It is Time to Expand the College Football Playoffs

Conor Scanlon, Sports Columnist

Blue and white confetti rains down from the rafters. The Penn State fight song blares from the loudspeaker. The Nittany Lions have just won the Big Ten Conference title—the most difficult feat in regular season college football. Unfortunately, the two-loss Lions will miss out on the four team College Football Playoffs this year. Although an improvement over standalone bowl games, the playoffs should be expanded to an eight teams tournament.

The current playoff system favors teams with better records rather than teams that choose difficult out-of-conference schedules. As a result, teams like Penn State and Oklahoma are punished for scheduling games against difficult teams like Pitt, Temple, Houston and Ohio State.

Penn State Head Coach James Franklin acknowledges the difficulty of including every team in the playoffs. After his team’s Big Ten Championship, Franklin stated, “We sat in there as a team and listened to all the points being made. You can make arguments for and against so many teams.” However, an eight-team playoff would enable the winners of each of the Power Five conference championships to have a spot in the playoffs, as well as ensure that deserving teams like two-loss Michigan have a second chance.

An eight-team playoff would help to remove some of the variability in the selection of playoff teams. The playoff selection committee does not have a standardized formula for choosing teams. In the first two seasons of the new College Football Playoffs, winning conference championship games was the most important factor when it came to admittance, yet overall the process is entirely subjective and lacks consistency.

Chairman of the selection committee Kirby Hocutt claimed, “The purpose, the mission of the selection committee is to get the four very best teams in the country.” Hocutt added, “There are many factors that go into that discussion.”

Unfortunately, this subjectivity results in a moving target for teams when scheduling out-of-conference opponents. In some years it appears as if an unbeaten record is the most important factor when determining playoff teams. In other years, it comes down to strength of schedule. Maybe next year it will be the conference champions again—the point being that there is no way to predict the most important criteria. However, with the current system, one or more of the Power Five conference champions will be excluded from the playoffs.

In response to a similar critique, College Football Playoff Executive Director Bill Hancock said, “Every year is going to be different. Football seasons are like snowflakes, they’re all different.” Hancock foresees similar results in the future. “Next year we’ll be standing here talking about some other way it fell out. And that’s great.”

There may be a couple of downsides to an eight-team tournament. First, it would involve all qualified playoff teams to play at least one more game, potentially two more if there was a consolation bracket. Another game means another potential week of injuries for players, as well as another week away from academics. However, this problem could likely be avoided by nixing one of teams’ early-season, non-conference games. Another solution could be to eliminate conference championships and have the team with the best record from each Power Five conference automatically gain a spot in the playoff.

Unless the selection committee can standardize its process, an expansion of the four-team College Football Playoff is a necessity to ensure deserving teams have a shot at the National Championship.