Format for 4-Team College Football Playoffs Continues through 2026 Season. (Wikimedia Commons)
“And he’s got an opening, Elliott, off to the races, can they catch him?”
“No, they can’t! Touchdown!”
Buckeye fans rejoiced as Ezekiel Elliott raced into the end zone for an 85-yard touchdown run, capping off Ohio State’s 42-35 upset victory over No. 1 ranked-Alabama in the 2015 Sugar Bowl.
The new year had begun, and as the Ohio State faithful celebrated its last-ranked football squad taking down the beast of Nick Saban and Alabama football in the first round of the College Football Playoff, they couldn’t help but align with the phrase, “out with the old, in with the new.”
The 2014-2015 season marked the dawn of a new era in college football, with a long overdue switch in the postseason coming at the expense of the Bowl Championship Series. The traditional system of four bowl games-including the eight “best” teams had been uprooted, and across the country, the newly developed four-team playoff format seemed to create widespread satisfaction.
At the time, many non-biased fans across the country would have likely agreed that Ohio State was absolutely deserving of the fourth spot in that year’s playoff. After all, it was undefeated in the Big 10, it had trampled the Badgers of Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game 59-0 just a day before, and its only loss came in the second game of the season.
TCU and Baylor fans were both certainly upset, with both fanbases hoping to be selected for that coveted spot, but by the time the Buckeyes had stamped their place in history as the first-ever CFP champions just over a month later, not too many were complaining.
The alleged hierarchy of the BCS bowl layout was supposedly over, with championship-caliber teams no longer being assigned to bowl games based off polls and computer systems. At the time, the four-team playoff system selected by a 13-member committee appeared to be a simple but effective solution to the heavily-criticized system of the past-and to fans of college football, the bracket seemed to offer equal opportunity for any FBS program to compete for a national championship.
But since the tournament’s founding five years ago, having the fourth spot be of heavy debate has been a common theme each December, and questions have arisen over what merits a team to be deserving, and these debates have only intensified as time has passed. Furthermore, a stunning lack of consistency and lack of clarity within the committee over what deems a team to be playoff-worthy has spawned an array of problems that have left many football fans, including myself, calling for expansion.
Whether the committee is tasked with choosing the four “best” teams or the four most “deserving” teams has become a key point in this debate, and indicators such as strength of schedule, conference championships, and the value of big wins and losses have all come into question.
The 2018 selection served as arguably the most controversial yet: with the Georgia Bulldogs and Ohio State being left out of the top four while Notre Dame and Oklahoma were chosen as the third and fourth seeds, respectively.
This came as no surprise to the majority of those watching, but the admittance of Notre Dame and the exclusion of the Bulldogs and the Buckeyes called on many to question what it truly takes to earn a spot.
Choosing the four “best” teams is completely separate from choosing the four most “deserving” teams, at least this year it was, and although in the committee’s eyes these two words are nearly synonymous, a fair college football fan can agree that siding with the most deserving teams is a fail-safe and the wrong decision.
Every analyst and every fan knew that the 3rd seed in this year’s playoff would be handed to the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, and as the ESPN hosts officially unveiled them as the opponent of #2-seeded and eventual national champion Clemson, the majority of fans and analysts instinctively knew that this was not going to be a fair match.
The Irish had an unblemished record throughout their twelve games, and there was little reason to believe that they weren’t deserving of competing for a title after finishing a perfect season with fair competition throughout.
But then again, just because they were deserving of being one of the four teams in the bracket, doesn’t mean that they were one of the best teams in the bracket. When looking at a track record of Notre Dame compared to Georgia or Ohio State, it’s hard to argue that the two-loss bulldogs or the inconsistent Buckeyes were more deserving of a spot, but that in itself maybe where the problem lies.
Ohio State suffered a blowing defeat on the road at Purdue early on in conference play, but in the time that followed they were perfect in play, including a blowout win against the #4-seeded Michigan Wolverines, and right after that a Big Ten Championship. Georgia was a two-loss team in the best conference in college football, and just the weekend before they held a lead against the seemingly invincible Alabama Crimson Tide until the last few minutes.
I would be hard-pressed to argue that either of these two teams was more deserving of a spot in the playoff than the undefeated Irish, but countless others and I would agree that if either Georgia or Ohio State went face-to-face with Notre Dame on a neutral field, it would certainly be a battle.
There is no way of knowing “what could have been” without head-to-head matchups with a championship on the line, so for the sake of this playoff not becoming as polarizing as the bowl-system once was, I believe that it’s time for a 6-team playoff system.
Let me first say that this year is not the only acting influence on my belief in a 6-team playoff format. The NFL has adopted a similar format, and giving the two top teams a bye week seems to be the only fair way to help coordinate this system.
In the past as well, there have been occasions within the football selection as to which of three teams should be chosen for a fourth spot (2014 for example).
Whether Georgia or Ohio State would have upset Oklahoma or Notre Dame, who knows. And if either school could have gone on to take down the heavyweights of Alabama and Clemson, that would be far less likely.
If we want to have the “best” teams to have a shot at competing for a national title, we must first allow those worthy of competing to have a spot.