College sports expert Andrew Noland suggests needed improvements for the college football playoff system.
Having been ushered into the college football offseason with Clemson thrashing Alabama behind the arm of freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence, college football media returned to the inevitable, drab conversation concerning how to decide the national champion. Notre Dame proved lifeless to Clemson, and despite an impressive second half-comeback from the University of Oklahoma, Alabama still comfortably slid into the final.
Since I have been given the unenviable task of reimagining the structure of college football’s postseason single handedly, I should start small.
First, the playoff should be expanded to eight teams. Four teams are obviously too small and frankly embarrassing. With the Alabama cheerleading team that is the College Football Playoff Committee, one spot will always be taken by Coach Nick Saban’s team. Expanding to eight teams allows all one-loss teams from Power-Five conferences to join in the race for the championship, as well as the potential for an undefeated non-Power Five team.
However, this does potentially extend the season to 16 games, which is dangerous for the health of college players. With football as one of the world’s most dangerous sports, reducing the regular season by one game is imperative to allow for the extra playoff game.
Finally, the primary point of contention is often not based on a win-loss ratio, but strength of schedule. Baylor and Texas Christian University, both one-loss teams in 2014, did not find themselves in the playoff due to the opponents they had scheduled that year. Baylor and TCU fluffed their schedule with Division Two teams and non-Power Five teams and this came back to haunt them when December arrived.
In order to avoid this dilemma, teams should be required to play all but one of their non-conference games against Power-Five opponents. Playing small teams is vital to less wealthy programs because larger programs often pay the team they use as a punching bag to fund the rest of their season. However, any more than one is frankly presenting a misleading win column. Alabama has used their program’s history, their coach’s reputation, media bias and playing in the supposedly best conference as excuses to play terrible non-conference teams. If Alabama wants to enter the playoff, they need to join with the other non-SEC teams that play tough out-of-conference schedules; not all teams should have an automatic berth into the playoff like the Crimson Tide does.
Playing Power Five conference teams would also ensure a clearer postseason picture for the playoff committee. Teams should be rewarded for challenging themselves against the best teams and this also establishes a baseline for the playoff committee in terms of scheduling.
In conclusion, college football must make moves to make the playoff selection more standardized. It should shorten the season by one game, expand the playoff to eight spots and force freeriders to play tough teams. Although not a complex overhaul, these changes at least eases some concerns about the nature of the selection process for the playoff.