Reasons Not to Move to an Eight Team Playoff

The four-team playoff has been branded a success after the first two seasons, even if the timing of the semi-finals is hotly debated. One of the discussions that continues to creep in every year is whether or not the playoffs will be expanded from four teams up to eight. An increase in the number of teams in the playoff itself was something that fans of the BCS-era warned against when they criticized the decision to have a four-team playoff. Here are some of the key arguments against increasing the playoff to eight teams:

It will devalue the regular season

Many fans of the BCS said the same about a four-team playoff, but the first two years have shown that the regular season is still crucial. Even when it was just two teams being selected for the national title game, you still had the possibility of a team losing a game early in the season and rebounding to make the title game with one loss. This is exactly what has happened to the last two national champions.

Once you get into November it’s clear that one loss could pretty much kill any chance a team has of making it. Ohio State’s loss at home to Michigan State was their only defeat all season and it cost them. If Clemson lost the ACC championship game to North Carolina, they would surely have missed out too. The difference is that with an eight-team playoff, Clemson would have been in regardless of the result of the ACC championship game; they would have just fallen down in the rankings and probably played an away game in the final eight rather than a home game (most proposals have the quarter finals played on campus).

Undeserving teams will make the playoff

This year was less clear cut, as the last four in would have been Iowa, Stanford, Ohio State and Notre Dame in an eight team playoff with Iowa only showing after the final playoff rankings that perhaps they weren’t as good as their record suggested. Even then only the most biased Notre Dame fans would say they deserved a shot at the national title given they went 10-2 during the regular season with the two losses coming against teams above them in the rankings.

The 2014 season also had Michigan State and Mississippi State at 10-2 record, gaining the last two spots. and t no point in the debate over the controversial pick of Ohio State at #4 did anyone say the Spartans or Bulldogs deserved to be involved.

More likely to create re-matches

Using this year as an example again, Notre Dame at #8 would travel to #1 Clemson for an exact re-match of the game they played in week 5. I’m not sure Tiger fans would take too kindly to having to beat Notre Dame at home again given they’d already done it once before. They had proven themselves to be a better team in that game, regardless of the weather, as both teams play in the same conditions, and over the whole season by going undefeated while the Fighting Irish went on to lose again.

The committee’s decision to move Michigan State up to #3 over Oklahoma avoided the possibility of them being matched up with Iowa, who they had just beaten in the Big Ten championship game. It would leave the distinct possibility that two teams could play each other again unless the committee alters its rankings to avoid this from happening which is a problem in itself.

The possibility of automatic bids

Arguably the worst reason for an eight team playoff is that many would also want a rule implemented that the conference champions from the Power Five would automatically qualify for the playoff. For the most part, this wouldn’t be an issue seeing how in last two seasons the conference champions from the Power Five have all been ranked in the top eight at season’s end, including the split title from the Big 12 last year.

But what if USC had beaten Stanford in the PAC-12 championship game this year? Should a 9-4 USC be included in the playoff automatically when they were barely inside the top 25 before the game? I certainly don’t believe they should and then you also have the issue of giving an automatic bid to the Group of Five.

This year Houston was ranked #18 in the final rankings before they went on to beat Florida State in the Peach Bowl, so the committee clearly didn’t think they deserved to be in the conversation amongst the nation’s top teams. Most people would agree that Houston is one of the stronger Group of Five teams to take a bowl spot in one of the New Year’s six bowl games. But in 2012 it was the Northern Illinois Huskies from the MAC who went 11-1, with its sole loss coming to Iowa, who would have qualified. They went on to the Orange Bowl to be comfortably beaten by Florida State 31-10, who despite falling for a number of trick plays still managed to cruise through this game without really being tested.

Unfortunately it seems an eight-team playoff will come to college football at some point. The potential money involved will become too much to ignore, but let’s hope that they can find a way to work around these issues.

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  1. Hey Matt, while to some extent I agree that there shouldn’t be an eight team playoff, I don’t find the reasoning compelling enough !! By the very nature of Conferences, there should be some reward for winning a power five conference. If not then the Polls which at times seem quite unique in their approach will rule the day. This continues to have the Championship decided in a board room rather than on the field. My concern is that the politics of selection overrule the common sense of play. You talk about the death knell that sets in when a team like Ohio State loses at a late juncture in their season while an Alabama is allowed to recoup and make a run at the title. Under the current system there will always be 1 or 2 Conferences left on the sidelines looking in !! As for the rest of the Non-Power Conferences, they have proven through Utah vs Alabama and Boise beating Oklahoma and TCU that they can, given the right circumstances and virtually no room for error that an ie: Houston can compete on the big stage and hold themselves up admirably over a tough FSU squad. If you do not include them, then you may as well eliminate them altogether and discuss an alternative championship for the lesser Conferences. So far the system was hardly fair to TCU in it’s inaugural season of playoffs and some could argue that an eight team playoff this year including the re-matches would have made for compelling drama. In the old days the reward for the Big Ten and Pac-8 champs was the Rose Bowl and Sugar for the SEC along with the Orange to the ACC and the Cotton to the old Southwest Conference. There was a tangible goal that rewarded those teams. Perhaps I am a little old fashioned, but still hold that a shorter season against prime opponents, meaning only FBS schools, and not FCS cannon fodder, would go a long way to solving the playoff dilemma and perhaps rid us of a ridiculous 40 bowl game post season. With the additional 2-3 weeks off you could allow for an 8 team playoff with quarters at the top 4 winning Conferences home field and then meaningful bowl games leading to a Championship. This would allow all five power Conferences to be represented and still allow for 3 wild cards based on current polls. Adding 1 or 2 non-power conference teams would still give you the David vs Goliath scenario that Americans love so much and allow all 128 teams to get some consideration starting the season. The other dilemma is the inclusion of Notre Dame and BYU in the conversation. My personal opinion is that they should belong to a conference or not be included in the Championship talk. If not then lets make everyone independent and you know how that is going to work out. Thank you for listening.

    Casey Ciere

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