College football fans are not known for being the most understanding or cooperative people. But there’s one thing that we have always been able to agree on: the sport’s postseason has been flawed from day one. Unlike every other sport, the NCAA does not host a college football championship. This means that people had to make it up as they went along, leading to the terrible poll system. Up until 1998, individual polls declared their own champion at the end of each season, leading to tons of split titles and more fake championships than you can count. Then, we took a step in the right direction with the BCS. Now there was at least one definitive champion, except for that one time the AP acted like they still mattered. But it still wasn’t perfect. Choosing winners via an algorithm just felt wrong for a sport that is so deeply human. Plus, the computers’ focus on strength of schedule essentially disqualified every team outside of the Power 5, meaning that we had a league where half of the teams knew they had no shot of winning. Once again, they addressed each of these problems in 2014 with the creation of the 4-team College Football Playoff. The computer algorithms were out, and a selection committee was in. Problem was, it didn’t actually solve anything. Smaller schools were still left out, and the humans still weren’t great at picking the right teams. But it seems like they have finally figured things out. Last week, the CFP officially proposed an expanded 12-team playoff that is expected to start in a few years. For the first time ever, college football will have a good postseason.
First, a quick rundown of the new playoff. The committee will continue to rank the top 25 exactly as they have in the past, and the final rankings will still come out right after the conference championships. Now, the four highest rated conference champs will automatically receive the top four seeds, along with a first-round bye. The next two conference champions in the rankings will automatically receive a spot in the playoff, but no bye. The six remaining highest ranked teams will get the last remaining spots. The first round will see the teams seeded 5-12 play each other at the home stadium of the higher seed, then the rest of the games will be considered bowl games like they are now. Okay, that wasn’t that quick. But each of those details is very important.
One great change that immediately jumps out is that we’re finally getting postseason games on campus. The historic bowls are fine, but absolutely nothing compares to a college football home crowd. Yeah, the Rose Bowl is great, but has the crowd there ever caused a literal earthquake? Didn’t think so. Another important change is that there is now a concrete reward for winning your conference. The committee’s stance on conference championships in the past was essentially “It matters. Just trust us.” Now we know exactly what’s at stake, which makes them even more important. Now a good team that might have slipped up during the season has a reason other than pride to go all out for that one game. This can only make for more competitive and exciting matchups.
But the most important change in the playoff structure can be summed up by one word: inclusivity. The buried treasure that has eluded college football since its very inception. For the first time, every team actually has a chance. Is it a fair chance? No. But a lack of fairness hasn’t hurt the sport in the past, so that’s not happening any time soon. The inclusion of six automatic bids means that at least one team from a Group of 5 conference will take part every season. Finally, deserving teams won’t be punished for not buddying up to the right people a century ago. But it goes even further than that. People have drastically overlooked how important the wording of that rule is. It says the top six champs, but it doesn’t list specific conferences. Most people have noticed that this disqualifies Notre Dame from a top four spot, but nobody is pointing out that it also doesn’t disqualify multiple G5 teams. A hypothetical 8-win team from a bad division that pulls off one miraculous upset won’t get a playoff spot just because they’re from the PAC-12 (because let’s be honest, they’re the only ones this applies to). In fact, if we had this playoff last year, then Cincinnati and Coastal Carolina would’ve both qualified over PAC-12 champion Oregon. But the inclusion doesn’t stop there. Before now, I was a big proponent of an 8-team playoff, with six auto-bids and only two at large spots. After initially hating going straight to twelve teams, I now see the light. A famous Mississippian once said “Hope is the most valuable currency in college football”, and this structure offers so much hope. Because most rational fanbases know the limits of their team. Will South Carolina finish in the top 8 in the next decade? Probably not. Can we finish in the top 12? Absolutely. Fans of mid-tier schools all know what it’s like to have that season. That one magical year where you keep climbing the polls, pulling off upsets you never dreamed were possible. But they all end the same way, with a loss to your local blue blood. You never quite make it to the top of the mountain. But now, that loss won’t matter. Now you still have a chance to do something special, a chance to make history. And that is what makes a 12-team playoff so important. Now, the magic will stay alive for just a little bit longer.
Plus, Clemson fans hate it, so it must be a great idea.