The College Football Playoff Committee (Almost) Got it Right

First of all, they were lucky. The committee was hoping that one team would separate itself from the other playoff contenders during Saturday night’s games. And holy Moses smell the roses did Ohio State ever come through. Despite being forced to start a third-string QB, the Buckeyes clearly established themselves as the team most worthy of securing the fourth playoff spot after a 59-0 domination of 16th ranked Wisconsin. If Ohio State had won, but done so in a less convincing fashion, the committee would have faced a far more difficult decision. So the committee should probably send gift baskets to Urban Meyer’s staff and players at Ohio State. Or at least a thank you note. But, hey, give the committee credit. When the final rankings were released, the committee had chosen the four most deserving teams, and that’s what matters most.

While the committee correctly selected the four most deserving teams, they have still certainly drawn criticism, much of it unwarranted, but some is justifiable. The foremost complaint is about the fall of TCU from 3 to 6. “They won by 52 points, so how can they possibly fall that far?” This question comes from a place of ignorance, ignorance that can be blamed on the committee. People were confused by the decision to drop TCU because the committee failed to be transparent enough in its process of selecting the playoff teams. The issue is that many fans and analysts are operating under an improper mindset. Because the committee has not been clear enough, many people do not understand that the weekly rankings are snapshots in time, not projections. TCU was ranked ahead of Baylor and Ohio State last week because the committee thought that they were the most deserving team at the moment. After Baylor and Ohio State earned impressive victories over highly ranked opponents, they became more deserving than TCU. Those victories substantially boosted the resumes of those two teams, while the win over a dismal Iowa State team was essentially insignificant to TCU’s resume. It was not that TCU fell, OSU and Baylor simply climbed.

Who ya got?

To better understand the changes in the rankings, think about it this mathematically. All season long the teams are earning points for their wins and losses. Let’s say that last week TCU had 100 points, Baylor had 98 points, and Ohio State had 97. A victory over Iowa State, even a blowout, only earns two points, yielding a new total of 102. Baylor’s win over a very good Kansas State team earns 5 points, giving them a new total of 103. Ohio State absolutely shredded one of the country’s top defenses while shutting out an offense featuring the nation’s best running back, so they earn 7 points to bring their season total to 104. Obviously the numbers that I used are arbitrary, but they still demonstrate my point—OSU and Baylor earned more with their Saturday wins than TCU, and the wins were valuable enough for those teams to climb in the rankings.

While the committee’s decision not to include TCU in the 4-team playoff is defensible, one decision that they made was not. The committee ranked Florida State third. Really, third? We’re talking about a team that is the lone remaining unbeaten in the country, aced a Power 5 conference schedule including a conference championship game, is the reigning national champion, and is riding a 29 game winning streak. I’ll admit that the Seminoles have not won their games handily this season, but they have won. Wins and losses should be valued above all else.

Arguments against FSU center on the ‘Noles relatively ordinary score on the “eye test.” When evaluating teams to determine which will make the playoff, the infamous “eye test” is the most dangerous phrase in the world. It serves as a catch-all term that allows any sports pundits, talking heads, and common fans to pompously assign their own personal rankings based on which team they think looks the best. I am floored by how much traction this “eye test” phrase has gained, given that no sports champion has ever been crowned by such a ridiculous criterion. This isn’t a beauty pageant in which judges’ ratings determine who takes home the title. In college football, titles come down to wins and losses. The champion of this season will be determined by which team wins its two playoff games, not by who looks the best while playing them.

Further, the “eye test” also allows people to overlook provable information, like the fact that Florida State has not lost a game in two years. Sure, their wins may not have been pretty, but they keep getting the job done. And an again undefeated reigning champion deserves a chance to repeat. If FSU had lost even a single game this season, they would not deserve to make the playoff, but they have not lost. After all the close calls, their record remains unscathed. And for that, they deserve to play for the championship. Which is why I would rank FSU no lower than second. Imagine if this were a not the first year using the playoff system, so the BCS was still in use and only the top two teams earn the right to play for the title. How could anyone possibly justify leaving FSU out of that championship game? I could see if leaving out Marshall if they had gone undefeated, but FSU plays in a power 5 conference and returns the coach and Heisman Trophy winner from last year’s championship team. They have already proven their worth. They deserve to be in the top two.

In addition to correctly choosing the four teams to compete in the playoff, the committee scored one other major win—it understood its objective. The committee’s job was to select the four most deserving teams, not necessarily the four best teams. Judging which teams were the four best would have involved far too much subjective evaluation, whereas determining the most deserving teams places the focus on the measurable accomplishments of the teams. The committee members can consider tangible data, such as conferences champions, win/loss records and strength of schedule. Ideally the four most deserving teams will also be the best, but this is not up to the committee to decipher. The committee places the most deserving teams in a bracket and lets them hash it out.

But let’s not forget the real winner in all of this—the fans. We finally have our playoff. So let’s enjoy the action. It’s exactly what we’ve been asking for, and it’s exactly what we deserve.