By Nick Morgan: Sports Editor
For the fifth time since 2009, Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide claimed their second National Championship in the playoff era, after a 26-23 OT win over #3 Georgia Bulldogs on Jan. 8. Alabama, seeded fourth in the final rankings and controversially slipping into the playoffs, is just the second fourth seed to win the title, joining the 2015 inaugural playoff champions, the Ohio State Buckeyes. This stat, combined with the fact that the number one seed has yet to win the championship in the current playoff format, has sparked the discussion that it might be time to expand the field from a four-team playoff to eight teams.
The playoff selection committee, constructed of 13 former coaches, athletic directors and reporters, decided to include one-loss, non-conference champion Alabama in the playoffs over two-loss conference champions USC and Ohio State, and undefeated Group of Five team, the University of Central Florida. Every year the committee seems to make at least one controversial decision regarding selection into the playoffs. This issue could be alleviated by expanding the playoffs from four teams to eight. The proposal that I have would allow the champions of the Power Five conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac 12 and SEC) to have automatic bids as the top 5 seeds. From there, there would be three at-large bids for teams that made valid cases for inclusion in the playoffs, so teams like UCF and Alabama would also be involved.
In this format, here is how the playoffs would have shaped out for this past season: (1) Clemson vs. (8) UCF, (2) Oklahoma vs. (7) Wisconsin, (3) Georgia vs. (6) Alabama, and (4) Ohio State vs. (5) USC.
Experts and laypeople have debated the current four-team format since its inception in 2014; there seem to be two arguments that stand against this idea. The most prominent argument is that teams would then be forced to play a total of 16 games if they go to their conference championship, then through the playoffs to the national championship game. I would propose that the NCAA decreases the regular season number of games by one and not allow large schools to schedule more than one G5/FCS team a year. This solution would allow for more competitive games that decide rankings later in the season. Then they could back up the quarterfinals game one week to the current conference championship week, the semi-finals to the weekend after Christmas and the national championship to the second week of January to give two-week breaks between each playoff game.
The second reason is a bit more subjective. Most experts agreed with choosing Alabama in this year’s playoff over two-loss conference champion Ohio State, based solely on the opinion that Alabama would create much more competitive games against Clemson and either Georgia or Oklahoma. This idea goes along with the committee’s mission statement, choosing the four best teams, not the four most deserving. This same scenario was seen in 2014 when the committee chose Ohio State over Baylor for the final spot in the playoffs, which then went on to win it all as a fourth seed. These previous examples of the committee “choosing correctly” are further evidence that there is no need to include the fifth through eighth best teams when the four best teams are usually chosen correctly. My argument against this is that all of these teams would be included, plus all conference champions and then three other teams that have proven that they would be competitive in this format.
Regardless of whether the playoffs have four teams or eight, everyone can agree that the past four championship series have been nothing short of entertaining: from the underdog Ohio State defeating powerhouses Alabama and Oregon to win the inaugural CFP championship to Clemson beating Alabama on the last play of the game in the 2016 playoffs, and this year’s games featuring two overtime shootouts. We will have to wait and find out if the committee will trust their decision making or if there can be a more scientific answer to this problem.
Photo by Joshua Whitman vis Foter