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10 Reasons Why 4 Is Better Than 8 When It Comes To A Football Playoff

Over the weekend, NCAA president Mark Emmert made a stunning comment.  After weeks of talk centered on a potential Plus-One (four-team) playoff model coming to college football, the NCAA’s Numero Uno Honcho made this declaration:

“The momentum seems to be — and I’m just reading the tea leaves, pretty much like you — the momentum seems to be toward an eight-team playoff.”

Cue the sound of a needle scratching across a record.  (Readers under 30, Google “record player.”)

Eight teams?  For the past month word has leaked from various conference commissioners that it was proving difficult to arrive at four-team model, much less an eight-team plan.  Could going to eight really just be the easiest means of compromise?

Here’s hoping not. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no fan of the current BCS system.  And if it takes an eight-team plan to insure that all the best teams in the country get in — rather than just the four highest-ranked conference champions — then I understand the logic.  There’s no question television dollars would be greater for an eight-team, seven-game system, too.

Heck, I once proposed an eight-team plan and then allowed a sports marketing/television guru to dissect it.  But as time has passed I’ve come to believe a four-team model would be far better than an eight-team model.  More importantly, I find it hard to believe that an eight-team plan could be the outcome of current talks between the conference commissioners.

Below are 10 reasons why I have a hard time believing what Emmert has suggested:

1.  For decades, university presidents have steadfastly been against a playoff of any sort for college football.  Now — with the SEC stockpiling championships year after year — more presidents and commissioners are interested in creating some sort of new model in order to help spread the wealth.  But would those longtime anti-playoff folks really go from zero teams to eight teams so quickly?  Wouldn’t a four-team plan be the easiest way for these guys to dip their toes into the playoff waters without taking a complete, full-on plunge?

2.  One major worry for college football muckety-mucks has been the likelihood that a playoff would undermine and lessen the regular season.  Well an eight-team playoff would put a lot bigger dent in the regular season than a four-team model.  Basically, one out of every 15 FBS teams would reach the postseason in an eight-team playoff.  That’s a bad thing and here’s why…

3.  More undeserving teams would get a shot to play for the title.  Sure the Cinderella factor would increase and that would make for great spectacle and tremendous ratings — as is the case with the NCAA basketball tournament.  But would the best team in the nation truly be crowned as champion?  And isn’t that the goal?  If the four best teams are selected to play for a title, it’s likely a team with a darn good resume would capture the NCAA’s flag.  However, by the time you get to teams ranked #7 and #8 each year, you’re talking about teams that no one even considers a first-place contender on paper.  NC State over Houston and Villanova over Georgetown were great stories.  But were Jim Valvano’s and Rollie Massimino’s teams really the best teams in the country in the years they won the NCAA’s hoops tourney?

4.  If the regular season is lessened, college football would become even more television-driven.  That money is great, yes, but attendance at football and basketball games has already taken a hit in recent years.  Television has no doubt played a large role in that as more and more games have been broadcast.  Recently we’ve seen that when a team struggles, fans stop going to games.  With an eight-team playoff, you can bet many more fans would begin staying home just as soon as their favorite squad fell from playoff contention.  Whereas with a four-team plan, it’s more likely only the uber-elite programs would even expect to get a shot at the title each year.  More fans would continue to set the realistic goal of a good bowl game.

5.  With an eight-game plan, more fans would expect/demand their coaches reach the playoffs.  Heck, it would be easier to make an eight-team field than a four-team field.  So more fans would dream of popping champagne at year’s end.  That would result in even more pressure on college coaches.  Already we’ve seen an increase in the yearly turnover of college football coaches.  With an eight-team playoff, coaches would be more susceptible to “he never even made a playoff” cries than they would be in a world with a four-team playoff.  Again, four would reward the elite, the best of the best.  Eight would give more little guys shots.  Coaching turnover would increase.  Bank on that.

