The CFB Playoff Committee: College Football’s downfall
In its second year of existence, the CFB Playoff committee is showing flaw after flaw, leaving many fans wondering how much longer they’ll have to suffer.
The College Football Playoff was put into place so that there would be a more fair chance for teams to play for a National Championship. It was a great idea and was loved by many until the committee was announced. Now there exists more bias and bad judgement in college football than ever before. Teams are being put against each other for money and TV purposes rather than talent and realistic rankings. Bowl games outside of the playoff are becoming seemingly meaningless, something that even Alabama head coach Nick Saban brought up himself. The games that are a part of the playoff are complete blowouts and viewership is at a lower rate than ever before. It’s about time the committee gets things turned around before it’s too late.
The scores of the ‘New Year’s Bowls’ have been horrendous. Those bowls include the Fiesta Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Rose Bowl, Peach Bowl, Orange Bowl, and the Cotton Bowl. These bowls rotate every year, two of them deciding who will go on to play in the National Championship game. This year it was the Cotton Bowl and the Orange Bowl.
The Orange Bowl, which kicked off at 4 P.M. EST, was pretty for the first 30 minutes and ugly for the latter 30 minutes. Clemson outmatched Oklahoma and beat them by 20 points. The playoff game, played on New Year’s Eve, brought in 6 million less viewers than it did last year when it was played on January 2nd.
Guess what. So did the Cotton Bowl, ESPN’s prime time match-up between Michigan State and Alabama. The two playoff games both dropped nearly 40% in viewership compared to the inaugural playoff. Why? I don’t know about everyone else, but I was spending time with my friends on New Year’s Eve, not sitting on my couch watching the College Football Playoff game. It certainly didn’t help that Alabama won 38-0 either. The committee said they wanted to start a new tradition and have these games held on NYE, and they failed. Friends and family have had the same tradition for a very long time and not once has it included college football as far as I know. If they want to have success there, the games need to be pushed back to Jan. 2nd and stay there.
The 2016 Fiesta Bowl, featuring Ohio State and Notre Dame, was another game controlled by one team. Ohio State was dominant for 60 minutes. Ezekiel Elliot established himself early and ended up with 149 yards and 4 TD’s. The Buckeyes held a 21 point lead at one point before they finished the game ahead by 16. In my eyes, this game never should have happened. Iowa’s loss to Michigan State should have dropped them below Stanford and Ohio State, which would have created a much better match-up between the Fighting Irish and the Hawkeyes. Instead, you end up with two games that only the winning teams’ fans want to watch. That point brings me to the Rose Bowl.
The Rose Bowl squared off the Stanford Cardinals, champions of the Pac-12, versus the Iowa Hawkeyes, runner-up of the Big Ten. If you really considered it much of a game, that is. Before the game began, I tweeted “Stanford by 17.” Boy was I wrong. I knew the Cardinals would walk all over Iowa, but I didn’t think it would ever get as ugly as it did. On the first play from scrimmage, Heisman runner-up Christian McCaffrey caught a pass and took it 75 yards for the score. Early in the second quarter he broke off a 63 yard punt return for a touchdown. If this man didn’t deserve the Heisman, nobody did. By the end of the half it was 35-0 Stanford. Most football fans had the TV turned off after the first quarter unless you’re like me and wanted to see how bad the game could get before the white flag was drawn. In case you somehow missed the massacre, Stanford beat Iowa 45-16.
Again, this was a game that should not have happened. If you’re really going to leave Stanford out of the playoff, at least give them an opponent who is worthy of being in the Rose Bowl. Example: Ohio State. The Buckeyes by no means should be 7th in the nation, just as Stanford shouldn’t be 6th. Iowa’s loss should have sent them from 4th to 7th, not 4th to 5th. That would have made for a very highly anticipated game between Ohio State and Stanford. Could you imagine those two teams facing off this year? Too bad, they didn’t. That was a huge opportunity missed by the committee.
The last New Year’s game played was the Sugar Bowl between Oklahoma State and Ole Miss. This looked like a good match-up on paper, but it wasn’t. The Bulldogs smashed the Cowboys by 28 points. They led 34-6 at halftime. It was a ball game until the second quarter. That was about it.
The Peach Bowl was probably the least worst out of all the New Years’ bowls. Houston only beat FSU by 14 points, although they absolutely dominated the entire game. If you weren’t watching it, the 14 points may not seem like much, but it was obvious that Houston was going to win about midway through the second quarter. They took a 21-3 lead into the half and never looked back. There’s not really much complaining that could be done about the G-5/P-5 match-up in this one. Houston came in more than well-prepared and beat a FSU team that simply wasn’t ready to play.
