College Football Playoff: Ten Suggested Changes

    Dear College Football Playoff committee, I’ll admit it – I was skeptical. I just assumed the CFP rankings would be another cookie-cutter, mailed-in,

    November 25, 2014

    Dear College Football Playoff committee, 

    I’ll admit it – I was skeptical. 

    I just assumed the CFP rankings would be another cookie-cutter, mailed-in, team-wins-so-it-goes-up/team-loses-so-it-goes-down ranking like the AP and Coaches’ polls, but no. I get the process – having been through it myself with you – and I get just how thorough this is. So far, as much as could reasonably be asked for, these rankings have been solid week after week. Of course there are disagreements – you really, REALLY aren’t giving enough credit to the multi-loss SEC teams – and there are a few problems here and there, but I’ll give it up – for the most part, this couldn’t have worked too much better so far. 

    But it can work better. 

    I know, I know, I know, everyone just needs to get through Year One, but now that we have a feel for this, and now that we know how it all works and how it’s going to roll, here are ten tweaks and changes to start thinking about for next year and beyond. 

    And no, moving to an eight-team format isn’t one of them. 

    10. Do this from the start of the season 
    If the whole idea is to get a feel for the teams, where they stand and how good they all are, then why not start after Week 1? Sure, the 12 – will be 13 again – committee members have things to do and lives to lead, but college football fans don’t really care about that. Teams want to know what they need to do and where they fit in among the pack, and more than anything else, it would be interesting to know what the voters believe early on as a baseline to go off of. 

    One of the nice aspects to the CFP rankings so far is that the committee members seem to grasp that it really is okay to adapt and adjust as the season goes along. Among the major flaws in the AP and Coaches’ polls is the stagnation – something seismic has to occur for anyone to make a big jump – and that’s not happening too much so far with the CFP. So start from the start, and simply go with the flow. 

    9. Transparency – it really is okay, Part 1 
    This was my biggest original criticism, and I still don’t quite understand why the committee members can’t reveal their own personal top 25s. The idea is for the members to come to an agreement and a consensus, but how did they get there? Where did each member start from and how did they adjust to the arguments and points being made by the other voters? 

    These 13 committee members are the alpha dogs of collegiate athletics. They’re the Colonel Jessups – I think they each want to say they made a command decision and that’s the end of it. Let them say what they believe.

    Remember, these are people who run multi-million dollar athletic departments. These are the elite of the elite college sports dignitaries who have been under far greater pressure-packed situations than simply ranking 25 teams. 

    Really? Considering there are people on this committee who’ve gone for two with a national title on the line, hired and fired school-changing coaches, led troops into combat, and worked as an integral part of one of the most controversial presidencies in American history, they’ll probably have no issue with an angry tweet or two from some a superfan sitting in a cubicle. 

    8. Transparency – it really is okay, Part 2 
    Hand raised as a volunteer to do this. Have a quick one-or-two sentence description for why each team is ranked where it is. There’s a conscious, room-wide vote to slot each team in the top 25, and there should be a written rationale for each decision so every team knows why it’s in a certain spot and what it has to do. 

    If it was made clear that Ohio State is ranked below other teams because of the home loss to Virginia Tech, okay, then at least the Buckeyes know what the problem is. If Florida State isn’t ranked No. 1 because it hasn’t looked impressive in the first halves of games, okay – spell it out, and maybe the coaching staff can try to adjust on the fly to appease the committee. This is a beauty contest in a lot of way, and the contestants should know what the judges are looking for. 

    7. Go through the entire process and do the top bowl projections 
    Play it out. One of the underappreciated and underreported jobs of the committee will be to slot the New Year’s Day bowls – formerly known as the BCS games. This year they’re the Orange, Fiesta, Cotton and Peach, and while the Orange has to take the top-ranked ACC team on the board and the top-ranked team available from Notre Dame, the Big Ten and the SEC, the other three bowl pairing are sort of important in the grand scheme of the bowl mix. If you’re in the top ten, you’re in one of the big post-season games, making the No. 11 and 12 teams a key part of the equation. If nothing else, the fans of the various schools would be jacked on a weekly basis to think about what a possible final matchup might be. Speaking of which … 

    6. Keep going with it. Create an Also Receiving Votes category 
    There are still teams hovering around the top 25 who just missed the cut, and they matter. Who’s close? Who should be seen as a good win for the teams in the top 25, and which teams aren’t even close to getting into the mix? Really, the top four, and then the top 12 are the most important parts – making 13-through-25 like an Also Receiving Votes for the big bowl games – but keep going with it. It might seem like overkill to rank all 128 teams, but it would generate a ton of interest and would make it even more interesting to properly scrutinize the top 25. 

