Editorial: Playoff Should Include Top-Six Teams
History was made in college football last Saturday. For the first time since 1985, three of the top four teams in the nation all lost in the same week. With No. 2 Michigan losing to Iowa, No. 3 Clemson dropping a thriller at home to Pittsburgh and No. 4 Washington falling to USC, the College Football Playoff experienced a mindboggling shake-up.
Top-ranked Alabama is currently the only undefeated team in the nation, boasting a perfect 10–0 record in the always-competitive Southeastern Conference. Having outscored its opponents 412–122, Alabama represents the only lock for making the College Football Playoff. As for the other three teams looking to complete the playoff field, predicting the nation’s top-four teams is nearly impossible given the inconsistencies that occurred this past weekend.
Since at least three of the top-four teams in the CFP will have at least one loss, the playoff field should expand to six teams in order to include various other deserving, one-loss teams and to create more competition.
Seven of the current top-10 teams in the AP poll have one loss or less, creating a challenge for the CFP selection committee in picking the best four teams. If the season ended today, according to CFP rankings, No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Ohio State, No. 3 Michigan and No. 4 Clemson would represent the playoff field as the top four teams in the nation. In that scenario, if I were Bobby Petrino, head coach of the fifth-ranked Louisville Cardinals who would be one spot out of the playoff, I would be irate. How can a 42–36 loss to Clemson Oct. 1 be the only reason to keep the Cardinals out of the playoffs?
Obviously, this is one of the many difficult questions facing the CFP selection committee in the following weeks. But if the field is expanded to six teams, such controversies will be eliminated.
It looks like Louisville’s season may shape up like the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs’ did when they were left out of the playoff field in 2014. A disappointed TCU Head Coach Gary Patterson made a public statement saying he believes that the CFP should expand to six teams.
“To me, it makes no sense to have four playoff spots and then have five [power] conferences,” he said in an interview with ESPN. “This way gives everybody a chance to have their champion or their best team be a part of the playoff.”
Unfortunately, counter-arguments against an expanded playoff field have drowned out these concerns. Some say that the field should remain at four teams because adding additional spots would force teams to play more games in the playoffs, increasing the risk of injury for players. Others think that conference championship games would be meaningless if a team could make the playoffs without winning a conference title.
While many college football analysts have taken a firm stance on this controversy, so has the NCAA. With the CFP contract going through the 2025 season, Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner John Swofford said he doesn’t expect the playoff field to expand anytime soon.
“I don’t want to say never,” he said in an interview during ACC Media Days, “but I don’t think we’ll see it during the remaining years of the contract.”
Given the low television ratings of the CFP last year, the NCAA has nothing to lose in expanding the playoff field. Last year’s Orange Bowl, the CFP semifinal faceoff of Clemson and Oklahoma, received much worse television ratings and 44.5 percent fewer viewers than the 2015 Rose Bowl. The other CFP semifinal game, the Cotton Bowl, which featured No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Michigan State, experienced similar issues. The Cotton Bowl’s viewership was 10 million lower than the 2015 Sugar Bowl.
Therefore, expanding the CFP is a no-brainer. For increased competition, equal opportunity and presumed better television ratings, increasing the playoff field to six teams is not just an option, but also a necessity to preserve fan interest in college football for years to come.