2018 four-team playoff beginning with the 2014-2015

2018

Has
the College Football Playoff Fulfilled Its Purpose?

            When the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) started in 1998,
the purpose was to finally crown a true national champion. In years prior in
college football, the number one and number two teams were not always pitted
against each other as there was no overarching system in place to determine
those top two teams. Many different polls would rank the teams they thought
were the best, but never was there a formula to put the two top ranked teams
against each other as every poll was different. One botched play could
effectively end your hopes of getting into the National Championship and for
that reason many people saw its grounds unfair.  Over years of fans clamoring for a more
effective system, one that didn’t penalize a team because it lost one game
against a top flight program on a last second miracle or any similar demeaning
play ruining a whole season’s body of work, the College Football Playoff was
approved. “On June 26th 2012, the NCAA Presidents announced their
decision to approve a four-team playoff beginning with the 2014-2015 season”
(PLAYOFF).

            The decision to move to this playoff format had been
called upon for seemingly the last decade. The playoff would essentially work
to allow a team with a loss or two to still have a chance to play for the
crown. In years past you needed a strong schedule and nearly unblemished record
to get to the big game. This new playoff system would work fairly simply. “The
Selection Committee ranks the top twenty-five teams in the country during the
final seven weeks of the season. The top four ranked teams in the Selection
Committee’s final ranking are then assigned to the College Football Playoff
Semifinals” ( PLAYOFF). The benefits of this system I must say stem from the
ability to get away from the awful BCS system, but many problems with this
system have arisen over the last couple years since its implementation. In
developing a stance on the CFP’s effectiveness, we can’t help but see the
overwhelming knocks on the system in place. The first problem, and most
evident, that we see is the lack of transparency in the criteria in which the
playoff teams are ranked. The next problem that pops out is the tactic the CFP
employs of using a thirteen-member committee to make all the decisions for how to rank the teams. And finally, the last
problem evident is the structure of the four-team playoff in a system that all
but calls for a bigger tournament. Hindsight is 20/20 and at the time the CFP
format looked better than what the BCS offered. The CFP has problems, major
problems, and the lack of transparent criteria, futile committee, and inability
to create excitement amongst fans has led to an ineffective replacement for the
BCS of old.

            Transparency is one of the most fundamental aspects of
any decision-making process affecting a larger body influenced by the
selection. “Transparency is a matter of elementary fairness by providing the
operative selection criteria and weight to teams, players, and coaches from the
various universities” (123). This fundamental facet of the decision-making
process is absent due to the lack of elaborate criteria. The College Football
Playoffs website states, ” When circumstances at the margins indicate that
teams are comparable, then the following criteria must be considered: championships
won, strength of schedule, head-to-head competition (if it occurred), and comparative
outcomes of common opponents (without incenting margin of victory)” (criteria).
These criteria are awfully vague for determining something with the magnitude
of the College Football Playoff. The lack of explanation for the direction of
these standards leaves something to be desired. “It is the position of the
authors that all material factors, and the weight attached to each, demand open
disclosure and discussion to avoid teams or entire conferences feeling
blindsided” (123).

 Looking into each one of these criteria the
problems start to present themselves. The first criteria outlined there on
their website when comparing similar teams to use the “championships won” is
one particular idea that I have a problem with (critieria). First off, is it
implying conference championships or past championships for last year? Most
likely it’s implying conference championships but either way is displaying the
laziness and lack of intellectual effort put into writing the bylaws for this
prestigious game. Assuming the document means conference championships we see
an issue arise. Independents such as Notre Dame don’t have conference
championship. Also, there are four spots to get into the playoff and five major
conferences. If all conference champions have the same record with similar
value in the other criteria outlined in the bylaw… who misses out? This plays
into an idea about a potential larger playoff which could include conference
championships, but in the current format, I’m not sure it makes sense to have
conference championships as a factor. Especially when we see a team such as
Alabama get into the playoff in 2017 having lost their conference championship.

            Another one of those criteria to have a particular
problem with is the idea that margin of victory is not taken into account. The
idea that margin of victory is irrelevant in the task to rank a team is absurd.
Put simply, the score of a game is the exact measure to any game in any sport.
To say that the score of a game, which implies the dominance or lack thereof of
any given team over another team, doesn’t matter seriously takes away from the
whole idea to rank teams. Let’s say Team A beats Team C by 7 points, but then
Team B beats Team C by 35 points. Any person in the right mind would say team
B’s dominance deserves weight in the ranking of the three teams. To say that
Team A is equal to Team B, although possible and maybe Team A had a bad game,
is a faulty idea. If someone thought Team A was equal to Team B would clearly
imply some bias or ulterior motives.

            The next issue we see when evaluating the current state
of the CFP is the use of a single, small committee. “As established for the
2014 college football season, the initial CFP Selection Committee consisted of
thirteen distinguished individuals” (123). These members are generally highly
qualified, apart from one individual, Condoleezza Rica. Most of these members
fall into the former coach, athletic director, or sports reporter of some sort
(criteria). The problem here lies in the notion that the CFP’s Selection
Committee attends the idea that it’s a smart idea to have current athletic
directors as judges for teams they’ve never seen play. This type of job doesn’t
require your typical nine to five. An athletic director is perhaps one of the
busiest jobs one can have (123). From attending late night games at the
university or overseeing the tens of sports on campus, a current athletic director is perhaps the worst available people for
the job except a current coach. Its reasonable to assume that since these
athletic directors do indeed have a full time job, they will not be able to view
every game throughout the length of a season. Being in a place where that is of
upmost importance, they have to find a substitute which would result in reading
a columnists view on the game or a box score inhibiting there own personal account
of a game (123).

