The committee came out with its final four rankings for the College Football Playoff, and it provided more scrutiny than the 2016 Presidential Election. The only thing missing is the equivalent hashtag of #NotMyPresident to #NotMyFinalFour. The committee operates by its own rules and language that the common sports fan does not understand. It gives itself a built in excuse of “we’re looking for the four best teams” to rationalize any decision that they make. First Conference Championships matter, then they don’t. Strength of schedule matters, then it doesn’t. Margin of victory and common opponents matter, then they don’t. So let’s give a look at what happened this year.
What it came down to this year was that the committee hitched its wagon to Alabama early in the year, and was not able to change their mind without looking hypocritical. While multiple media outlets ripped apart the Crimson Tide’s resume, the committee had already decided that if there were any change/loss in the top four on championship weekend, that Alabama would be the final representative. This was evident when they were the #5 ranked team after their loss to Auburn. Without any major victories on their schedule and losing the only game that had significance on their schedule, the Crimson Tide was the #5 ranked team in the country. Nothing Ohio State, or USC, or anyone else behind them could have done on this past weekend could have changed the outcome of the final four.
The black eye that Iowa handed to Ohio State was too much for them to overcome and I agree with that. The beat down USC took to Notre Dame ended up looking a lot worse at the end of the season. But, these teams challenged themselves and played tough games at the beginning of the season and throughout the year through having stronger conference schedules. Now Alabama cannot control that LSU lost to Troy, or that the rest of the SEC is down due to their own dominance over the past few years, but they can control that Mercer is on their schedule the week before their biggest game of the year, and that somehow Fresno State (who lost to UNLV on OSU’s schedule) was going to be used as a marquee victory for their resume.
Now the question is, how does this get fixed? Will the inclusion of Alabama in this year’s playoff create changes to the playoff format? I think it should. While right now the Conference Championships are treated in a sense as quarterfinal games, the past two years a conference champion has been left out in favor of an at-large bid to a team who is “unequivocally better” (using their own language) in the committee’s eyes. At the same time, with only 4 teams included in the playoff it shows that since there are 5 power conferences, these games may not matter all that much anyways.
There may be a way to fix this and make it better for the conferences, the players, and the networks bottom line by having an 8 team playoff. You win your conference championship, you’re in. The highest ranked non-power 5 conference team in the committee’s eyes, gets the 6th guaranteed spot. Then you get 2 at large bids to complete the 8 team bracket. The committee would then have their way of putting in this year’s Alabama, last year’s Ohio State, and whoever else may be available/deserving in the future. It would allow them to include a future Notre Dame team that would not have to join a conference and bring a national fan base to the networks.
Will it change? Who knows. But there is a precedent/controversy created over the past two seasons to make it work. At the very least the college football fans deserve full transparency over how these teams are selected. Until then, we’ll have to live with the Final Four as is.