Our college football playoff includes Oklahoma, Georgia, and Alabama. That’s three conference champions and Alabama. This is something that really gets under the skin of most fans with Ohio State being the odd team out. Last year it was Penn State.
The topic of discussion is whether or not winning the conference should be a prerequisite to being in the playoff. It’s a question that is fair to ask. But is it a reasonable question to ask? I say no.
Now don’t interpret this to mean that I believe Alabama belongs in the championship field while relegating Ohio State. to the irrelevant field of bowl participants. Maybe Alabama is better than Ohio State. Maybe Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes are better than Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide. We have no way of knowing the answer to this question because the selection process is more of a subjective process rather than objective process. The old computer-based rankings of the BCS don’t look so bad right now.
The subjective nature of the rankings creates an environment where perception is used to split hairs when comparing the likes of Alabama and Ohio State and Iowa and Wisconsin were used to split Ohio State’s hairs.
Ohio State giving up 55 points to Iowa is Exhibit A. The perception of Kirk Ferentz’s Iowa offense is that it’s averse to scoring points. It certainly didn’t help matters that Iowa also scored 56 points against a 4-8 Nebraska team. This created a lack of confidence in the consistency of the Ohio State defense.
Exhibit B used against Ohio State was Wisconsin and the perception of how good the Badgers were in 2017. All year long we were told that Wisconsin was the most overrated undefeated team in football. The Badgers hadn’t played a relevant team. Just wait until Wisconsin played a “real” team like Ohio State, we were told.
As the Big Ten Championship played out, the eyeball test told us that Ohio State was head-and-shoulders above Wisconsin. There was just one problem. The Buckeyes won 27-21. If Ohio State’s performance against Iowa put the Buckeyes in a playoff casket, then this meager 6-point win against “lowly” Wisconsin was the final nail in Ohio State’s playoff casket. Perception became reality when Ohio State was judged against what the experts considered Iowa and Wisconsin to be. Style points were demanded from the Buckeyes and Meyer’s team couldn’t deliver.
Talking about whether or not the playoffs should be expanded has been a hot-button topic since the first year of the playoff system. There will always be teams who feel passed over for a spot that is considered rightfully theirs. This will be the case whether there is a 4-team playoff or an 8-team playoff. But I do believe there is room for more than four teams in the playoff.
Expanding the playoffs is easier said than done. ESPN is currently in the middle of a playoff television contract that runs through 2025. That contract is worth $5.64 billion. With that many zeros in the contract, there won’t be a change to the playoffs until the 2026 contract is negotiated.
While I do believe there is room for the playoffs to be expanded, I can see both sides of the playoff expansion argument. 4-teams work. 8-teams would also work. But why not 10-teams? This is why the television contract will dictate what is done. How many teams the networks deem conducive to maximizing profits is the number of teams that will participate in the playoff. Period.
One thing is certain to me in all of this. With the SEC getting multiple teams in the playoff, people will start demanding change. Especially since everyone’s college football antagonist, Alabama, was the SEC team benefiting from this. Whether that means expanding the playoffs or dictating that winning your conference is a prerequisite to playoff participation, something will change once we get to 2026.
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