            When discussing the whole of the NCAA football playoff
being determined by thirteen members, another cause for concern is the obvious
possibility of inherent bias. As mentioned, it’s extremely unlikely to view
every game. This leads to the preconceived notions the committee members have
for that team reigning supreme (BIAS). Whether intentional or not bias is something
that can not be avoided. The idea of confirmation bias comes into play here. Confirmation
bias is essentially the belief that an individual will be more attentive and
aware of information supporting their idea (BIAS).  According to Professor Heekin at Charlotte School
of Law, “Humans have a tendency to cling to their initial beliefs. This holds
true even once the belief has been discredited”. This idea implies that early
season impressions of teams that are strong in one way or another will have some
degree of effect on decisions and “as the season plays out and preseason incorrect
beliefs are discredited, this human tendency may prevail” (BIAS). An example of
this confirmation bias comes in the nearly every season the CFP system has been
in place.

The
first such blatant instance was in the new systems first year when Marshall went
10-0 and was unranked in the CFP rankings (PLAYOFF). A team that was undefeated
did not place in the top twenty-five. The whole idea of confirmation bias is
evident here as Marshall, a small division one team, was not even considered to
be a ranked team albeit being undefeated because they’re small and hadn’t beaten
anyone that good. The Selection Committee evidently thought, Oh, they’re too small to actually beat a
really good team. I mean they’re good, but not that good.

Another
example similar to this, but in perhaps the opposite way, is in the 2017
decision to let the SEC runner-up Alabama in over Big Ten champion Ohio State.
The criteria themselves say conference championships are important, but no
stated weight is attached to them so its up to the bias of the Selection
Committee. In the same 2017 season UCF went 13-0 beating an Auburn team that throttled
Alabama in the regular season, but was not even close to being included in the playoff
picture. Alabama has became a dynasty of sorts over the last decade winning
multiple championships, and the idea that they’re a very strong team year in
and year out obviously carried some bias in the Selection Committee’s minds.

            The final criterion in which must be taken into account
is the current CFP playoff’s structure. The four-team playoff as of now has
been viewed as superior to the old BCS format, but why settle for just
superior? Why is the playoff not the best form it can be? The fact of the
matter is the playoff with four teams just doesn’t fit the designed system of the
division one landscape.

 As of now, there are the Power Five conferences
(the top tier conferences) and five mid-major conferences (lower tier
conferences). Every year the Power Five conferences have at least one or two teams
representing the top ten. The mid-majors, having a slightly lower standard of play,
will usually have a few teams in the top twenty-five rankings and generally a
team that is undefeated such as in the case of UCF representing one of their
five conferences. Having at least five conferences and possibly a sixth every
year means some conferences are missing out on the playoff. This has a myriad
of issues such as not representing all regions of the country, which hurts
viewership, as well stiffing a Power Five conference champion such as the case
as Ohio State in 2017. This leads one to assume that an eight-team structure
would be sufficient.

 Joe Thomas of Sports Illustrated states, “Expand
the playoff to eight teams—five automatic bids for the Power 5 conferences and
three at-large teams” (par.3). The at large teams would allow for an undefeated
mid-major to make it in as well as the two other teams that have a strong
resume (Thomas par.3). This would create an environment where the ninth ranked
team is clamoring to get in but that’s a much easier pill to swallow than in
the current system where the fifth ranked team that may actually be highly qualified misses out. It’s also wise to assume
that by having more of the diversity in the playoffs that comes with having
more regional representation, it can be expected for viewership to be higher as
more fans watch to see how their favorite regional conference performs (Thomas par.6).
As with anything there are negatives to this opinion. Creating more games is
tough on college athletes that are not getting any additional funds for playing
extra games. In the spirit of competitive nature; however, the chance to play for
the National Championship is any player’s dream and the an eight-team playoff
will only ensure everyone is represented fairly.

The
current system of the playoff has been ineffective and sloppily created in nature.
Looking at a successful playoff such as the men’s college basketball playoff,
we see that often the top seeded team isn’t always the victor. The National Championship
isn’t a representation of the best team in the country so as is it the
representation of how a team matches up with that other team in the National Championship.
In college football, seemingly any team can beat any other team on any given
day. Matchup, luck momentum, big plays, and a variety of other circumstances
can affect the game’s outcome. It’s important to note that because of these
factors it’s important to find the most consistent team to be able to crown the
true champion for that season. Having only a four-team playoff has helped in
relation to the BCS of old, but it’s till not effective in what its purpose is.
Teams are left out every year that are right on the cusp of getting in, and
although it technically the maybe fair in some circumstances, its not necessarily
the correct way to end up determining the National Champion. An eight-team playoff
is required to help eliminate this notion. It will allow every team that has
the ability to win the championship prove itself through a gauntlet of games
that tests the team and their consistency. A series of hard games is required
to find the team that is the real
National Champion. Fans will still clamor why their team isn’t in the playoff
if they’re ranked 9th in the committee’s rankings, but who cares. At
that point we’re just being biased, emotional fans if we think the 9th
or 10th seeded team has a true chance for playoff success. Right now,
the 5th and 6th ranked team are at the mercy of the College
Football Playoff. Often times these teams are undefeated if they are a smaller
school, or team with just a couple losses in close games to top competition.
These teams have all the potential in to world to win the championship, yet
they aren’t given the opportunity. Undoubtedly, if there was an eight-team
playoff, we would have seen these later seeded teams go on to the Big Game. As
of right now, the four-team playoff has not effectively achieved its purpose to
crown the national champion and won’t in the near future. Change is needed to
the playoff to actually fulfill the mission of being a true playoff it set out to do when it replaced the problem riddled
BCS. Whether that is an eight-team playoff, or more sounds and transparent criteria
put in place to make the four-team structure more complete, modifications are
needed, and they’re needed badly.

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