6.  More games equals more injuries.  If a college football playoff consisted of four teams and three games, only two squads would be forced to play an extra game (compared to those teams going to bowls).  With an eight-team plan, four teams would play an extra game and two would go on to play a second additional game.  The sport has a 12-game regular season now — and that’s not going to change because no one would want to give up extra home games or give back television money.  Toss in a conference title game and you’re looking at a 13-game schedule for several teams.  Then come the bowls which bring the total to 14 games.  An eight-game playoff would mean that two squads would probably have to play a grand total of 16 games… which is the length of the NFL regular season.  Are college-age bodies built to hold up for that long?  You’d better be ready to see your favorite squad hobbled by the time it reaches the final game of an eight-team playoff.

7.  According to conference commissioners, travel has been a sticking point in their recent playoff conversations.  Can fans travel to two different sites a week apart?  Now ask yourself if fans would be able to travel to three sites over the span of two weeks.  When we initially suggested yes — in the post linked to above — college attendance was still on the rise.  That’s no longer the case.

8.  If an eight-team playoff comes to pass and presidents and commissioners decide to use on-campus games to offset the issue of travel for higher-seeded teams, that results in fewer teams being rewarded for a good season.  As it stands — while I’m no bowl-lover — players do get to enjoy some sunny weather, a new iPod, and a steer-ropin’ or orange-squeezin’ contest at some bowl site in Florida, Arizona or California.  An eight-team playoff would likely mean that seven very good squads would get no reward other than losing on some other team’s home turf in late-December or early-January.  “Congratulations for a job well done.  Hope you enjoyed a freezing beatdown in Ann Arbor.”

9.  When would these games be played?  The NCAA wants its football postseason to run between finals (around December 22nd) and the first week of January.  In a perfect world, the four first-round games of an eight-team playoff would be played on New Year’s Day, marking a return to excellence for a day that once featured only the very best bowls.  But if that were the case, the playoffs wouldn’t end until mid-January and that’s been viewed as a no-no up until now.  We think that would be a sticking point for planners.

10.  Finally, what of those major bowl games?  In a four-team plan, major bowls could still maintain their traditional ties to conferences or even be featured as part of the Plus-One (depending on the travel decisions discussed in Point 7).  An eight-game model would totally displace the traditional power bowls — unless fans are asked to travel from bowl site to bowl site to bowl site over a three week period as part of the playoff.  If that’s not the solution and games are played on campus sites, how would the Sugar Bowl — for example — feel about getting the SEC’s third- or fourth-best team, depending on how many squads its partner league would place in a playoff?

I’m not an anti-playoff guy.  I just believe a four-team model would be easier to pull off — for schools and for fans.  It would reward truly excellent teams that deserve a shot at the title belt.  Such a plan would also do less damage to a regular season that currently tops all other NCAA sports’ regular seasons.

Emmert is privy to a great deal more information than the common reporter, talk show host, or blogger.  So if the NCAA prez says he thinks there’s a move for an eight-team playoff, there probably is.

But, boy, creating such a plan would force conference commissioners and university presidents to jump through a helluva lot more hoops than a four-team plan would.



Last year would have looked like this under a 6 conference champs + 2 wildcards format:  


(First two rounds are on campus, wildcards can't host any games, and two teams from same conference can't play in first round.)




Stanford at Wisconsin


Clemson at OSU 

Bama at Oregon 



Winners of the top two games play each other in the next round. Same for best the winners of the bottom two.


Teams that don't win their conference are penalized by having to win on the road.  

If they're good enough, as Bama was vs LSU in New Orleans, that won't be a problem.


Most importantly, this would match up the best teams from the best conferences from around the country, while still allowing for the fact that a team like Alabama last year should have a place in a playoff.


Who doesn't want to watch those games ?

USCTraveler 1 Like



I am a fan of the site, but I think you're missing the mark on this.


8 is the ideal number to determine a National Champion.  On the field. Where it should be determined.


Not through a poll or computer system. Let the best team be the one that beats the other top teams on the field.



The problem with CFB is that no one really knows who the best teams are because not enough of them play each other in any given year.  



Putting the top 6 conference winners and two highest ranked wildcards would be a good compromise between the "conference champs only" side and the "determine by ranking" side and maybe that is where this momentum is coming from.


The champs of the B12, PAC, BIG, and ACC would pretty much be guaranteed a spot in the playoffs every year, so they'd vote for it.