During its first year, the College Football Playoff committee was criticized a lot for the way it was ranking teams. With the creation of the committee came the creation of the Power Five/Group of Five conferences. In the 2014-15 season, only one Group of Five team finished in the committee’s rankings. That one team was Boise State, who went 12-2 with losses to Ole Miss and Air Force. Marshall finished their season 13-1 and blew out their bowl opponent (MAC Champion NIU) by 29 points. The media and coaches had them ranked in the Top 25 for about the second half of the season, but the committee gave them no love. Memphis, who went 10-3 with two ranked losses, finished 25h in the coaches and media poll, but again saw no love from the committee. In the BCS days, both Boise State and Marshall would have been in the Top 15 and playing in bigger bowl games. The bias of the committee hasn’t fully spread to the other polls yet, but you could see the impact it had in 2014-15. The 2011 Boise State team that went 12-1 finished 8/6 in the polls. That wouldn’t happen now. Houston, who also finished with one loss (13-1 just like Marshall of 2014) is ranked 18th, not 6th. It’s only been four years since that massive difference in rankings. Do I think they did a better job with the Group of Five this year? Yes. A perfect job? No. Western Kentucky has been deserving of a Top 25 spot for weeks. Their only two losses came to Indiana by 2 and LSU and they absolutely dominated everyone else. The AAC was this year’s pick as best G-5 school and the rankings resembled that. They would go on to win only 2 of their bowl games, getting beat by other G-5 conferences such as Conference USA and the Mountain West. At least the “smaller” schools got some love this time around. Houston beating Florida State in the Peach Bowl, a year after Boise St. beat Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl further shortens the gap between the made up concept of Power Five and Group of Five conferences.
This brings me to my final five points:
The CFB Playoff wasn’t the savior everyone expected it to be. The committee, just as any bunch of humans will be, has been very biased and only seem to care about money rather than the actual match-ups of the teams and rankings. They are killing the love of the sport. Putting the playoff games on New Year’s Eve killed viewership completely and that’s if you really wanted to watch two blowouts take place. Again, these games should not be won by the margin that they have been. Even last year we saw that problem when Oregon won their semifinal by 39, TCU won the Peach Bowl by 39, and Ohio State won the National Championship by 22. All margins that shouldn’t be heard of at this level of play.
The Playoff is taking away from the other bowl games that used to have a huge importance to the schools and all of college football. It’s come to a point in time where it’s playoff or bust for most teams. It used to be that a bowl game was a good marker of success for the season and gave a lot of schools momentum heading into the next year. Now there are more bowl games than ever and much of them don’t seem to draw any attention. Nobody wants to watch 5-7 teams play, even if they did go 3-0 in their bowl games. With all the attention on the CFB Playoff, nobody really wants to watch any of the other games either unless it’s their team playing in it. It’s sad.
The whole idea of the Group of Five and Power Five separation needs to be put to rest. If you’re a good team, you’re a good team. I don’t care what your schedule is. Obviously the SEC and the ACC are better overall conferences than the AAC and Conference USA, for example, but that didn’t stop Houston from beating one of the top ACC teams. That didn’t stop Boise State from beating one of the top Pac 12 schools last year. Memphis beat Ole Miss. Navy beat Pittsburgh. There have been some really good teams that are overlooked because they play “weak” schedules and I think that has to stop. When you are beating everyone on that schedule by an average of 20 points, you aren’t winning just because it’s “easy” anymore. Hopefully some of the smaller schools will soon have some better match-ups in the bowl games instead of just the top ranked G-5 team.
Let’s at least expand the playoff to 8 teams. The champions of each P-5 conference, the top ranked G-5 team, and then two at large bids. That’s how I could see it happening, should they choose to expand things. At least then Stanford and Ohio State would have their say in things this year. Baylor and TCU would have been in last year with the 8-team playoff as well.
Something has to be done about the amount of bias and favoritism that currently sits in the committee. I liked the days of the computer rankings. The computers really can’t pick and choose the teams they would like to see perform well. The chair of the committee is the AD at Arkansas, so of course he will favor the SEC. Then you have the ex-WVU AD in the assistant position, without a doubt promoting the Big 12. The list could go on and on. There are no G-5 associated members of the committee.
Now I’m sure not everyone will agree with everything I have said, but it’s something to take into consideration. I love watching college football, but I don’t love watching whatever I have been seeing for the past couple of days. It’s time for better transparency from the committee and a better ranking system to get the right teams playing each other. There’s no reason these games should be blowouts by any means.
Casey covers College Football for MFST. You can talk to him on twitter @wxmozz