As November begins, it is time for college football fans to start trying to figure out which teams will be selected for the new four-team college football playoff system. Currently, the four playoff teams are Mississippi State, Florida State, Auburn and Oregon. The other teams currently in contention include Oregon, Alabama, TCU, Michigan State, Georgia and Baylor, to name a few. As all college football fans know, the next few weeks will be filled with upsets and close games, and the playoff teams are bound to change.
Five of the teams mentioned above belong to the Southeast Conference (SEC). The SEC, along with the Pacific-12 Conference (PAC-12), Big Ten, Big Twelve and Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) make up the power five conferences in college football. These five conferences include the strongest college football programs in the country. It is almost a guarantee that the national champion this year will come from one of these conferences since they have the strongest schedules. Qualifying for the college football playoff is not merely a matter of win-loss record but also which teams those wins came against.
While all five of the major conferences are strong, the SEC stands above the rest. Five of the top ten teams in the AP Top 25 poll come from the SEC west division alone. That is a staggering number compared to the other major conferences. The issue in the SEC is that the strength of schedule for teams is actually too strong. Currently, the number-one ranked team in the poll, Mississippi State, is the only remaining undefeated team in the SEC. Mississippi State’s five remaining regular season games include a matchup with sixth-ranked Alabama, followed two weeks later by a meeting with arch-rival Ole Miss. It would be nothing short of incredible if Mississippi State were able to finish this season undefeated after fighting through the gauntlet that is the SEC.
If the college football system were truly fair, the participants would include four teams from the SEC, or maybe three SEC teams and currently undefeated Florida State. The SEC is so good that it is really not even fair that they have to compete for four playoff spots with the members of the other power five conferences whose schedules do not even come close to matching the rigor of going up against SEC opponents week in and week out.
I believe the only way to remedy the current situation is to eliminate the conference system. The best teams in the nation should not all have to fight against one other in one conference every year. It would be fairer on the teams and more interesting for fans around the country if the best teams could play against a wider variety of opponents. Why should a good team such as Florida State this season be forced to play games against weaker ACC opponents when they could be testing themselves regularly against the likes of Auburn, Oregon and Michigan State?
I see no reason why rival schools cannot continue to schedule matchups against each other every season. For example, despite not belonging to the same conference, Notre Dame and Michigan play against each other almost every year in order to preserve their historic rivalry. Not belonging to the same conference has never been an issue for them.
What I am suggesting is a system similar to the NBA’s where there is an Eastern Conference and a Western Conference. Teams would play about two-thirds of their games against conference opponents and the other third against teams from the other conference. Under a system like this, teams like Alabama, who play in the stacked SEC, and Florida State, who plays in the much less competitive ACC, would be able to play schedules against similar opponents. I would also reduce the length of the regular season to ten games. Those two extra games could be added as rounds to the new playoff system. With the addition of two more rounds, 16 teams would qualify for the playoffs and a chance to take home the national title. A field of 16 would certainly include all of the possible contenders and would give them each a fair chance to win the title. It would be like a miniature version of college basketball’s March Madness Tournament. A longer playoff would be easier for fans to understand and would also provide more opportunities for schools to get revenue from television advertisements. I do not know if these changes will ever come about, but I believe they would improve the competitive balance in the game.