The College Football Playoff Fiasco
The 2017 college football season has been a complete disaster when it comes to deciding the four teams that will participate in the playoff. It has been the exact opposite of what everyone was hoping for when they made the four-team playoff format to determine the national champion. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the history and current state of the college football system or for those of you who don’t know anything about college football at all, let me begin by trying to explain the history of the college football system.
Let us turn back to the turn of the century… the 20th century. At that time, it was thought a good idea to declare the best team in college football based on record as well as several other factors (some involving things such as point differential per game). Several newspapers and other forms of press started making their own form of these rankings (groups like the Associated Press and the Coaches’ Poll were considered more valid sources). The obvious problem with numerous committees declaring their own national champions was there would be many years in which there was disagreement over who was the national champion. 1998 brought a change to the scene as the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) was introduced.
The BCS used math and computer analytics to determine the best 2 teams in the nation and would then have them play in a national championship game to demine the lone champion. Other good teams who were not the top rank would play in meaningful bowl games agaisnt other ranked teams in NFL or other nostalgic stadiums. However, the BCS was often accused of not selecting the correct teams to play in the national championship game. It also was not able to account for years when there were 3 or 4 teams at the top who each legitimately deserved an opportunity to play for the top prize. Additionally, with only two teams making the most meaningful game, the reality was that one loss during the regular season would eliminate your team for contention. For these reasons, there was a big push to change to a four team playoff type system, and in 2013, the BCS system was replaced with a playoff format.
While the playoff system was good for several seasons, this season it is experiencing major issues. For example, Thanksgiving weekend saw the top 2 teams in Miami and Alabama lose to conference rivals, creating an immediate power struggle in the college playoff system. Whereas in previous years of the current system there were several obvious teams that were shoulders above the rest, this year there are no great teams. Even the presumed current top ranked team, Clemson, lost an ugly game to Syracuse earlier in the season. Another top ranked team, one-loss Oklahoma, is also not really a great team outside of their Heisman caliber quarterback, Baker Mayfield. After that, there are a slew of 2 loss teams, or teams with a better record who have not played against any tough competition this season. While all of these teams can make the argument for getting into the playoff, none of them come off as truly national championship caliber teams.
Besides for what to do when there are no obvious choices for the playoff, there is another issue that exists with the playoff system. This is the question of what to do with the other bowl games. Simply put, if you're not one of those four teams playing in the playoff then the bowl game has little meaning. This leads to situations in which the best players on the teams don’t care and show it with their play, or lack thereof. Last year, both Leonard Fournette and Christian Mccaffrey, two top-tier running backs said that it was not worth their while to play in these other bowl games, and thus they didn’t show up. They had little to lose by doing so, as it didn’t even affect their NFL draft stock (Fournette went 4th overall to the Jaguars and Mccaffrey went 8th to the Panthers). This trend will probably continue as many NFL ready players don’t think it’s worth it to play in bowl games that don’t matter. This is bad news for the NCAA as teams will be without their best players for these big games.
I’m not sure what the future holds in college football, but one thing I don’t want to see is an 8 team playoff. That would make the regular season all but meaningless, and teams with 2 or 3 losses would end up playing undefeated teams in a March Madness style tournament. While that certainly sounds fun on the surface, this system which works great for basketball would be bad for football. This kind of high stakes playoff tournament would render the college football season, much like the current college basketball season, all but meaningless. Having his three-round tournament in college football would also bring up another issue of teams playing too many games over the course of a season, as the two teams competing in the national championship would have played 15 or 16 games over the course of the year. Particularly with the recent surge of injuries that has been seen since the institution of the extra game to accommodate the four team playoff, the problem would only be exacerbated by extending the season yet again. My hope is that we overlook this awful season and that Clemson beats Oklahoma to take back to back titles, this year to earn the title of “Best of the Worst”. I truly hope that this year was just an outlier, and that we have many more years with great teams playing great teams in a four-team playoff. We have a great system right now and I hope they don’t change that.