At least one conference champ slot would be realistically available each year though for a team like Boise or whomever, so that eliminates the antitrust issue and gets the small conferences on board.


Having the two highest-ranked wildcards in the playoff gets the SEC (who would frequently get two teams in) and Notre Dame on board, and would also be favored by the PAC, B12 and BIG as part of a 6+2 set-up, as all of those conferences would have a realistic shot at getting two teams into the playoff in many years.



Seed the teams 1-8.


First two rounds are on campus.  Wildcards can't host any games, and two teams from same conference can't play in first round. 


The whole point is to match the conferences against each other and see which team is truly the best. 


NC game takes place a few days after New Years and either rotates between a different major bowl each year or is bid out to highest bidding city each year.


Result- an actual National Champion who earned their title by beating the best teams from around the nation on the field- not in a poll.

safety guy
safety guy

I will say it every time that this type of article is posted.  Only way a 4 team playoff works is if you have 4 16 team conferences and have the 4 champs play. A 4 team playoff will not be signed off on by all parties because none of the major conferences wants to be left out of the party.  Right now, the SEC is about the only conference guaranteed to be in a 4 team tourney, especially if it is a top 4 team playoff.  The only fair playoff would be an 8 team playoff with the 5 guaranteed spots for conference champs (SEC, PAC, B1G, ACC and winner of Big 12/Big East playoff since they dont have conference championship game) and 3 at large spots.  Obstacles are many - got to play 12 regular season games to generate revenue, cant play on finals week, cant go heads up with the NFL, have to protect the bowls, cant have too much travel for too many folks, dont want to play into Spring Semester. 


Two options for 8 team playoff would be to start season a week before Labor Day, then play conference championship games on Thanksgiving weekend.  Play first round of playoff games the next week.  These games played at the highest 4 seeded conference championship home fields (cant reward an at large team that does not play in a championship game the previous week by playing a home game). Teams that win those games advance. The 4 teams that lose are eligible for a bowl game on New Years Day.  Then you have 4 teams left to play on New Years or around then at a common site in a final 4 setting.  Then have a championship game either on the Saturday before the NFL Conference Championships or the Saturday the week before the Super Bowl at a final destination.


Other option would be to play the season as it is.  Play the 4 first round games in 4 "Major" Bowls on New Years.  Then play the second round at a final 4 site the Saturday before the NFL Conference Championship games and the final game on the Saturday a week before the Super Bowl.


Right now the so called BCS bowls are meaningless except for the championship game.  As the years go on, the networks are not going to pay for glorified exhibition games. Having major conference champs involved keeps all the major conferences involved and interest at a peak while at the same time rewarding a power conference with 2 really strong teams.  No one really knows who is deserving or not.  It is really based on opinion.  Who says Alabama was better than Ok St last year.  Not everybody thought that and a case could be made for Ok St.  Alabama proved on the field that they were deserving, but what would have happened if Michigan had gotten the same chance against Ohio St instead of Florida.


Would there be undeserving teams from conference championships. Maybe, but at least they can say they won the right on the field and not on the computer or ballot.


The notion that too many games would be played is flawed.  Every level of football has a ton of games for the champions. Go to the lower levels of the NCAA. Go to High Schools.  They play every week from Labor Day to Christmas playing 16 games.


Travel is a problem, necessitating home games and/or two games at one site. That will guarantee the gate at the first two rounds.  Final game will sell out regardless.  Playing the weeks of Finals is a problem that cannot be crossed.  NCAA makes so many decisions at the expense of the so called students but I could never see them playing these games the week of Finals.


Bowl cartel is a problem.  But if the networks can guarantee the schools more money than the bowls pay out then they have to look.  But bottom line is that nothing will likely be done until the current system completely crashes and burns via empty stadiums and reduced viewership.


