When the College Football Playoffs (CFP) began in 2014, it finally gave fans what they wanted with some sort of bracket-style format to determine a National Champion. It replaced a system that voted two teams into the championship using a computer, that seemingly left out a third team without even a chance every year. However, even with the taste of a four-team playoff system, the craving’s always been for more. While some call for 16, an eight-team playoff seems feasible, and frankly, more exciting.
Before delving into an eight-team playoff vs. 16-team, let’s go over the proposal. A committee can still determine the rankings each week, and heck, even for TV’s sake, they can have an hour-long show each week to release the rankings before the season’s over – go crazy. Just as long as, at season’s end, the eight playoff slots go to each of the Power Five conference champions, and three at-large bids. The three at-large bids have no conference allegiance. In fairness and opportunity for the Group of Five schools, if one of their universities finishes in, let’s say, the top 14, or is the highest ranked group of five and undefeated, they get one of the at-large spots. For example, Western Michigan finished at #15 in last year’s end of season CFP rankings. So, they didn’t quite crack top 14, but DID finish undefeated – so they would get an at-large spot in the proposed format, sorry Wisconsin.
Winning a Power Five conference only guarantees a playoff berth. It does not guarantee a school a top five seed. In other words, the CFP committee would determine their eight best teams, and re-seed them based on their criteria, just as they currently do for the four-team format. For example, if two Big Ten teams made the eight-school field, and obviously only one was conference champion, the committee could still give those two Big Ten schools the top two seeds in the playoff if they deemed them most deserving.
Another important issue brought up is the logistics of adding another round of games. First of all, that time from the beginning of December to end of the month for preparation of Semi-Final games seems to leave half the playoff teams lethargic by game time. Also, the argument for that long of a layoff between the regular season and the playoff is negated by the playoffs then only giving the two semi-final winners only 10 days to prepare for their next game. If they don’t need three weeks between semi-final and championship, do they really need three weeks between the regular season and start of playoffs? Adding a round the week before the semi-final would make the College Football Playoff into its own mini-three and a half week season.
Next easy solution – home games for the top four seeds. Big Ten fans always wish for a SEC school to come north to play just once in the bitter cold. Well, here’s their chance. Get a top four seed, host a game in the College Football Playoff Quarterfinal. As for money, the “New Year’s Six” bowls could each assume a sponsorship of the four quarterfinal games and two semi-final games. That way, the money coming in from bowl sponsors that universities love so much, still happens. And even more so, the four top seeds get another game’s worth of tickets to sell. And just like the current system, the bowl games could rotate which two are named Semi-Finals and host at a site of their choosing the following round. After the round of eight, it’s business as usual for the two Semi-Final games and one National Championship, which would still be bid on like it is now. The Semi-Final assignments would still give preference to the top remaining seeds left. So even if the #1 seed went down in the quarterfinals, the bowl assignment for semi-final games would give preference to #2, the best team left.
To get you all hot and bothered, these are how the matchups would’ve played out in the College Football Playoff’s three-year history, based on the committee’s rankings, if there was a College Football Playoff Quarterfinal:
1. Alabama vs. 8. Western Michigan | (Tuscaloosa, AL)
2. Clemson vs. 7. Oklahoma | (Clemson, SC)
3. Ohio State vs. 6. Michigan | (Columbus, OH)
4. Washington vs. 5. Penn State | (Seattle, WA)
1. Clemson vs. 8. Notre Dame | (Clemson, SC)
2. Alabama vs. 7. Ohio State | (Tuscaloosa, AL)
3. Michigan State vs. 6. Stanford | (East Lansing, MI)
4. Oklahoma vs. 5. Iowa | (Norman, OK)
1. Alabama vs. 8. Michigan State | (Tuscaloosa, AL)
2. Oregon vs. 7. Mississippi State | (Eugene, OR)
3. Florida State vs. 6. TCU | (Tallahassee, FL)
4. Ohio State vs. 5. Baylor | (Columbus, OH)
Could you imagine an OSU/Michigan rematch for a birth in the CFP Semi-Final last season? Penn State getting the chance to prove they belonged? Alabama going for revenge on Ohio State in 2015? Or Baylor and TCU getting a chance at proving their worth after they were left out in 2014?
Back to the eight-team vs 16-team debate. Sure, there’s far less argument for why the 17th team should be left out, rather than the 9th team and especially 5th team under the current format. However, the intrigue and excitement of matchups don’t hold the same weight. And frankly, the motivation and pressure of finishing in the top eight is still tremendous. Including over 60% of the top 25 in a playoff doesn’t hold the same prestige as battling for exclusivity in a more limited, but not too limited, format. A 16-team playoff would also reward too many three-loss teams, providing less consequence for losing than the current format. Last season’s results would have added six three-loss teams and one four-loss team. While 2015 would have added three teams with three losses, the inaugural 2014 playoff would have resulted in seeds 9-16 all having three losses. An eight-team playoff would still allow the regular season to hold substantial value, by making a third loss a likely “nail in the coffin” for playoff chances, especially based on the CFP’s brief history. Further, an eight-team format still encourages a difficult out of conference schedule. With 16 teams, a school may be more likely to schedule cupcakes that could ensure their loss column just doesn’t exceed three.
Adding a CFP Quarterfinal round would be chock-full of storylines and competitive play. It would leave the top teams with no doubt whether they belonged in the conversation for National Champion contention. If the four-team college football playoff has resulted in undisputed champions, just think of the claim to the throne that a school winning an eight-team playoff would have.