Skip to main content

The College Football Playoff Process is a Flaming Mess of Uncertainty

James Franklin

James Franklin

Oh, what a fine mess we have on our hands — and I'm loving every minute of it. I'm the guy who likes to pull up a tattered old lawn chair, light a cheap cigar, drink bottom-shelf whiskey straight out of a plastic bottle and watch the world burn. I love when what people thought were master plans fail. The chaos excites me. It's what gets me out of bed in the morning.

Image placeholder title

And it's why I absolutely love the 2016 college football season.

A couple of years ago, the powers-that-be decided to appease the masses. College football would have a four-team playoff, and the championship would be settled on the field rather than via the ballots of journalists, coaches and various computer rankings. "This will keep them happy," they thought. And aside from a bump or two in the road, it did.

Related: Winter is Coming for College Football’s Four-Team Playoff

With the arrival of this new playoff came something called "The Power 5." This was the inevitable coming to fruition. Finally, the schools from the old BCS conferences grew tired of the Boise States, Utahs, Houstons and BYUs dipping into their pot. It was time once and for all for the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC and Pac-12 to unite and announce publicly to the college football world that they were better than everyone else.

We all knew it. The Power 5 just made it official.

And so that was that. College football now had a playoff and the Power 5 conferences were going to run it. Just to pour salt in the wounds of the old mid-majors — now referred to as "The Group of Five" — one spot in the prestigious New Year's bowl slate is reserved for them. One.

The problem that nobody really ever thought about was the issue of objectivity vs. subjectivity.

When you have a conference, you have a conference champion. Whether or not you have a championship game, some team — when all the dominoes fall and smoke clears — gets to hold up the trophy and call itself the champion. That team is the champion based on results and facts — things that actually happened. That team is the objective champion.

The College Football Playoff, however, is completely subjective. Deciding who the final four teams that play for the national championship will be is all opinion based. How do I know? Because every time someone asks whether or not two teams from the same conference could qualify for the College Football Playoff, nobody steps in and says "That's not possible."

It's totally possible, and the fact that it's totally possible renders all conferences — including those that comprise the Power 5 — completely useless.

Don't agree? Let's look at the current situation in the 2016 season.

We are staring down the barrel of a championship game in the nation's best football conference this season — the Big Ten — between Wisconsin and Penn State. All Wisconsin needs to do is win out. All Penn State needs to do is to win out and hope Ohio State beats Michigan. In that situation, Ohio State — probably the second-best team in the country — will watch the Big Ten Championship Game from home. Does this mean the Big Ten gets left out of the playoff? Or do we send the winner of Wisconsin and Penn State? Or do we send the winner of Wisconsin and Penn State as well as Ohio State?

Image placeholder title

Nobody knows, because the College Football Playoff is totally subjective.

Now look at the Pac-12. What if Washington wins out and goes on to win the Pac-12 Championship Game? Do the Huskies get into the College Football Playoff? Why? Why not? You don't know why, and that's a problem.

How about the ACC? I don't know anyone that watches college football regularly who doesn't think Louisville is one of the four or five best teams in the country. Be that as it may — and even with Clemson losing to Pitt this past weekend — Louisville probably won't play for the ACC title. Do the Cardinals get into the College Football Playoff? Why or why not? Does Clemson get in? Why or why not? Totally subjective.

Oklahoma is probably going to win the Big 12. The Sooners already have two losses. Do they get in? If a one-loss Ohio State doesn't get in, does that hurt Oklahoma's chances — since the Sooners lost at home to the Buckeyes? Why? Why not?

What if, in a Donald Trump-over-Hillary Clinton shocker of an SEC Championship Game, Alabama loses? Does Alabama still get in? Does the SEC champion get in with as many as four losses? Why or why not?

And what about Western Michigan? The Broncos from the MAC have a roster full of kids on athletic scholarships, just like every other team. They've knocked off two Power 5 opponents. They've won every game. They have a quarterback (Zach Terrell) who will play in the NFL and a wide receiver (Corey Davis) who will be a star on Sundays. Why not Western Michigan in the playoff?

Image placeholder title

I saw someone on Twitter scoff at that notion — and I know he's not alone. He bases his opinion on WMU's "weak schedule."

Weak schedule? The Broncos played two Power 5 teams during the non-conference portion of their slate. That's more than most of the other contenders we've mentioned. So it's their conference that keeps them out? Maybe they should join another conference. It's that easy.

Just ask all of the schools that tried joining the Big 12 earlier this year.

The College Football Playoff is a dirty sales trick devised to make you, the college football fan, think that you are finally getting a real champion. It's all smoke and mirrors, because — just like the days when journalists crowned the champ — the entire process that decides who gets into the playoff is subjective. We are supposed to get the best four teams. What does that even mean? According to who? Condoleeza Rice?


The truth is, the College Football Playoff and the Power 5 go together like oil and water. What we are left with at the end of each season is a champion holding a trophy in a hurricane of confetti on top of a paper mountain of opinions.

If you want a real champion, you get on board with every other college sport at every other level. You reward conference champions — all conference champions – with a trip to the playoffs and fill in the gaps with at-large bids. Until that happens, the entire system is a joke and deserves all of the uncertainty and chaos you are seeing now.

It's a roaring inferno of subjectivity, and I'm more than happy to sit here and light my next cigar with its flames.

— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on,, Yahoo! and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.