BY CHRISTIAN PHILLIPS
The college football playoff system replaced the Bowl Championship Series that strictly hosted the number one and two ranked teams for the national championship. Unlike the College Football Playoff, the BCS rankings were generated by three components. Harris polls, USA Today coaches poll, and computer rankings. All three of those rankings were added, then averaged out. Whichever team had the highest average was placed as the number one team for the BCS rankings. The BCS era lasted between 1998, all the way until 2014 where Florida State and Auburn capped off the last BCS National Championship game. What a simple time to be a fan of college football right?
Now, a 13 member committee gathers in Grapevine, Texas on Tuesday evenings to piece together a top 25, which starts past the midway point of the season. The new ranking process is determined by strength of schedule, results among common opponents, and head to head wins against other top ten teams. The four-team playoff is entering its fifth year, so you would think the committees’ requirements would be clear by now. Well, that’s not the case at all. Year by year, the committee has thrown a wrench into the selection process by adding undefined aspects that determine which team is better than the other.
For example, the eye test is one that is the least desirable. Conferences such as the Big12 and SEC are not comparable, so how can a committee member apply an eye test when it comes to wins and losses throughout conference play? Not all conferences are equal in difficulty every season, so fans of college football think analysts and committee members are biased towards the SEC due to recent treatment. Time after time, SEC teams are consistently forgiven more and drop less in the rankings after suffering a loss, compared to teams from other conferences.
A prime example of this has reappeared this season. Georgia suffered a loss in week eight against a now, 4-6 South Carolina Gamecocks team, but that didn’t matter to the committee. The Georgia Bulldogs are currently ranked fourth in the playoff rankings after the second revealing, while other teams are more deserving of a higher rank. Oklahoma, Oregon, and Alabama are victims of being placed behind Georgia, even though their losses were against more consistent and dominant teams. You could argue that Oklahoma’s week nine loss against Kansas State just came at the wrong time, but you can’t take that into consideration when deciding which loss should weigh heavier. Is South Carolina a better team than Kansas State? I can tell you that statistically, they are not a better team, they just happen to be apart of a “better conference.”, so that loss is looked at differently.
So, all is forgiven Georgia, your slip up doesn’t weigh as heavy compared to others and your chances of reaching the playoffs are still intact. The Minnesota Gophers would beg to differ, but a 9-0 BigTen team is still playing catch up. Even after an impressive win against a number four Penn State in Week 11. The Gophers will have to lean on teams slipping in front of them if they want to make that jump into the top four. It’s hard to believe that the committee would give the nod to Minnesota over a one loss Alabama, Clemson, or LSU, so the topic of biases playing a role in the selection process has become a reality.
A bigger topic that needs to be discussed is how non-power five schools have been shunned from the playoffs thus far. Central Florida has taken the brunt of the still lingering issue, despite their impressive 12-0 regular season record in 2017-2018. Central Florida was snubbed of an invitation to the CFP, but they let it out all on the field against the Auburn Tiger in the Peach Bowl, winning 34-27. After watching the game, Central Florida had the capability of competing with anyone, so how did the committee leave them out? It was apparent that committee members looked too deep into the lack of quality in Central Florida’s schedule, so they kept them out due to the standing of their overall conference. It doesn’t matter whether or not the BCS era or College Football Playoff system is in place, neither process respects programs like Central Florida and Boise State. Until the committee stops paying attention to the eye test and difficulty of schedule, the playoff system will forever be favored towards the SEC, Big12, Pac12 and Big10 conferences.
The lack of consistency in the ranking process points towards a system broken. A system that is comprised of current athletic directors from each power five conferences is bound to have biases. The only way to avoid the possibility of having issues arise, the system needs to be filled with members that have an expertise in the sport, but have no hand with any university. Now, the system also has former coaches, players, athletic directors, and administrators, plus retired members of the media. Is that still too close for comfort? Can fans rely on former coaches, and players to stay true to the meaning of best four teams and not promoting their former university?
The first step to redefining the college football playoff is cleaning house, get rid of members that are employed in athletic positions and bring in outsiders. Next, the new committee needs to sit down and define what makes a team better and how are losses compared to others. Mirroring the BCS ranking process is not a bad idea, when considering that they were well defined and it would bring in two processes that would balance each other out. A committee would come together like usual and compare what the Harris polls, USA Today coaches poll, and computer rankings came up with. This would serve as a checks and balances for human and computer error.
Teams such as Central Florida, Boise State and SMU have a better chance this way instead of relying on just one ranking system. The BCS had failed those schools in the past, but adding that extra step elevates their chances. A topic of expanding the playoffs to 16 teams has been on the table, but some argue that is too large of a base. An eight team playoff fits perfectly because it opens up the playing field for the other conferences such as the American Athletic, Conference USA, and Mountain West. Until this becomes a possibility, college football fans will probably have to wait until the year 2026. The NCAA holds a contract with ESPN until then, but changes can come sooner rather than later.
What an eight team playoff would look like today –