Is a 4-team playoff the best model?

Submitted by Gulogulo37 on December 8th, 2015 at 6:33 AM

I didn't think about it until I read this article, but...…

I haven't heard anyone talking about expanding the playoff field this year. I'm not so sure now, but before, I was in favor of a 6-team playoff with byes for the top 2. I think this might be what Brian advocated also. I always thought 8 was too much. With 6, you could have all the Power 5 conference champs and 1 more team that was a runner-up or an independent or even a non-Power 5 champ.

The author here makes some good points in favor of keeping it at 4 teams.

"Check out the rankings: Iowa is No. 5, followed by Stanford, Ohio State and Notre Dame. If you included all these teams, you would have effectively rendered the Big Ten title game irrelevant. And Michigan State's stunning victory in Columbus. And Notre Dame's loss to Stanford.

And you'd still have No. 9 Florida State and No. 10 North Carolina, two-loss teams just like Notre Dame, howling over perceived injustice."

With the 4-team playoff, the regular season is just as important, and even more interesting, because with just a couple games to go, seemingly everyone in the top 15 had a chance to get into the playoff if things fell their way. And I think it's at least as fair as any other system would be. 2 teams is too strict. 8 teams lets in too many teams who just don't have resumes that compare to the top teams.

At some point the toll taken playing more and more games does add up, but in terms of the enjoyment and fairness of the sport itself, a 6-team playoff still may be best. Having said that, do you really think Iowa should be in there? I don't. And that would have taken away from the B1G championship game since it would have just been for seeding. I would like to see Stanford in there though; I can't say they're a step down from the current playoff field or undeserving. I also think 6 would have been better last year. There was definitely a good case for TCU or Baylor.




December 8th, 2015 at 6:36 AM ^

Conference championship is effectively a play in game. They are at neutral sites in a bowl like atmosphere. Leave the playoffs at four teams - the best of the top conferences

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December 8th, 2015 at 8:08 AM ^

When it was two teams (BCS era) only two conferences- and sometimes only one conference(!)- were showcased. The 4-team playoff for 5 conferences, Independents, "group of 5" is fine. If we had 6 or 8 undefeated teams, then you have a slight argument. Of the top-25, ONE team went undefeated. ONE. Are they in? Good. Everyone else... It's about your resume... Ohio State wants to be included? I'm sorry, win all your games then. You have no ground to stand on. This forces teams to have a tougher schedule. If you want to be like Baylor, schedule easy competition, and no championship game, and STILL manage to lose? That's your problem.


December 8th, 2015 at 12:36 PM ^

5 team playoff.

Stanford gets in.  Play in game vs Oklahoma.  Then commence 4 team playoff.

Committee still matters (seeding), media gets all the debating & drama of "resumes".

No P5 conference champs left at home.

Make ND join a conference.

Make Big 12 pick TCU or Baylor (circa 2014).

Conference Championship is effectively "Round of 10".

Protects the regular season (OSU still eating popcorn this year over 1 loss to MSU).


December 8th, 2015 at 8:38 AM ^

PAC 12 and ND were left out and rightfully so. 

ND lost to Stanford and ended up with 2 losses.  They lost to Clemson and Stanford, so these are effectively play in games.  i.e. “The regular season matters.”

Stanford was a conference champ, but with two losses.  The other four conference champs have 1 or less, so they are the odd team out of the Power 5.  I think this is the right way to go.

I agree that the regular season matters.  In a single game, either team can win.  If you take a 1 loss Iowa/Ohio or 2 loss Stanford/ND and add them to the playoff, they could knock off a higher ranked team, but then they play either the #1 or #2 team that has an extra week off (in a 6 team field) which may not be “fair”.  Letting a 2 loss team into the playoffs is rewarding mediocrity.  If you expand to 8 teams, you will eventually end up with a three loss team in the brackets.

Letting a 1 loss team into the playoffs – that already lost their conference championship game – effectively makes the playoffs a double elimination tourney for the first round.  I say let the conference championships serve as the first round and then you have a 10 team tourney.  Let ND find its way into the ACC championship or go undefeated if they want in.   



December 8th, 2015 at 6:16 PM ^

this thought reinforces the idea of the regular season being a beauty contest. How can you say a two loss team is less deserving than a one loss team when they play completely different schedules? I want teams to prove it on the field, not be influenced by ESPN and the media.


