The College Football Playoff will move to a 12-team field next season, and while it won’t be perfect, it will finally eliminate the most egregious of debates.
On Sunday, after watching the College Football Playoff selection show, and engaging in hours of debate about whether Florida State should have been left out or why Georgia fell in unprecedented fashion after a 3-point loss to a playoff team, I sat down to watch some NFL ball.
As I did so, I was overcome by a feeling of satisfying simplicity. The Chiefs and the Packers played a fun game, and Green Bay pulled off the victory. It’s their third win in a row, and they now sit at 6-6, still trailing by three games in their division, but very much in play for a wild card spot.
If the Packers keep winning, they’ll be in the playoffs. Early-season struggles are irrelevant and there’s no committee to impress. They simply have to win games, and they’re in.
Same with the Chiefs. They’ve been disappointing, sitting at just 8-4 with an offense that just isn’t humming the way it typically does.
They are hanging onto 1st place in their division by just two games. Should they win games and keep that spot, or fall into the wild card after failing to stave off the surging Broncos, one thing remains true: It’s all about the record.
There is no committee that will have to evaluate if the Chiefs or the Packers are playoff-worthy, they’ll get in, or be left out, on the strength of their record.
I love college football with all of my heart, and I do not want it to simply become the NFL. Both leagues have unique personalities, and they should not strive to resemble one another more and more.
However, there is one aspect of the NFL that is far superior to college ball, and there is one college football tradition that must die: The championship field cannot be decided simply by debate.
Debate is a beautiful part of sports. It’s part of the reason we love this stuff so much. We argue with our rivals all week, and then we settle it on Saturday.
That’s the key: We settle it on Saturday, on the field. After 60 minutes, whoever has the most points wins. There is no subjectivity involved in determining the winners.
The current 4-team College Football Playoff involves far too much debate. For Florida State, that debate concluded that winning the games does not matter. Going undefeated and winning a Power Five conference championship did not matter. It undid so much of what makes this sport great.
Sure, I found myself on the opposite side of the Seminoles in that debate, because the criteria of the current system demands it. The committee is tasked with finding the “best teams”, not the “most deserving”, as CFP executive director Bill Hancock said last Tuesday.
When evaluating the teams in contention for the playoff, it was hard to justify Florida State, with an offense that has been absolutely anemic since quarterback Jordan Travis suffered a season-ending injury, as one of the four “best teams”. If we’re picking games straight up, I believe they’d lose to Michigan, Washington, Texas, Alabama, Georgia, and Ohio State. That makes them the seventh-best team in the nation for me. For the committee, they were fifth.
It feels dirty though, doesn’t it?
In the NFL format, the Seminoles would get their shot to prove the doubters wrong. In the NBA, they’d get the same. In college basketball, they’d probably drop from a 1-seed to a 3-seed, but they’d be in the tournament, and they’d get a chance to settle in on the field of play.
And next year, in the 12-team College Football Playoff, with automatic qualifiers for the six highest-ranked conference champions and six other spots, the Seminoles would get their shot.
The BCS was beautiful because, in only picking two teams, the other bowl games retained a high level of magnitude. When 2004 Auburn was left out of the title game, the Sugar Bowl they went to was a big deal. When Boise State beat Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, the upset had a championship-level feeling of importance to it.
In the 12-team field, all that magnitude involved in the BCS bowls shifts to the playoff games. We, the fans, get 11 playoff games. 2004 Auburn, 2017 UCF, and 2023 Florida State get their shot to play for a championship after going undefeated. Get beat? At least it was settled on the field.
The new format won’t change everything, and it won’t solve all of college football’s problems, but it will make this whole process a whole lot better.
Sure, the debates will continue, but they will be about teams who aren’t entitled to a spot. Does 10-2 Ole Miss get in, or is it 10-2 Oklahoma? They’re both lucky if they do, but it’s not a travesty if they don’t.
Debate is fun, but the fate of undefeated power conference champions should not be determined by what amounts to a secret episode of First Take.
I love debate. I’m in the business of debate, but let’s remember one thing: debate is entertainment. Football is sport.
Good riddance to the muddying of the two, and good riddance to the 4-team playoff.