Why the 2017 season is proof the College Football Playoff should never expand
Alabama nabbed the No. 4 spot in despite not winning a de facto division title game on rivalry weekend
At about 12:30 p.m. ET Sunday, the college football world stood still.
Brandon, ESPN's graphics guy, had built out the final College Football Playoff bracket, and the network played up the No. 4 spot like the climax to a Hollywood thriller. It was 11-1 Alabama, which lost to rival Auburn to lose the SEC West one week before, edging out 11-2 Ohio State, which hoisted the Big Ten championship trophy about 12 hours before the announcement. Almost immediately, the cry from the nation was to expand the playoff.
In reality, it should have been the opposite. If there should have been a cry to do anything, it should be to contract back to the two-team playoff more commonly known as the BCS.
Think really hard about the debate that has taken place in the 48 hours since the Buckeyes were snubbed in favor of the Crimson Tide.
On one hand, you have an Alabama team that didn't win a de facto division title game, got dominated in virtually every aspect in that game and then saw the rival that beat them -- Auburn -- get smoked by Georgia in the in the SEC Championship Game. Its best win is over No. 17 LSU with Ohio State having three that were viewed as better in the eyes of the CFP Selection Committee (No. 6 Wisconsin, No. 9 Penn State and No. 16 Michigan State).
On the other hand, those Buckeyes -- the ones with three solid wins -- also lost by two scores to a playoff team at home and got smoked by 31 by an unranked Iowa. That was too much for the committee to ignore.
The two primary contenders for the No. 4 spot had flawed résumés, and expansion would invite even more flawed résumés to a party that should be reserved for perfection -- or at least something close to it. Expansion would shift the goal of the playoff away from excellence, favoring access instead.
Give me excellence over access any day -- even if that makes it hard for the general public and those of us in immersed in the college football world to define.
With 130 FBS teams, there will always be subjectivity. That's not a bad thing. The beauty of the College Football Playoff is that it defines what championship-worthy is based on the specific landscape of each season, not something that has nothing to do with excellence like conference affiliation that is largely determined by geography. That landscape shifts not only from year to year, but week to week and hour to hour.
For that reason, it's an exercise in futility to use history to predict what the committee will do in the future. Just go along for the ride.
If you expand to six, the only way the commissioners give it the go-ahead is if it's the five Power Five conference champions and the top-rated Group of Five team. What if there's an upset in a conference championship game? We had a pretty balanced slate of conference championship games this season, but why on Earth would Stanford -- a three-loss team in the regular season that lost to San Diego State -- deserve a shot at the same glory as No. 1 Clemson? It doesn't. Yet, with automatic bids for conference champions, it would have received one.
The same problems exist for an eight-team playoff, which would only get passed with the same six automatic bids and two wild cards. In 2012, that means 8-5 Wisconsin would have had the same shot to win it all as then-undefeated Notre Dame and one-loss (and eventual champion) Alabama.
It's better to have a worthy team on the outside looking in every once in a while than one that isn't worthy get in, get hot and win it all. The latter would confirm the worst fears of those who love and appreciate the greatest three months in American sports -- the college football season.
All of it.
College football's structure forces it to be different than all other major professional and college sports due to the number of teams in its top level and scarcity of games.
CFP executive director Bill Hancock and others always talk about protecting the regular season when defending the current system, and that scarcity breeding demand. There's nothing wrong with that. It should be protected at all costs.
But what got lost in the Ohio State-Alabama hubbub was the fact that the importance of the regular season was already negated this season under this structure.
We had an Iron Bowl that, for just the second time, served as a play-in game for the SEC Championship Game. At the time, we thought Auburn's 26-14 win meant everything.
In reality, it meant nothing. The Iron Bowl meant nothing.
And the solution to that is to make more meaningful games mean nothing?
College football's postseason doesn't need to be fixed; it needs to be accepted. Inevitable subjectivity needs to embraced, excellence needs to be rewarded and messy debates on championship-worthy teams need to be avoided as much as possible.
Expanding the playoff would only pile more of them on.
Just enjoy the ride. It's better that way.
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