    5. Don’t worry about the criticism or fan reaction 
    Fans of the No. 5 team are never, ever going to be happy. Fans of the No. 4 team are going to be ticked that their beloved squad isn’t higher, fans of the No. 2 team are going to whine about not being No. 1, and fans of the No. 1 team are going to complain because they’re fans, and complaining is what fans do. As long as the ranking process is consistent, and the rationale is sound, then everything should be just fine. Of course, even if it’s not fine, who cares? It’s not like people are going to stop watching college football. 

    4. Really, really, REALLY be honest about the schedules and what’s happening 
    I’ve lasted this long without going into the big misfire so far. The rankings really have been strong and sound, but the one glaring issue has been the inability to truly take into account what it means to lose to top teams. For example, Texas A&M’s four losses this year have come to (as of Week 13’s rankings) No. 1 Alabama, No. 4 Mississippi State, No. 8 Ole Miss, and a No. 20 Missouri team that leads the SEC East. Considering the Aggies beat South Carolina at South Carolina, Arkansas on a neutral site, and Auburn at Auburn, they should be ranked in the middle of the pack despite the four defeats. 

    And then there’s the flip side and make a stronger statement against the teams that don’t have a slew of great wins. You’re already doing it with Marshall, but what about a Michigan State team that’s knocking on the door of one of the New Year’s Day games? With Nebraska’s loss to Minnesota, there’s a solid chance the Spartans will have no wins over a ranked team, and likely has just three wins so far against teams that’ll go bowling – Nebraska, Maryland and Rutgers. Meanwhile, Minnesota has been ranked for the last few weeks and doesn’t have a win over a ranked team. This leads to … 

    3. Consistency, consistency, consistency 
    No one’s going to argue too much over Alabama being ranked No. 1, but according to last week’s rankings it had just one win over a CFP top 25 team, and that team, Mississippi State, also had just one win over a CFP top 25 team. Meanwhile, Florida State might not be looking all that great, but at least it had two wins over ranked teams – Clemson and Louisville – and TCU had three, beating Kansas State, Oklahoma and Minnesota. So while wins over LSU, Arkansas and Texas A&M really were terrific, none of those teams were ranked – even though they should’ve been. 

    CFP, these are your rankings – they’re a self-fulfilling prophecy in terms of justifying slots based on big, important wins, because the only big, important wins are against current CFP top 25 teams. The CFP rankings are the standard now – they’re all that matter – so, technically, like Florida State is getting dogged for its tight victories, Alabama should actually be getting punished for close wins over unranked Arkansas and LSU teams. Otherwise, you’re rationalizing the rankings on the very nebulous and fatally-flawed “eye test” rationale, and that’s not fair since every teams passes and fails the test depending on the game. So to combat this consistency concern … 

    2. Define the criteria 
    The idea is for the 13 committee members to be able to ranked the four best teams for the playoffs however they see fit. There are several polite suggestions on what should matter – like looking at conference championships first and foremost – but it really would be fair to create a defined set of rules that are taken into account. 

    Wins over CFP-ranked teams? A Power 5 conference championship? Maybe, the rankings are based on how good the teams are, and then the actual playoff four has to reflect something slightly different? For example, the top-ranked Group of 5 team currently gets an automatic bid into a New Year’s Day bowl if it wins its conference – so Colorado State might not be eligible even if it goes 11-1. Could the committee put the same caveat on the playoff, taking the four highest-ranked conference champions? 

    The potential for disaster is coming if a Big Ten champion Ohio State or Big 12 champion TCU or Baylor is left out because the committee thinks Mississippi State is better, despite not winning its own division. Defined criteria sets the ground rules and lets everyone know the playing field before the game starts.

    1. Have more fun with this! 
    This is college football … let’s get the debate started. The committee isn’t trying to develop a way to defeat ISIS or figure out how to create light mayo that tastes like the real thing – it has to rank college football teams. What’s more goofy-fun than that? Yeah, segments of various fan bases are insane, and yeah, it’s not a good thing to be concerned about the integrity of the four-team playoff, but so far the committee has done a great job and it seems to have a handle on the entire process. Let’s talk about it all. Let’s really dive into it. Let’s go sports talk radio and let the committee members get into a firefight about TCU being ranked ahead of Baylor, or Florida State being put at No. 3, or what the No. 5 team has to do. We actually have a playoff now, and it all seems like it’s working out better than could’ve been hoped for, so let’s make it even more of a thing. Let’s keep college football fun. 


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