What is wrong with the College Football Playoff?

Ever since the inaugural College Football Playoffs (CFP) in 2014, we have seen our share of highly competitive games. Likewise, we have also seen some lopsided blowouts, which usually come from the hands of Clemson or Alabama. We saw this on full display earlier this year as the three headed giant of Devonta Smith, Mac Jones, and Najee Harris from Alabama cruised past Notre Dame in the semifinal 31-14, and then rolled over a depleted Ohio State team, 52-24, in the National Championship Game. There is something missing from the Division 1 Football Bowl Subdivision “postseason”, and it is the current playoff system. It’s too small, too lopsided, and not fair.

The current four team playoff format has changed the landscape of college football. Part of this has to do with the “playoff or bust” mentality that many traditionally great football teams have used since 2014. This has made the other New Year’s Six Bowls that aren’t part of the CFP become an afterthought to teams that went into the year with the goal or the assumption that they would be one of the four teams to make it to the playoffs. This always leaves two or three teams a year that had aspirations of the CFP, but fell short and got picked to play in a non-playoff New Year’s Six Bowl. This is where the “bust” mentality comes in.

For example, in 2020, the University of Florida had sights on the CFP, but a late season loss to LSU spoiled their hopes. But Florida was still picked to play the Oklahoma University Sooners in the Cotton Bowl Classic, so that still means something, right? Florida was still motivated to win a New Year’s Six Bowl right? Wrong. Over ten Florida players opted out for the game, including their star receiver, Kyle Pitts, who instead chose to prepare for the NFL draft. As anyone could have guessed, Florida looked stale and quiet to start the game, with no help from their Heisman hopeful, Kyle Trask, who threw three interceptions in the first quarter. Florida looked like they didn’t want to be there, and it showed as they absolutely got walloped on both sides of the ball and lost 55-20. The current system of the CFP has ruined these New Year’s Six Bowls by making them unimportant and irrelevant.

Additionally, the College Football Playoff is not fair. Anyone can agree that in any playoff format, each team eligible should have an equal chance of making it based on their record, their strength of schedule, and their margins of victory. This is simply not the case with the College Football Playoff.

For starters, College Football has 10 separate conferences, with 130 teams in total. 5 of those conferences- The Southeastern Conference, The Pac 12, The Big 12, The Big 10, and the Atlantic Coast Conference-, are considered the “Power 5” conferences, and are the main teams that you hear about. The other five major conferences seem to be afterthoughts, and are called the “Group of 5” conferences. Since the CFP committee started voting on the playoffs in 2014, not one team from a Group of 5 conference has been chosen for the playoff. The argument is that the Group of 5 teams have a much weaker strength of schedule due to the conference they play in, along with the fact that non-Power 5 teams don’t bring in the skilled high school recruits that the Power 5 schools bring in. This creates a toxic assumption that Group of 5 schools cannot compete with Power 5 teams, and therefore should not be voted into the playoffs by the CFP committee. Not only is this not fair, and defeats the purpose of a true playoff experience, but most importantly it has been proven to be incorrect.

Each year, 1 Group of 5 team is selected to play in one of the six “New Year’s Six Bowls”. Since 2014, The Group of 5 has played seven games in the New Year Six Bowls . They have gone a solid 3 for 7 in those games, with every game being close and highly competitive. This further proves that there isn’t a huge disparity between the best Group of 5 teams and the best Power 5 teams. The College Football Playoff committee needs to take this into consideration when voting on teams, along with talks of expanding the playoff format.

Talks of expanding the playoffs have been prevalent since the year following the first CFP. Concerns about fairness, quality of games, and disparity between the elite teams and the good ones have all been main points that have been discussed. Points have also been made about how many other bowl games are less important now, and it shows as these bowl games have averaged less viewers since the inaugural season of the CFP. The most popular and best idea is the 8 team playoff. With this proposal, each Power 5 conference sends their conference champion (automatic bid) and the Group of 5 sends their “At-Large” team that would usually be sent to a NYS bowl (also an automatic bid). The other two teams would be voted on by the committee as “At-Large” bids.

This would eliminate the exclusion of worthy Group of 5 opponents and give them a shot at taking down a team like Alabama. This would also help get rid of the “playoff or bust” mentality because there are teams like the University of Florida this year that would have been voted in as an “At Large” team. One final benefit of an 8 team playoff is that top ranked recruits would be less tempted to go to the four main schools that always contend for the playoff. This would balance out the playing field, and give teams a better chance to knock out powerhouses such as Alabama or Clemson.