holiday and schedule both for Christmas Day!The semifinal and final could then fall on the same days they did this year. Student-athletes’ seasons wouldn’t last any longer, they just wouldn’t have any sort of a winter break. Fans would get extra excitement, the top two teams would earn the advantage of a bye, there’d be less controversy over the selection and the regular season would be just as exciting.With the current conference alignment, there will always be at least five teams from one of the major conferences claiming to be the best in the nation — and it became abundantly clear that the Big 12 needs to figure out a conference championship game. The sixth spot opens up the possibility that a mid-major underdog could hypothetically sneak into the playoff.The Power Five conference championships would then become de facto playoff games, even more than they are now — a key point people pushing for eight teams should remember. Basically, everything would be settled on the field, with the exception of that final sixth spot. This year, the extra spot would have just gone to another Big 12 team, and the CFP could have perfectly reasonably ranked Baylor and TCU fourth and fifth to set up a crazy playoff rematch. Ohio State could have carried out the dismantling of FSU, the Big 12 winner could have given Oregon a real game, Cardale Jones’ I-Only-Play-in-Big-Games story would have had one extra chapter going into the Alabama game and it would have been the greatest college sports experience ever.We could eventually see conference realignment where each conference gets one automatic bid to a playoff, and the recent Power Five conference vote on stipends shows there’s more to come on the power/money balance between the NCAA — could the Power Fives secede from the NCAA? That would all take much longer than one year, though you heard it here first if Boise State and Notre Dame join the Big 12 in the near future to make it big enough to split into two divisions.Ultimately, the CFP was a great success in its first year, far superior to its predecessor. Commercialized expansion is bound to happen at some point, but because the current system really does work  well, moderation during expansion is crucial.Luke Holthouse is sophomore majoring in policy, planning and development and broadcast/digital journalism.last_img

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