In just over two weeks, we’ll get to see who’s going to play for the national championship in college football. It all happens in two games with the current playoff system; the winner of #1 vs #4 will play the winner of #2 vs #3. It’s simple, elegant, and so far it’s been working better than any previous attempt at crowning a national champion.
It’s also inferior to what it could be. An 8-team playoff system would be ideal.
Detractors (and there are fewer and fewer all the time) have two primary complaints. The first one isn’t really an argument. Traditionalists believe the playoff system in general harms continuation of the rich history of the old bowl system. This is true, and frankly there’s no going back at this point.
The second concern is about where it stops. If 8 is better than 4, is 12 or 16 better than 8?
Let’s put that one to rest now. No. 8 is the ideal number for the playoff system. It is fair enough to allow all the teams that deserve a shot without being so big that undeserving teams might sneak in and make a mess of things.
Today, there are seven teams who have a legitimate claim that they deserve a shot at the national championship. The four teams that are in – Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, and Oklahoma – are the teams that had the best seasons this year. Oklahoma avenged its one loss in the Big 12 Championship game and the other three teams are undefeated.
Added to the mix are the three teams on the outside looking in. #5 Georgia had the two best losses of any team and is arguably the second best team in the country despite those losses. #6 Ohio State won the Big 10 Championship and has only one loss. #8 UCF is undefeated for the second year in a row. While #7 Michigan didn’t really have a shot at the top 4 after losing badly to Ohio State, they would round off a solid 8-team playoff if that system were in place today.
It would be perfect.
Not every year would end up like this one with 8 clear top teams, but even in disputed years where #9 or #10 complained, they would do so knowing they could have gotten in by winning. This year, Ohio State was penalized despite being the Big 10 Champion and having only one loss. UCF demonstrated it doesn’t matter how well they play for how long. Two undefeated seasons wasn’t enough to earn them a spot.
An 8-team playoff system with automatic bids for the champions of the five major conferences and three at-large bids would extend the season for one week, allowing the first round to be played on or around Christmas. It would make the whole bowl season more interesting and offer hope to teams like UCF who would otherwise need a perfect storm of major conference losses to earn a spot.
This really should be a no-brainer. ESPN won’t mind. Their contract lasts until 2026. They would happily expand to include another round of four games. Those who are making the decision should make it fast. We can get this up and running by the 2020 season.