The Rich Get Richer in the College Football Playoff system

by Tony Knight

Pre-1997 the polls alone many times couldn’t pick an undisputed national champion, and even the BCS system, which came to life to solve that problem, was seen as flawed. So we now have the College Football Playoff to resolve once and for all who is the undisputed national champion! All of our problems are solved, right?

Seems like the P5 big boys who eat cash like hogs at the trough are happy, but what about the rest of the players in college football? Is the system that was created by the power elite before the 2014 system fair and equitable? No, why should it be? It was never created for this purpose. The present committee selecting teams for the College Playoff Invitational Tournament select teams presumably on their merits. The 13 member committee is made up of an Athletic Director from one each of the P5 conferences, 1 from Robert Morris (which will never sniff the playoff), a former reporter and a former athlete (both with P5 ties), and 5 former head coaches (3 from P5 schools). So from the committee there are 10 of the 13 having P5 ties. There is a voting procedure, which begins at about the midway point of the season, which weights the selection of their top 25.

Where this system starts to show its bias is in scheduling, and how P5s define strength of schedule. Of course the P5 lauds their own teams in making up a “hard schedule,” based presumably the strength of those teams. Some members in the College Football Playoff are recused from voting in relation to teams they are currently affiliated with, but past affiliations are not considered. There is little to no transparency in the process, and this gives rise to rumors of corruption and distrust, frankly. With the tens and hundreds of millions of dollars in the mix, the guys at the top are not going to want their apple cart upset. Take UCF for example. Many, including myself, laughed at the upstart team in 2017, and even more so when they declared themselves national champions after last season! But after having completed another undefeated run in 2018, they were once again not chosen for the playoff. Why? It is enough to make G5s and independents throw up their hands and wonder “where is the equity?” Where is the path for a G5 to get playoff consideration? Will a THIRD undefeated season in 2019 sway the committee? It seems like there is always an excuse, a justification, to keep the G5 down.

What is the solution? There is none based on the nature of the beast as it exists now. The NCAA is afraid to act because the P5s can just take their ball and go play somewhere else. The NCAA is a figurehead in the whole process. This is a party thrown by the power elites and there is a very small and exclusive guest list. No UCF, I’m pretty certain you are not on the guest list. I’m afraid you’ll have to leave. That goes for the rest of the dregs of college football, all of you G5s and indies are perfectly welcome to have your OWN playoff. A G5 here and there will get the food at the kiddie table, maybe will get that golden ticket and play in an NY6. But as for the Grand Ball? No way.

But Alabama is good, you might say. They deserve it for their performance. Within the current structure, yes. It starts by bankrolling all of the money they’ve garnered via the rigged BCS and playoff system, and you parlay that into recruiting. With facilities, prestige, and money recruits will come rolling in. And to top that off, the star rating system among college athletes is also rigged! Did you know the start system is largely based on the teams recruiting a player? So for instance if a kid gets interest from Rice, Air Force, and Vanderbilt he will gain a certain star rating based on the teams who are considering that player for a scholarship. But when Alabama gets in the mix and offers the player, his star rating vaults. So inevitably Alabama (and others) get the cream of the crop of recruits every year through this bias. More insidious in the process is when big schools like Alabama and others offer scholarships to more players than they have, leaving some recruits out in the cold.

What is a “P5 team” anyway? It’s a system of grandfathered teams who share in the benefits of the system without a real basis in merit. We all know these suspects – Kansas, Vanderbilt, Rutgers, Oregon State, etc. A few seem to rise to respectability every now and then. Your Maryland, your Iowa State, Wake Forest, and others. But for the most part these members of the VIP club don’t have the tradition, history, success, or money to build success. The cream of the crop in the P5s conferences have rigged the system to keep that from happening. You count as a “P5 opponent” for the purpose of vaulting the Alabamas and the Clemsons, but on your own you are disposable. They play the system. The SEC doesn’t even require 9 regular season conference games, a fact that frustrates the other P5s that do, but complaining is not going to help. Alabama regularly has 8 home games a year! Though they could schedule P5 out of conference foes they won’t. They have settled into a formula of success – 8 home games, and no serious competitors out of conference. Win the SEC title game and its onto the playoff (and sometimes even when you don’t win it!).

I hope someone more clever than myself can find a way to break the elitist system in place and force the P5s to the table. Somehow the G5s are going to need to assemble a good team of lawyers, or lobby Congress, on their behalf to break the bloated monopoly the P5 conferences have created for themselves. It’s time, now, before the P5 vs. G5 disparity grows.

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