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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, February 26, 2024

Sports and Society: Making stuff up

The College Football Playoff is an absurdist take on brackets. Let’s make this easier.

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The College Football Playoff is ridiculous. To demonstrate, let me paraphrase a conversation I heard between national analysts Danny Kanell and Ryen Russillo on the latter’s podcast about which teams deserve to make the playoff: Russillo argued that if Georgia beats Alabama, the question then becomes if Florida State should get into the playoffs over Texas, even with their backup quarterback. But if Alabama beats Georgia, he argued, Georgia and Alabama should get in, so both Florida State and Texas would be out.

Does that make sense? No? Well, it’s time to activate Jerry Seinfeld mode and ask, “what’s the deal with that,” when it comes to the College Football Playoff. I have decided through careful analysis that it’s completely insane.

As far as I can gather, the CFP is determined by basically 13 people, known as the CFP  Selection Committee, who arbitrarily decide who the four best teams in the country are based on each team’s resume, and then unilaterally declare that those four — and only those four — have a right to compete for a National Championship. 

That doesn’t sound too bad, until you realize what a “resume” is in the context of college football. Every team plays 12 regular season games, except for the conference winners and runners-up, who play an extra game. It would stand to reason, then, that only conference winners should be eligible for the playoff, right?

That would be far too simple for the geniuses in charge of this system. First and foremost, there have historically been five relevant conferences, the so-called “Power Five,” comprising the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Southeastern Conference, the Big Ten, the Big Twelve and the PAC-12. There simply isn’t space for all five winners, so one automatically has to miss the playoff every year.

Picking the four finalists shouldn’t be too tall a charge, as merely deciding the four best conference winners shouldn’t be too hard. But no, the selection committee is far too intelligent for such a menial task. Rather, we will have conversations like the one above, which posits whether or not both Alabama and Georgia — perennial SEC Championship finalists — are actually better than both the winners of the ACC and the PAC-12 and therefore deserve to compete for a national championship.

“Deserve” is the key word here, as most of the time, the selection committee is under tremendous pressure from fan bases and local and national media, as well as boosters spending millions on these football programs, to give certain teams the chance they feel they’ve earned. This pressure led to the infamous decision to pit the Cincinnati Bearcats the undefeated winners of the American Athletic Conference, which isn’t part of the Power Five — against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2021 Semifinal, which went as poorly for Cincinnati as you would expect.

All of this is way too much for my taste, which is why I fully support the expansion of the playoffs to 12 teams next year. It was cause for more overall arguing, but at least we don’t have to worry about which conference winners to include or exclude. Teams like Ohio State — clearly a top-eight program this year — can make it, even if they lose to Michigan (like they did this year.)

At the end of the day, I don’t want the four “best” teams or the four “most deserving” teams. I just want the four teams with the best chance of beating one another. Is that too much to ask?