Pros and Cons of the NCAA Playoff System

If you haven’t heard regular complaints about the NCAA’s current playoff program, which is in its third year, you may be suffering from ostrich disease. Is your head in a hole in the ground? Heads up please, we’d like to chat about the system with you now. If you love college football, the way we do, you follow it carefully, and you usually know who is going to make it to the playoffs, even if they aren’t in your conference. At the same time, you may also feel frustration that your conference team didn’t seem to get a fair shot.


College Football Playoffs (CFP)

The playoffs follow the regular season for colleges, and the end is the determination of the NCAA’s best college team in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). Sadly, many fans have expressed concern because the whole affair around the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) is ambiguous. That was when the current four-team playoff format was created, and everyone thought at the time, that it was the right answer. Still, we complain that it’s just as unfair as the former BCS. The difference is that we once complained about our teams being left out of the top two, now they’re gone out of the top four. Most of us blame the selection committee for our woes.


The primary complaint is the definition of the “top team.” The coveted committee looks at varying factors for each team’s resume.

  • In 2014, since there was no Big 12 Championship Game, Baylor was automatically booted out. TCU was also out, and the committee claimed they had a weak schedule, out of conference.
  • The following year, 2015, Ohio State, who held the number one spot all year and were also the defending champs had an easy schedule, no strong wins and were only knocked out in the final weeks by Michigan State. The committee then started placing increased emphasis on out of conference schedules, so teams started trying to book harder opponents.
  • That brings us to 2016 when the committee reversed emphasis again, and Ohio State was added over Penn State. There was also the threat that Michigan was going to beat out Washington for a spot. Ohio State allegedly had the more impressive resume, despite Penn State’s Big 10 trophy.

That explains the problem of inconsistency! And we can debate the virtues of each team; however, for now, we’ll move forward.

Another problem is the varying degrees of emphasis on out on conference games. Putting a focus on formidable opponents makes sense because if you compare two teams with identical records, the team that played the tougher opponents will likely get the nod. Schedules are prepared years in advance and the definition of “formidable” is going to change. We all know teams can make drastic changes from year to year in players and coaching staffs.

The final problem is the variations between conferences and that is uncontrollable. However, should the committee look at records before they consider schedules? Probably.

In the committee’s defense, picking the top four teams isn’t an easy charge. But that doesn’t solve our problem now, does it?

Possible Solution

One answer that has been flying about the industry is allowing eight teams to battle it out in a bracket. The first five nods would go to the Power 5 conferences; the next ones should go to the top G5 champs, and then fill the final two spots with the highest ranked at-large teams that haven’t already secured a place.

The first four games should fill the top BCS bowls, (Cotton, Orange, Fiesta, and Sugar), allowing for conference rotation year to year.

What Do We Love and Hate About this Suggestion?

We love that:

  • Conference champs are rewarded with an undisputed path to the final games.
  • It’s less controversial and places less reliance on the committee and a ranking process.
  • All Power 5 (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC) conferences are represented each year.
  • At least one G5 (American Athletic Conference, Conference-USA, Mid-American Conference, Sun Belt Conference, Mountain West Conference) team has a good chance of making it to the showdown.
  • There are still a couple of spots for stellar teams who didn’t win their conferences.

We aren’t too crazy about the fact that:

  • We need added games for the four added teams.
  • Some ambiguity still exists with the selection of the final two at-large teams. However, isn’t two better than four?
  • By making the field larger, there is a change that a lesser team takes the title. We can require that the winning team must have a minimum of three consecutive wins to help overcome that obstacle.


So, if we apply this solution to the 2016 season, and assume that conference matches are Big10 versus Big12, PAC12 versus G5 and ACC versus SEC, we’d have:

  • Clemson and Alabama at the Fiesta Bowl
  • Penn State and Oklahoma at the Orange Bowl
  • Washington and Western Michigan at the Rose Bowl
  • Ohio State and Michigan at the Sugar Bowl

What ‘cha think? Deal or no deal? Should we send this to the committee? Give us your thoughts and ideas below, please!  We’d love to hear your solutions!


What Do You Think?

Pros and Cons of the NCAA Playoff System

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