We already have an 8 team college football playoff

I commonly hear others argue for expanding the four team College Football Playoff (CFBP) to an eight team playoff. I oppose expanding the playoff to eight teams because for all practical purposes we already have an 8+ team playoff.

Hear me out. There are five major conferences, each of which has a conference championship game, plus an additional five conference championship games in the non-major conferences. The five conference championship games from the major conferences help whittle down the field so the CFBP committee can select four teams for the playoff. These five conference championship games serve as a de facto first round of the playoff, with the losing teams being eliminated from advancing in the “playoff.” None of the losing teams have ever been selected for the College Football Playoff.

As further evidence of my claim, the conference championship games are so important for selecting teams for the College Football Playoff that the Big 12 added a conference championship game after their conference missed a berth in two of the first three playoffs.

The conference championship games serve as a first round of a playoff as follows. First, as noted earlier, the teams who lose the conference championship games are (for all practical purposes) eliminated from the playoff, since the CFBP committee has never selected a losing team for the College Football Playoff (e.g., 2017 Wisconsin). Second, note that not all five winning teams in the conference championship games have a reasonable case for making the playoff, since some may already have two losses (e.g., 2017 The Ohio State). As a result, some of the winning teams are also eliminated from the playoff. Who remains are the conference championship winners, other teams who do not have a conference championship game such as Notre Dame as well as Baylor and TCU in 2014, and other top teams who did not qualify for the conference championship game (e.g., Alabama in 2017). The College Football Playoff committee invites four of the teams who emerge from this process to participate in the College Football Playoff.

Expanding the College Football Playoff to eight teams seems redundant to me given that there are conference championship games that serve as a mechanism for selecting the teams for a four team playoff. I might support an eight team playoff if it replaced and eliminated the conference championship games from the five major conferences. I do not see a need to eliminate the other conference championship games. I hope a team from a non-major conference is someday selected for the College Football Playoff, and conference championship games from those conferences help make a case to include teams from more conferences in the College Football Playoff.

A secondary reason for why I oppose expanding the field to include additional teams in the College Football Playoff is for the impact on the students’ educational plans. The football players are student-athletes, and as a professor, I bristle when the topic of education does not enter the conversation. And by and large it has not.

In the meantime, I will continue to rank college football teams and forecast the College Football Playoff every week on Badger Bracketology.



4 responses to “We already have an 8 team college football playoff

  • Winston, Wayne L.

    ​So what would you do if LSU Bama and Georgia have one loss and OKLA CLEMSON and Ohio State are undefeated?


  • cchristinektang

    I am currently informally studying economics and used to be in the School of Business at WPI (explaining my biases). Aren’t these games good for making money? Cash cows?

    I agree with your statement about student-athletes. Education and health. From experience, being part of the WPI Badminton Club team and Graduate Student Government effected my PhD studies and health.

    D1 and other student-athletes also travel a lot. That is too much stress.

  • Owen Riley

    Good points here. What about the impact CFP expansion would have on exceptional Group of Five teams? We have already seen Western Michigan, UCF (twice), etc. left far away from the top four, for example. Furthermore, we seem to see 6+ deserving teams almost every year.

    Here’s a counter-argument.


  • Laura Albert

    Thanks, Owen. The blog post you introduce presents an interesting perspective. It is good for long-term health of the CFP to have different teams invited every year, and the inclusion of non Power Five conference teams would fit right into that.

    I would have have seeded UCF as the fourth seed in the 2017 College Football Playoff. Too bad I’m not on the committee 😉

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