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The CFB Playoff Problem

Informative Article

With the lack of competition in college football over the last few years, viewership and popularity of the sport has decreased. This has raised questions on whether the NCAA should expand the system or revert back to the older, more popular format to make the games more entertaining.

by Prithvi Prem

One of the biggest parts of university life in the United States is college football. From September to January, schools from across the country battle it out to gain a place in the College Football Playoff. The four teams selected then play for a chance to become the NCAA champion. While there are over 100 NCAA football teams playing, in recent years we have seen the same teams like Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State in the playoffs. While they are no doubt some of the best teams in the nation, these playoff games with them are losing more and more popularity every year. There have been many calls to change this system, to either a 64 team tournament like March Madness or even to revert to the original BCS Style.

This is where the Trilemma is presented. Should the NCAA continue with their CFB playoff system? Should they expand the system into a 32 or 64 team tournament? Or should they go back to the original Bowl Series style? Well, let’s find out.

POV 1: The NCAA Playoff Should Continue as Planned:

Currently, the NCAA uses the CFB playoff system to decide a true champion for football. This system, which has been in use since 2014, has 4 teams battle in two semifinal games on New Years eve and one championship game in the beginning of the next year. These 4 teams are selected by a 13 man committee, who rank each team. The 4 teams with the highest rankings participate in the playoff. As for the other teams, they are selected to participate in “bowl” games.

Although recently we have seen some of the same teams being selected annually, these teams do not fail to entertain during their matches. Powerhouses like Alabama and Clemson have played some of the best football games in NCAA history, most of which came down to the final seconds of the regulation. Additionally, these schools have undoubtedly earned their place in the playoffs after playing near flawlessly throughout the regular season. Therefore, in spite of a slight decline in viewership over the last few years, the playoffs still bring in over 80 million viewers through all their games.

Considering the current state of the playoffs, including the high viewership, there is no reason why the NCAA should move on from this system. It has not failed to entertain audiences, and it certainly is a fair system.

POV 2: NCAA should expand into a larger tournament system

The CFB Playoff’s critics have mainly voiced their displeasure over the amount of teams selected to the playoffs. Many have suggested increasing from 4 to 8 teams, or even 16 to 32 teams. It's easy to see where they are coming from, considering the immense success of the March Madness basketball tournament.

March Madness is a 64-team NCAA basketball tournament and is the most popular NCAA event in the world. Millions of people fill out brackets predicting the games and even bet on every matchup. As someone who has filled out brackets every year, I can personally say that this time of the year is filled with the most fun moments.

Expanding to a 32, or even 64, team tournament can allow more teams to participate for the championship. Along with that, the more games can allow for the NCAA as well as the various TV stations to rake in more money and viewership for these matches. This would allow for more matchups containing top CFB teams, which will definitely bring in large amounts of viewership from across the nation.

Another great part of this 64-team tournament is that every team has a higher margin of error. The top teams like Alabama, Ohio State, and Clemson will have to play more games, which increases the chance of them messing up, possibly leading to some big upsets throughout the tournament. It is this “large margin of error” that has made March Madness one of the most popular tournaments in the United States. Due to that, we have seen some of the biggest upsets such as UMBC over Virginia in 2-18 and Oral Roberts over Ohio State in 2021.

When considering the massive success a CFB tournament like this could have, the NCAA should certainly look to implement this style in college football as soon as they can.

POV 3: NCAA should revert back into the BCS system

Before the implementation of the Playoff system in 2014, the NCAA used the BCS (Bowl Championship Series) system to determine the championship. The BCS relied on a combination of polls and computer selection methods to determine relative team rankings, and picked the top 2 teams to face off in the National Championship game. This system gained a lot of viewership over its time, with its last edition bringing in over 82 million viewers.

While the BCS Championship did tend to have some of the same teams, it didn’t fail to amaze us. As a matter of fact, BCS games had a smaller margin of victory as opposed to the current CFB playoff games (14.56 to 19.05). The closer BCS games raked in millions of viewers and are some of the best college football games in history. BCS games were overall much more competitive and fun to watch.

The BCS system also brings in more money than the CFB system. There were 34 bowl games following the 2008 season, and the 68 teams received payouts totaling around $200 million for schools across the country. There are guaranteed payouts for all bowl games whereas there has been little discussion on how to pay college playoff teams or non-playoff bowl participants. And most colleges know that football is the money getter for their athletic programs and schools. Considering the competitiveness and payout that comes with the BCS system, The NCAA should just revert back into the BCS format.


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