John is right. 4 would be plenty. How often are there 5 undefeated teams? Undefeated teams who have also scheduled quality opponents out of conference are the only truly deserving teams because they done everything within their power to capture the national championship. If an 8 team playoff was already in use you might have Alabama going for their fifth consecutive national championship(in 08 one loss came in a bowl game & 2010 Iron bowl ending could have been different if a playoff berth was on the line). A few years back you would have had USC possibly in 5 straight playoffs based largely on reputation. Also Ohio State would have been in 6 straight playoffs having won their conference. In 07 the BCS had to settle for a 2 loss LSU team. If you can't guarantee at least a one loss team when there are only two teams how many 3 loss teams are there going to be in an 8 team playoff field. What if there are more than 8 one or two loss teams how would you justlfiably seperate those teams from each other? I would predict that if the records are the same the more established teams with the bigger pedigrees will get the nod every time. No fair-minded person would want to see the same teams get the at large bids based on reputation alone especially if those teams have lost one, two, or even three games.


8 teams is best.  Have the 6 AQ conferences only guaranteed a spot if they have a team in the Top 12.  Independents must be in the Top 8.  This will get all the AQ conferences in in the high majority of years but can keep one out when they are a dud.  Usually though you have two at-large spots left that the SEC, PAC-12 and B1G can fight over to get 2nd teams in and perhaps in that order.  I also like the idea of the 4 MAJOR bowls hosting the first round.  I think you could either use seeding for that or not.  With seeding the PAC and B1G have to be okay with teams besides themselves playing in the Rose Bowl and besides that it works good.  Without "Elite 8" seeding and instead keeping the traditional major bowl setups, say the Rose Bowl between the B1G or PAC knocked out a strong team, those conferences between them would likely still have another team in the mix at the Fiesta or elsewhere.  So fighting for 2nd teams by the premier conferences takes on importance which is good.  What you could do is have reseeding after those 4 Major Bowls.  In a sense that would be a hybrid 8-4 team playoff but a team that faced tougher competition in the "1st round in the Major Bowl" would get the benefit that it can help their seeding more.  They then probably would be a #2 or #3 instead of #4 which would have to face #1 in a semi.


In general though, 8 is far better to prevent dynasties having too much influence.  With 8 teams there will always be 2 or 3 new teams in the mix each year.  8 also protects conferences like the ACC and Big East to be represented more often than not and the best conferences can get a deserving 2nd team in as they should when warranted.  The overall flavor and experience will be as good as it can be with 8.  Keep the importance of those 4 Major Bowls by making them the first round and ultimately deciding who is in the Final 4.


3. "But were Jim Valvano’s and Rollie Massimino’s teams really the best teams in the country in the years they won the NCAA’s hoops tourney?"

How do you determine football NC's now? Two teams "voted" in by polls and difficulty factors? I think you can ask yourself the same question of Bama and LSU - fact is you don't really have a convincing argument the way it is, the way it would be with four teams or with eight. So this argument does not hold water. With eight teams (even moreso than with four) you end up with a team that won it on the field and that's always more convincing than polls. Maybe Houston was better than NC State in 1983, but NC State showed up when it counted, so they get the credit.


8 team playoff thrown out there so a 4 team seams acceptable to the people against a playoff.  It will be a 4 team model at first.


See NCAA Men's Basketball Tourney - Talk about 96 teams so 68 doesn't sound too bad.


I understand your concerns, but sometimes you have to just start from scratch to fix problems.  In post season college football, there are a lot of problems. 


I like an 8 team playoff.  It makes the regular season mean something because the champions of each major conference will make the playoffs.  In a perfect world, the Rose, Orange, Sugar and Cotton Bowls would host the first round of the playoffs WITHOUT conference tie ins.  Conference tie ins is not good overall because fair seeding must trump individual conference advantages.  I could live with the higher seed getting home field advantage during the first round too.  Either way, these games WILL sell out and if that is the key driver than keep the traditional bowls in the mix.


The bottom line is college football overall will make so much more money by having 8 teams and it will make the conference champions very important while allowing at large teams to play too.  I guarantee you that the tv partners have already shown the MEGA money 8 teams brings vs 4.  In the end, that will drive the decision.


 @AndrewMartin Yes, they are saying...  they are saying give us 8 teams and we will give you 1 Billion a year.  Since only the major BCS conferences matter here, they can do the typical buyout and give each of the major conference teams 5M a year to agree to join the playoffs (if they are selected) and then 40M/team per game for playing in the playoffs.


And this is only the start..


10 years from now that number could double or triple again. 

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