Widgets Magazine

Ziperski: The case for an eight-team College Football Playoff

This column reflects the opinion of the writer and does not in any way reflect the views of The Stanford Daily.


With the 2017 College Football Playoff in the books, it’s time to look back on the last three seasons of college football – the Playoff era – and consider where we are. The Playoff system is undoubtedly an improvement over the old system, as it’s opened up an opportunity for more teams to compete for a title. Limiting championship opportunities to only two teams, based on some subjective measures, reduced fan engagement and generated too much controversy in the football world. I know I’m not alone when I say that the Playoff system has made college football a better, more exciting product.

Still, there’s work to be done. I’d propose an easy change: expanding the bracket to include four more times, eight in total.

With five powerful conferences – the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC and Pac-12 – competing for only four spots, someone inevitably gets left out. Every “Power Five” conference includes teams that could legitimately compete for a championship, and it’s a shame that all corners of the country can’t be represented. With an eight-team playoff, every Power Five conference would be almost guaranteed representation.

Furthermore, the “Group of Five” conferences – the AAC, MW, C-USA, MAC and Sun Belt – would potentially have an opportunity to compete for a title. Under the current system, there’s virtually no chance for a non-power team to make the playoff, leaving perennial contenders like Houston, Western Michigan and Boise State constantly on the outside looking in. I don’t think it would be wise to allow an automatic playoff berth for the highest-ranked Group of Five team, but I do think that they should have the chance to be included in the championship hunt if they’re ranked inside the top eight.

For the first two years of its existence, the Playoff committee made it very clear that conference championships mattered a great deal, and that conferences like the Big 12 were putting their teams at a disadvantage in the Playoff sweepstakes because they lacked a conference championship game. It is true that conference championships should matter, and switching to an eight-team playoff would ensure that they do, because the committee’s actions this year told a different story.

The Big Ten’s representative in 2017 was Ohio State, a one-loss program and undoubtedly one of the best teams in the country. But Ohio State wasn’t the Big Ten champion; indeed, the Buckeyes hadn’t even played in the championship game. No, the Big Ten champion was Penn State, which had prevailed over Wisconsin. The Playoff committee has stated in the past that non-champions can leapfrog champions in the Playoff rankings if the non-champion has demonstrated that it is clearly the better team. Had Ohio State demonstrated that it was obviously a more deserving program than Penn State? Of course not: The Nittany Lions beat the Buckeyes back in October.

Penn State fans were justifiably angry that their team had been left out of the Playoff. They’d been told that conference championships matter. Clearly, they didn’t matter enough. They’d been told that a non-champion would only take a champion’s spot if that team had proved itself to be clearly superior. Clearly, Ohio State hadn’t done that. We can debate endlessly whether the committee made the right decision to omit Penn State. But I would argue that such a debate is entirely unnecessary: Let’s expand the Playoff to include eight teams, so that the committee doesn’t find itself making the difficult choice between two stellar programs like Ohio State and Penn State.

I can’t imagine it would be too difficult to enact such a change. The semifinals could retain their place in the schedule – traditionally on New Year’s Eve – and the quarterfinals could be played a week earlier.

Fans would be on board: We’re looking for more excitement. The schools themselves and their athletic programs definitely want a chance to compete for a national title. And I’m sure the NCAA wouldn’t oppose the move; after all, replacing four irrelevant bowl games with four high-profile playoff contests would inevitably lead to more revenue for the organization.

The last three years of Playoff football have been great. And the coming years can be even greater. Let’s make it happen.


Contact Andrew Ziperski at ajzip’at’stanford.edu to welcome him to the sports section of The Stanford Daily (and reinforce that the Sports section tops Opinions any day).