December 8th, 2015 at 9:29 AM ^

To hell with Notre Dame.

I like 4. 15 games is bordering on too much for the player. As fans we always want MOAR football, but I like all the arguments for 4 teams. Most years, one of the power 5 conferences is going to be clearly behind the others, or produce a league champion whose record has too many blemishes. I don't want to include them just because they won a conference. They also have to be really good, so 4 slots for 5 conferences puts extra pressure on teams week in and week out to win.


December 8th, 2015 at 7:14 AM ^

go to 8 conferences with 10 teams per. play everyone in your conference for apples to apples scheduling. champ goes to playoff seeded by a committee where high seed is home the first round. forces nd to join a conference. other teams can play their bowls.

Mr. Yost

December 8th, 2015 at 8:46 AM ^

8 Team Playoff


  • (8) 10-team conference
  • 9-game conference schedules / 3 non-conference games
  • No conference championship game
  • Conference champion MUST finish in the top 12 of the final CFB ranking to receive automatic bid or it become an at-large bid


This solved most people's worries right here. Now you'll never have a 7-6 conference champion going to the playoff. Now you'll get conference champions and it'll mean something if they're ranked high enough. Now you'll likely get the opportunity for an at-large or two each year.

I'd even go as far as to say all non-playoff teams go to bowl games - only I'd just have the teams with the shit records schedule a 13th game rather than go to a bowl. This way everyone plays 13 games and gets the extra practices. Four teams play 14 games and two teams play 15. There's not a huge discrepancy of games between teams and not a huge discrepancy of practice time vs. recruiting time. I personally think having some teams play 12 games and another play 16 in the same conference isn't right...that's why I like eliminate conference championship games and making everyone play a postseason game.


December 8th, 2015 at 9:29 AM ^

This is all fine except your third point.

If you have an eight team playoff and eight conferences, then the conference champ should automatically be in the playoff. The point of having conferences where everyone plays one another mean that the winner of each conference has already eliminated the rest of the conference. So if you get the occasional 8-4 conference champ, so be it. 


December 8th, 2015 at 10:50 AM ^

If an 9-3 conference champ doesn't make the playoffs but the runner up who went 11-1 does, then you need to discard that idea.  His 3rd point would completely water down non-conference games because no one would want to take a loss in non-conference play that could negatively affect them for the playoff.  If you have 8 conferences and each conference champion gets in teams wouldn't be afraid to schedule good non-conference games.


December 8th, 2015 at 10:16 AM ^

That's only 80 teams.  You'd be excluding a hell of a lot of teams from even having a chance at the National Championship if that's the case.  Are you wanting to make three or four conferences of "also rans" who never have a chance?  Or do you want to relegate them back to FCS status?  Do you want them to play for their own second-tier championship (like the NIT in basketball)?  Sorry, to me it doesn't make sense.  Either keep it at 4 or have 8 14 team conferences and include (almost) everybody.


December 8th, 2015 at 10:53 AM ^

about 'also ran' conferences, but that's pretty much what the MAC, MWC, Sun Belt, etc. are right now.  There's almost no chance a team from one of those conferences would ever make the 4 team playoff.


December 9th, 2015 at 10:30 AM ^

I understand your point.  But "almost no chance" is still better for those teams than "no chance at all".  I think unless you have some sort of relegation system like they do in European soccer leagues, that's just deeply unfair to the schools that are left out.

Mr. Yost

December 8th, 2015 at 8:50 AM ^

But I don't want to see a 7-6 Minnesota in the playoff because they snuck in by winning a conference championship game.

Look at Texas/Baylor THIS weekend. Baylor was playing RBs and WRs at QB. Just because Cardale Jones played out of his mind doesn't mean every 3rd string QB is an NFL talent.

Remember Russell Bellomy?

Or if you're like the B1G or SEC where one division is WAY ahead of the next...a team shouldn't be able to skate to that one game, win it and automatically be in unless they're like Iowa. But if they're a 6-6 team who made it in the game, from an easy division and they somehow win like Nebraska over MSU this year? It should just be an at-large selection.

No Nebraska fan in his/her right mind is arguing they should be in the Playoff over MSU because they beat them. In no poll are they ranked higher. But they did win. And if that win happened to be in the conference championship game and not the 9th game of the year or shouldn't make a difference. They're not a playoff team.


