The Case Against Expanding the College Football Playoffs

Every fall hope springs eternal across college campuses throughout the United States. Fans gear up for another exciting year of college football in hopes that their team will win a national championship. At the conclusion of the season there are always teams who feel left out of the playoff conversation and oftentimes they have a legitimate case. Every year fans clamor for expanding the college football playoffs in the hopes that in the future, their team will find a way into the playoffs and win the title. I am going to state my case as to why I think we should keep the current college football playoff format. You can find many arguments both for and against expansion all over the internet. Many of the arguments do not pertain to the football side of the equation. I am keeping my argument short and simple. I am not delving into the financial implications of expansion or off-the-field considerations. I am looking at this through the lens of what is best for college football.  

The college football playoff system as we currently know it began in the 2014 season after a much-maligned experiment with the highly unpopular and controversial Bowl Championship Series or BCS program. The BCS used the Harris Interactive Poll, the USA Today Coaches Poll, and computer rankings to determine who would compete for the national championship. Under the current format a playoff committee determines which four teams will compete in two semifinal games with the winners playing for the national championship. Six bowls, the Sugar Bowl, Rose Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Peach Bowl, and Orange Bowl will rotate annually to host the college football playoffs.  

The current iteration of the college football playoff system will expire in 2026. The college football playoff selection committee uses the following criteria to evaluate teams for a playoff spot: conference championships won, strength of schedule, head-to-head results, and results against common opponents. This is not an exhaustive list but does give fans an insight into how the committee arrives at decisions when teams have similar resumes. Fans have been clamoring to expand the playoff system and include more teams into the college football playoffs and will continue to do so no matter how many teams are included. The current format is by no means a perfect system, but it is a huge improvement over the former system.  

The college football championship is one of the most prestigious championships in all sports. Adding more teams to the playoff system would water down and devalue the playoff format. It should be an honor to make the playoffs and only the top teams in college football should be eligible to participate. As it stands now there is already a large talent disparity between the top four teams. If you look at the semifinal matchups since the playoff system began, you will see what I mean. In 2014 Oregon defeated Florida State 59-20 and in 2015 Alabama destroyed Michigan State 38-0. In 2016 Clemson beat Ohio State by 31 points and in 2018 Clemson beat Notre Dame by 27 points. According to the average point differential in the semifinal games is 21.1 points per game. The answer here is to not add teams to the mix but rather to tweak the current system to get the right mix of teams in the playoffs.  

Adding more teams devalues the regular season as well. The current format rewards teams that have a phenomenally successful regular season provided that the team has a rigorous enough schedule and meets the committee criteria. Adding more teams allows for teams to have a less successful season and still have an opportunity to get into the playoffs. One of the most compelling things about college football is that every game matters. Every week is basically a playoff game to determine who gets into the playoffs. A team could have a bad week or an injury and lose a game that could potentially knock them out of the playoffs. While this seems unfair at first glance the conferences have a built-in equalizer in the conference championship game to allow a team to overcome a regular season loss. Additionally, the committee members will take injuries into account when determining college football rankings. In 2013 while the playoff committee was being formed committee member Jeff Long said, “I think it would be unfair if we didn’t take into account injuries as they got into the later part of the season…They do play a factor in the strength of the team as they finish the year and go on to the playoff.” The committee has the ability to dissect and debate issues rather than rely on a computer to determine the outcome. Again, no system is perfect, but the current system places a premium on the totality of the season. It should be difficult to reach the playoffs because it is designed to select the four best teams in the country.  

In order to preserve the integrity of the game we all love we need to resist playoff expansion. It boils down to the fact that expansion reduces the significance of both the regular season and the college football playoffs. The playoff committee should focus on improving the selection criteria, so we get the four best teams and the best matchups possible in the postseason. I love watching college football every Saturday knowing that each game matters. Players and coaches are putting it all on the line because one loss may exclude a team from the playoffs. In short, EVERY GAME MATTERS in college football. Let’s keep it that way.


Leave a Reply