For decades, the question of the national champion in college football was literally a matter of opinion.
Conference champions and other top teams would take part in bowl games on New Year’s Day (or thereabouts), and then Associated Press sportswriters would take part in one poll and a select group of coaches would participate in a second poll. Sometimes, the same team would be the consensus winner in both polls, sometimes not.
Then came the Bowl Coalition, then the Bowl Alliance, and then the Bowl Championship Series, the latter of which involved a select group of elite bowl games whose participants were still determined by subjective rankings but included a No. 1-versus-No. 2 matchup meant to be regarded as a national championship game. But what if your school’s team was ranked No. 3 or No. 4? Too bad. You were left with your nose pressed against the glass, watching two other teams play for the big prize.
We’re now in the sixth season of the College Football Playoff: Four teams selected by a committee to meet in a semifinal, with the winners meeting a couple weeks later for the championship.
A national champion is being picked after three head-to-head matchups.
But we think it could be better.
We want to see the CFP expand to eight teams: The champions of the so-called Power Five conferences—Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big Twelve, Pac-12 and Southeastern—and three at-large berths.
If you’re the champion of one of the Power Five leagues, you’re definitely one of the top eight teams in the nation. Having three at-large teams allows for the inclusion of a strong team finishing second in its conference, or a worthy conference champion from outside the Power Five.
As for the inevitable rebuttal that the college football season is already too long, we point to the way the standard 11-game college schedule became, in recent years, the standard 12-game college schedule. That’s followed by division winners in most Football Bowl Subdivision conferences meeting for the conference championship. As a result, teams meeting in the CFP semifinals come in having played 13 games.
Bowl games have always taken place in the break between semesters, so it’s not as if the student-athletes participating in the CFP are missing any classes in late December or early January.
Should anyone want to see the number of games college teams play reduced, we’d suggest jettisoning one (or more) of those nonconference games where an overmatched minnow takes a 70-7 pounding from a shark in exchange for six-figure (or seven-figure) monetary guarantee.
In NCAA Division I college basketball, the champion has emerged from a 68-team tournament field, winning six games to be crowned champion. Any claims of superiority are put to the test on the hardwood.
We know something of that degree can’t happen in college football. But we’d like to see an additional round of “who’s better?” play out on the field in determining the national champion.