December 8th, 2015 at 6:45 AM ^

may be unpopular but I think 4 is right. If you get in to 6 or 8 there will again be changes to the season format and the bowl season again. I think it is time to let something be and develop some tradition around it instead of continuing to change things around. There is something to be said for leaving well enough alone and I think this is one of those cases. I do think the playoff games should always be on new years day. The Rose Bowl is just gonna have to deal.

kevin holt

December 8th, 2015 at 8:51 AM ^

I think this is the perfect reason TO change it sooner. It's only the 2nd year so it would be a lot easier to change. We let the BCS sit for a while to build tradition but that didn't make it a better system.


December 8th, 2015 at 6:42 AM ^

Leave as is. I didn't think so until this year. Point about title games being play ins is correct. The indies need to join a conference or be virtually perfect.

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December 8th, 2015 at 7:40 AM ^

Agreed. The howling over the byes would be as bad or worse so 6 teams solves very little. I don't think there's anything sacred about the Power-5 so all 5 must be represented. I am fine with 4. If and when UM is snubbed I'll be pissed but that's as the #5, #7 or #9 team...or in 2025 the #17 team (I'm sure its headed there).


December 8th, 2015 at 7:02 AM ^

Don't think it would happen often that way. Of the 4 major conference title games, the BIG was the only game where that would have been true and even State may not have made an 8 team playoff if they lost bad with OSU, ND, and Stanford right behind them. Even then, the incentive to win for seeding purposes would have been high.


December 8th, 2015 at 6:46 AM ^

I kind of go back and forth. In my mind, it comes down to whether or not you want to rely on subjective polls (i.e., the current system) or create some kind of more object play-in system by expanding to 6 teams and giving each power 5 conference champ a spot with one at-large bid for either a deserving P5 non-champ or non-P5 team (i.e., smaller conference champs or independents).

Part of me likes how weird and archaic college football is for relying on polling systems. But part of me also acknowledges that it's weird and archaic.


December 8th, 2015 at 6:50 AM ^

I like 4, but what happens when you have two undefeated teams, one of which isn't from a power 5 school, and three one-loss teams, all of which won their conferences? Imagine you had Clemson, (an undefeated) Houston, Bama, MSU, (1-loss) Stanford, and Oklahoma. Seemingly, Houston would be left out and a 1-loss conference champion (probably Oklahoma if Stanford had beat ND) would also be left out in favor of another 1- loss team.

Like I said, I like 4 - these are supposedy student athletes after all- but sooner or later there will be a deserving team that is left out based on perception alone and 4 teams basically dictates that you need to be in a power 5 unless there are 3 P5 conference chamions with 2 losses.


December 8th, 2015 at 7:10 AM ^

if you expand it to 6, rest assured 1 of the teams will be the "top ranked non power 5 team," which will probably result in a very undeserving team 50% of the time. Also, there would probably be a push for the conference title games to be true "play in" games. This is problematic, particularly in years where the BIG East and SEC West have two top 5 teams and the winner of divisional tie-breakers play 3 loss teams in the conference title games.

kevin holt

December 8th, 2015 at 9:42 AM ^

Who cares if an undeserving team makes it? they'll just lose in the first round. That's how the basketball tournament is. it's much more important that deserving teams don't get left out than it is to make sure every team in it is good

Mr Miggle

December 8th, 2015 at 8:02 AM ^

Four was the ideal number this year. Other years, some other number will work better. I don't like to get too hung up on the records. Strength of schedule is a critical component of the rankings. It's pretty clear that an undefeted Houston would have been left out this year. They were #18 at 10-0, behind us and several other two loss teams. Would an undefeated non-Power 5 always deserve to be ahead of a one loss non-Power 5 team? There is a lot of disparity in their scheduling.

snarling wolverine

December 8th, 2015 at 6:53 AM ^

I'm fine with it. It keeps the regular season important while not snubbing any really strong candidates. No undefeated team from a P5 will ever get snubbed. A one-loss team might but hey, they didn't take care of business.

Stephen Y

December 8th, 2015 at 6:55 AM ^

Make it six teams, every Power 5 champion gets in, and the final spot goes to the highest ranked non Power 5 conference champion. (Independents would need to join a conference, and the big 12 would need to add two more teams so they can have a title game)