College Football Has Become Increasingly Predictable

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Seven years ago, we were introduced to the College Football Playoff system. It was exciting for the majority of college football fans. Better games. More teams with a chance to win it all. Better for TV ratings. Better for the sport as a whole. Or at least that's what we were told. 

College football has become increasingly predictable and feels like it's on autopilot. The playoffs, which felt like something that would move the sport forward, have essentially become an elite club of Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State plus one guest.

It's created separation at the top, which is really only exciting if you're a fan of those schools, or enjoy debates about dynasties. 

Lie #1: "A playoff system will give us more competitive games." While this sounded likely to be true, the product we've gotten tells a different story. In the 16 years of the BCS, 10 of the 16 games were decided by two scores or less. In the seven years so far of the CFP, only seven out of 21 games have been decided by two scores or less. 14/21 have been three possession games or greater. In the last three years (total of nine games), only one CFP semi-final or final has ended with a scoring margin of less than 11 points. 

Lie #2: "More teams will have a chance to win the title." Again, simply not true. In seven years, only six different teams have competed in the national title game. In the last seven years of the BCS, we saw 10 different teams participate in title games. The teams competing for spots has never been more predictable. You'd have a hard time convincing me that it's not going to be Bama, Clemson, OSU for the foreseeable future. 

Lie #3: "It'll make for a better product for college football, as a whole." While you may have a hard time directly tying these two together, the playoffs have had a lot to do with the decline in interest for all other bowl games. Bowl games have become far less relevant. And opt-outs have become commonplace and celebrated. It's "playoffs or bust" for the sport, which is a sad reality, especially when the playoffs are essentially reserved for the same teams over and over.

Lie #4: "TV ratings will soar under the playoff system." Again, just hasn't happened. TV ratings were higher in BCS title games (16.1 average) than they've been in CFP title games (15.2). 

There was a lot of frustration with the BCS system, and rightfully so. I'm not making the argument that the BCS was a perfect system, but the product it gave us, the teams it represented and the sport as a whole were all better. The CFP is essentially an "insurance policy" for the elites of the sport. I may be in the minority, but I enjoyed the days when one loss could wreck a season for a title contender. It gave every team/school the chance to play a role in the final results. But this system was created to take care of Ohio State, Bama, Clemson, etc. even if they slip up and lose a game. Bottom line to me: The BCS gave us better drama. The CFP gives us more predictability, stability and control.

Sam Pineda


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