College Football

College Football Playoff: Time to expand the field, make the process more fair

December 6, 2021

By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist

In the end, it was an easy decision. It was also, importantly, the right one.

Picking the four teams for the College Football Playoff and a shot at a national title wasn’t the most arduous task the committee could have faced — not after everything aligned to make sure the field essentially chose itself.

But just because it turned out neat and tidy, with not a single shred of complaint that it will be Alabama, Michigan, Georgia and Cincinnati duking it out for the title, doesn’t mean it will always be so.

And just because narrowing down to a top-four ended up, this time at least, being relatively simple doesn't change the reality that expansion to eight or 12 — or whatever they land upon — would be better, fairer and just the right thing to do.

Because for all the ultimate orderliness, things came perilously close Saturday to creating a giant mess — and perhaps a serious injustice.

Had Oklahoma State running back Dezmon Jackson not come up mere inches short on his desperate dive for the goal line in the Big 12 championship game against Baylor, the Cowboys probably would have secured the fourth and final spot at the expense of Cincinnati.

That’s where the flaw in the system lies. It is only a true national championship if everyone has the right to play for it. If the Bearcats had been pushed to the outside, which had every chance of happening, it would have offered definitive proof that college football is still largely a closed shop.

Going 13-0 wouldn’t have mattered. Winning at eventual No. 5 Notre Dame on the road in October wouldn’t have mattered. Cincinnati would instead have joined the likes of Boise State, Utah, UCF and TCU as examples of how perfection wasn’t enough to stay in the running.

"Were they good enough to actually win it all?" Yahoo Sports’ Dan Wetzel asked in relation to those historic teams that lit up their seasons. "Maybe not. Or maybe. No one can say for sure."

The opportunity is what it is all about. The presence of a genuine path. The fact that even if you are small and don’t have generations of tradition, you can earn a chance if you are truly excellent.

The cause for expansion isn’t just about the little guy. What if there were a year — unlikely but far from impossible — when each of the five power conferences had an undefeated champion? Or if four of them did and there were also a pair of one-loss SEC giants, one of them with a conference title, in the mix?

Cincinnati's being part of the final four this season doesn’t prove that the system is fine as it is. There has to be a route that allows teams to win their way in. Simple as that. Expanding to eight would do the job. 

"Cincinnati forced this," FOX college football analyst RJ Young said. "You know how Cincinnati forced this? By going 13-0 and being the only doggone program in the FCS to do so. They had to do what nobody else has had to do to get into the CFP this year: be undefeated. And have a demonstrative win in the conference championship and have a resounding win against Notre Dame." 

RJ Young breaks down how the Bearcats broke the CFP glass ceiling

RJ Young breaks down what Cincinnati did to earn a College Football Playoff berth as the first Group of 5 team to do so.

Even then, it required the Big 12, ACC and Pac-12 to all have two-loss champions. Yes, Cincinnati has struck a blow for everyone else on the outside, but it doesn’t bring about an end to the double standard.

Already the chatter has started that the Bearcats will need a strong performance and to keep the game close against Alabama to justify their inclusion. That if they don’t, it will be even more difficult for non-Power 5 teams to convince the committee of their worth in the future.

Except that no one said that when 'Bama thrashed Ohio State 52-24 last year or trounced Michigan State 38-zip seven years ago. No one questioned the selection; the result was taken as a sign of the Crimson Tide’s excellence.

If you’re not one of the elite, you play under different rules. This is an unfortunate reality that hasn’t changed. This time around, chaos was avoided with the results of conference championships, meaning that by the narrowest of margins, a deserving team squeezed its way into the big party. 

But that’s not a reason to preserve the status quo. It’s a lucky escape that should speed along change.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider Newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.

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