Alabama vs. Clemson, Alabama vs. Clemson, Alabama vs. Clemson, Alabama vs. Clemson.
These four games have essentially made 96 percent of all other FBS college football irrelevant. These four games, consisting of three national titles and one playoff semifinal game, have firmly cemented these two teams atop every single poll in the nation. A place both teams have become more than accustomed to as they just continue to win, continue to accumulate the nation’s best players and continue to build up reserves that are better than 95 percent of most other teams’ starters.
The most impressive victories that Alabama and Clemson have are over parody, not any single opponent. The way the NCAA’s playoff system works is one that obviously encourages winning, but much like the gilded age of the United States, this system has no checks and balances to negate monopolies, which is exactly what is happening in college football today.
Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney have turned themselves into modern day John Rockefeller’s and Andrew Carnegie’s as they have essentially cornered the market on talent and public opinion. A natural flaw with how the system of college football is operated is the ranking system. Teams are ranked subjectively based upon their previous successes, which prematurely puts everyone else behind the eight ball. Every year teams like Alabama and Clemson top the polls and play relatively weak competition while walking right into a spot in the playoff to play for yet another national title.
As a fan of the college game and sports in general, I respect teams that win and win consistently, and I have no issue with Alabama or Clemson’s dominance in the sport. The issue I have is how one team’s prolonged dominance hinders the ability of other teams to accumulate talent and compete with these dominant teams. Therefore, I am calling for a monumental change in the college football world.
This change is simple, yet drastic. College football must change to a playoff format like the FCS playoff system. The current playoff system is hardly better than the BCS system that everyone hated and this is the quickest and easiest solution to the problem. The overhaul would change the format of the playoffs from four subjectively chosen teams to a field of 16 teams with the winner of each of the 10 FBS conferences receiving an automatic bid, leaving six spots for at-large bids.
The regular season would have to be cut down from 12 games to 11 for sake of wear and tear. This is what the FCS does as well for those people that say a 16-team playoff would be too detrimental to the health of players. In order to keep the poll makers and playoff committee happy, the seeding and at-large bid selection would remain subjective, much like in the NCAA basketball tournament. This way, each conference is guaranteed a representative to play for the FBS championship and the closest thing to a true champion can be crowned.
There is a clear distinction at the FBS level between the 10 conferences, as one group is affectionately called the “Power Five” and the other five are essentially ignored in all national conversations and called the “Group of Five.” This has never made much sense to me as they all still technically play in the same division, yet discrimination against half of the conferences is widely accepted.
Naturally there is a difference in skill, as there isn’t enough elite talent to fill 129 teams, and some schools are able to spend exponentially more money on football, so there will be a talent discrepancy. Yet there are exceptions to this generally accepted rule, Group of Five teams have shown in the past the capability of not only beating Power Five schools but also fielding teams with legitimate claims to national titles.
This playoff system would level the playing field to a degree, enough so that teams like the 1999 Marshall Thundering Herd, the 2009 Boise State Broncos and the 2017 UCF Golden Knights would have a shot at playing for a national championship. It’s time for the NCAA to either make a change or make a totally different division of football all together.
There could be fans from a few schools, like Notre Dame, that have a serious question, what about the independent teams? The answer is simple, and Notre Dame won’t like it. Join a conference or don’t play. Maintaining rivalries will not be impossible as much like in the FCS, non-conference games are still very much a part of college football, there just won’t be as many. In the FBS today, many programs, both Group of Five and Power Five teams, schedule games against FCS opponents who are of an even lesser talent pool and serve as pseudo-bye weeks.
By eliminating these games, it would also make it so the college playoff does not coincide with the NFL playoffs. As head coach of the Washington State Cougars, Mike Leach said, “Then the other thing that I think college foolishly does is, they give the NFL December.” With a regular season shortened by one week and the playoffs pushed up into late November and early to mid-December, this playoff system only continues to make more sense.
My final point here looks to touch on the bowl games that would be inevitably eliminated if this system were to be implemented. It is increasingly clear that with any kind of playoff format, including the one that is currently in place, that any bowl game that is not included in the playoff system is essentially a joke. The games mean nothing, there are no implications, its merely two teams playing for a participation trophy.
Go ask any Georgia fan if they are proud of their 31-23 victory over TCU in the 2016 AutoZone Liberty Bowl. Go ask any Arizona fan if they care about the heartbreaking 38-35 defeat at the hands of Purdue in the 2017 Foster Farms Bowl. My guess is they don’t and if they do, they shouldn’t. A playoff system means games matter. Every game matters, from the non-conference road game against another highly-rated opponent, to the home game in early November against a conference bottom-dweller, they all have playoff implications.
In closing, this playoff system would not directly result in the end of college football dynasties like the ones we see today in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Clemson, South Carolina, nor is that the goal. The goal is to merely attempt to lessen the impact of the engrained subjectivity that has plagued the game of college football for decades. The reason championship games are played is to determine the overall true champion of a league, at this point in time I see no better way of doing so in the college game than an expanded sixteen team playoff.