College Football: Why 4 is the Right Number for the Playoffs

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

With the final week of action upon us in the world of college football, many have an opinion about the current structure of the College Football Playoff. Some say that four teams simply isn’t enough for a championship tournament. People have suggested eight, 16, even 32 teams to determine college football’s division one national champion. While these thoughts are worth some exploration, the simple fact of the matter is that four is the perfect number.

In a world where you can never make everyone happy, the College Football Playoff is doing everything it can to give the best teams in the nation an equal and fair shot at the title. With that, let us explain why four teams is such a great number for the sport and why (despite many teams’ gripes) the system shouldn’t be changed — maybe ever.

A look at the past

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

When you look at the way national champions were determined in college football in the past, the new system feels like a gift from above. The BCS was flawed, confusing, and left many teams that deserved to be in the championship discussion out of the conversation entirely. Essentially, the entire season was predicated on impressing a “computer system” that tried to determine the best two teams in the nation by using a formula that didn’t make a whole lot of sense.

It took away the importance of any other bowl game aside from the national championship; something the College Football Playoff fixed (even if it’s a minor fix). With the CFP, a group of voters determines the four best teams in the nation, which is more efficient and makes more sense than using a computer formula.

Of course, it is still based on judgement, but with a varied group of experts on the voting panel, the likelihood of selecting the right teams is high. What are we suggesting? Before you judge, remember what the sport used to be ruled by, and use that to realize what an improvement the new system is. Nothing is perfect in the world of sports (or life for that matter), but the playoff system is doing the best it can.

If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it

Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 12:  Wide receiver Corey Smith #84 of the Ohio State Buckeyes celebrates after defeating the Oregon Ducks 42 to 20 in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game at AT&T Stadium on January 12, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The inaugural year of the College Football Playoff couldn’t have gone any better, so why would they change it? Ohio State overcame the likes of Alabama and Oregon to win it all. That’s what the playoff system is supposed to do — give the “underdog” team as good of a shot as the so-called favorites to win the title. Sure, one could argue that adding more teams to the field would give more teams an opportunity to win the championship.

Here’s the problem with that. The four-team format gives teams an appropriate time period (by college football standards) to prepare for not only the semifinal matchups, but for the championship as well. If you add more teams, that means more games, which equals less time to prepare. This isn’t the NFL. Giving teams that prep time is good for the sport. Eight teams (or more) would take away from what makes college football, well, college football.

There aren’t eight deserving teams

Jon Durr/Getty Images
Jon Durr/Getty Images

This is the most critical reason why the College Football Playoff shouldn’t be expanded. When you look at the “top teams” in the nation, there simply aren’t eight that fit the build of a playoff team. Really, once you get past Ohio State (who should be sixth), the rest of the teams haven’t played consistent championship-quality football. This was the case last season as well; once you got past five or six teams, the argument for the rest was weak.

Of course, at least one or two deserving teams will get left out, but that’s how nearly every sport works. The goal of the voters is to pick four teams that deserve a potential championship, not to water down the field with mediocre teams just so more schools can be included in the field. Again, this isn’t the NFL, and the gap from the best team to the ninth- or 10th-best team is significant. This also isn’t college basketball, where selecting a bunch of teams to a championship tournament works (March Madness might be the best tournament in all of sports).

College football is a unique sport that needs a unique system and the four-team College Football Playoff fills that void. No matter what size the field is, teams will always complain about being left out. Expanding things won’t fix that problem, it will only make matters more convoluted.

Statistics courtesy of