The College Football Playoff may be a financial success, but is it good for the sport?

Are you more excited to watch college football these days?

Is the college football playoff good or bad for the sport? Are you more or less excited about college football on the whole because of the playoff?

Christopher Zheng: Definitely bad because the reality is that before this season ends, we all know that three of four spots will likely be filled by Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State. Even without looking at what the football titans return, I’m willing to bet that Oklahoma or Notre Dame will probably occupy the last spot as there have only been 5 teams to make the CFP more than once.

Sure, there’s been a new team in the playoffs every year except for the current one, but as we think ahead to the next season, do we really believe that the most subjectively selective fraternity in sports will welcome a new contender into their ranks? I don’t blame the football titans for excessively investing into their football program, but the reality is that by having such a bright spotlight on the CFP, we bring more attention to the same programs that already dominate recruiting, one of the few mechanisms in college football for improvement.

Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State were 3 of the top 5 recruiting classes in 2020 and 2021 and the disparity between the titans and the rest of college football continues to grow. Obviously, Ohio State is one of the best teams in college football this season (no doubt about it), but the consistency with which the committee applied their selection criteria suggests that you will be evaluated differently if you’re a titan.

With more attention going to the titans and the second tier of potential CFP contenders, the remaining bowl games are completely devalued. Certainly many teams view a successful bowl game as a major part of their season, but look at this year’s Cotton Bowl between Oklahoma and Florida, for example. I don’t fault individual stars for opting out of non-CFP bowl games, but Florida was without their top 4 pass-catchers in the Cotton Bowl. It should have been one of the best non-playoff bowl games this year; instead, we were treated to a fairly boring game as Heisman Trophy-finalist Kyle Trask had very little rapport with his available pass-catchers. While I’m generally excited for another season of college football, I think the bowl and playoffs selection process need serious reform for college football to continue growing healthily.

Andy: If you go all the way back to when they first implemented the CFP, I think you have to say it's been good for college football. It has absolutely increased viewership and created a much better product than the BCS. Just look at the ad money spent on the CFP championship game and you can see just how successful it has been with viewers. 

However as Christopher said the four team playoff is flawed, boring and generally a retread of the same 5 teams every single season. Not only that, the four team playoff hurts the regular season of college football because if you simply lose a football game, you are nearly out of the running for the CFP. Players then opt out of meaningless bowls (as they should) and we have to watch sub-standard matchups. 

What is the solve? It is an eight team playoff, one guaranteed spot for each P5 champion and then three additional at large bids. Will there still be controversy? You bet but it will be so much more entertaining than what we currently have. 

Rick Chen: The College Football Playoff is great for the sport, and the money proves it. As journalists, we are trained to follow the money in our reporting, and the money pans out.

ESPN will pay nearly $6 billion for the broadcast rights over 12 years, beginning in the 2014 season, for the College Football Playoff and associated bowl games.

And for a good reason: Last year's College Football Playoff National Championship saw more than 25 million viewers tune in, close to the number of Americans who tuned in to watch the Summer Olympics' opening ceremony in 2016, the quadrennial pinnacle of worldwide sports.

Americans do not seem swayed by any issues of so-called fairness. Instead, they tuned in droves to follow the last major U.S. sport to adopt a bracket-style playoff tournament.

The playoff satisfies our collective desire to crown championships based on actual gameplay. As sports fans, we should want the best teams to compete for the title. We also understand neither computer-generated formulas nor statistics decide games, which is in part why we tune in to every game.

Is it an indictment of the system that the same major conferences, especially the "Power Five" conferences, consistently make the cut?

Of course not. We all know there is a considerable gap in talent and resources dedicated in college football, even among Power Five conferences and members of the same Power Five conference.

If you want to compete against the "blue-blood" teams of college football, schedule some marquee non-conference games against the best teams and win. Do not blame the system.

Christopher Helling: The more things change, the more they stay the same. Am I glad that we have a playoff now? Yes, it's an improvement over the sports journalists' rankings which arbitrarily decided the top 2 teams to play in the BCS title game. Now we have a self-interested playoff committee who arbitrarily decides the top 4 teams to play in the CFP, which reduces controversy ever so slightly. As many others have already said, the solution is an 8 (or more) team playoff, with auto-bids for the Power 5 Conference champions and at least one auto-bid for a G5 team. 

The current iteration of the CFP feels to me like the powers that be simply expanded the 2-team invitational to a 4-team invitational, with pre-built biases already cooked into their rankings system. An SEC team doesn't need to make their conference title game to "earn" a playoff bid. An undefeated G5 team will apparently never earn a playoff bid no matter how deserving. Cincinnati showed they had the horses to at least be competitive this year against the playoff teams; they were in control of #9 Georgia most of the game before a series of errors led to their defeat (the starting left tackle ejected for targeting and the backup tackle being exploited, some terrible 4th quarter clock management to give Georgia an extra minute on their final drive, and a career-long field goal by the Georgia kicker to finally take the lead 22-21 with 3 seconds remaining in the game), but G5 teams only get the chance to prove themselves after the disappointment of missing the BCS/CFP (e.g. Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl(s), etc), and which point we can point at them and say, "See, you didn't deserve the chance anyway." 

The current CFP favors the Alabama/Clemson/Ohio States of the world--we can let Alabama into the playoffs despite a suspect resume because we "know" they're good, but we can never trust any G5 resume ever--and this just compounds the problem. If you're an NFL-caliber talent, you want the most exposure for your brand and the ability to prove yourself against top competition, and hence you're going to go to the perennial playoff contenders, which further justifies sending those teams to the playoffs in the future. I think having playoffs with auto-bids for each major conference would allow top talent to at least consider other destinations. You could be the quarterback at Indiana that improbably leads your team to the playoffs after an upset of Ohio State, or you could be the Iowa State running back that earns your team a playoff bid after upsetting Oklahoma a second time (both of these situations nearly happened this season, minus the part about an auto-bid playoff spot). It would at least prevent a total conglomeration of talent at the top, which is only set to worsen when players can truly make money from their likeness. Auto-bids would also encourage better OOC matchups, as losing to a top team wouldn't hurt your own playoff chances, and winning would bolster your resume and ranking heading into the playoffs. Preventing talent from coalescing at the top and better OOC matchups would both increase competitiveness in college football and lead to more exciting matchups, which I believe would be good for the sport. 

As it currently is, I am far less excited about the sport. I still watch the playoffs because I am a football junkie, but I find it a lot less enjoyable than a random Pac-12 matchup where I have no idea who will win. One of the most popular games this year was a surprisingly competitive and exciting BYU vs. Coastal Carolina, as both teams fought to stay undefeated and present themselves as the top G5 team and potentially argue for a playoff spot. It felt like there were stakes on the line-- that's exciting. The vast majority of Alabama or Clemson matchups do not.