CFB Playoff: What The FBS Could Learn From Lower Divisions

ByBryan Armetta

Published on Sun Dec 20 2020


5 min read

CFB Playoff: What The FBS Could Learn From Lower Divisions

Since it was created in 2014, the College Football Playoff has been a source of both excitement and anxiety for the vast majority of NCAA’s Division I FBS programs. Despite the enthusiasm and endless debate it provides, does the playoff structure make college football better, or does it reward the few while ignoring the many?

At its initial inception, the CFP was greeted with applause from just about everyone, mainly due to its predecessor. The highly controversial BCS system selected just two teams to play each other for the National Championship, a process that often enraged snubbed teams over its sixteen-year existence.

However, it appears that the new format is just as exclusive, with just eleven different programs making the cut over the course of six years. This has had a trickle-down effect, where many of the same core playoff programs are recruiting at a higher level than almost everyone else, creating a talent gap that ensures only a select few have the talent needed to make the postseason.

While it is completely understandable that the best high school players in the country would want to go play for the teams getting the most exposure, recruits flocking to the same group of playoff teams has created a very skewed power dynamic in the FBS.

2020 has amplified this disparity between the haves and the have-nots, with competitive programs at Cincinnati, Coastal Carolina, and BYU all making claims for one of the four top spots. Their standing outside of the Power Five conferences has made winning over the CFP committee a nearly impossible task:

Additionally, fans across the country have had raised eyebrows at Ohio State's position as the fourth best team, despite playing just five games. To some, allowing OSU to play a fraction of a normal season has revealed the true motives of the committee, which is to give the sport's biggest conferences every opportunity to be represented in the playoffs. Buckeye supporters have pointed to the fact that OSU could not control COVID-related cancellations at other schools.

In search of some kind of parity, perhaps the fans should look to the FCS, Division II and Division III, the less popular but more equitable NCAA playoffs.


The FCS, compromised of the 'other' Division I schools, has taken a wildly different approach compared to the CFP. As opposed to being highly selective, the playoffs since 2013 have selected twenty four teams to compete against one another.

This massive field has many advantages, notably allowing nearly every conference champion within the FCS a spot. The excitement, and additional revenue, such a format could create for the FBS is hard to imagine.

However, it is fair to say that this would never fly in the CFP. Ignoring the incredible amount of over-saturation. the sport's blue-bloods would never go along with it. The reputation of losing to a non-Power 5 school is something that would be hard to wash off, and have a potentially negative impact on recruiting. No school would want to risk any of that just for some added financial profit.

One note worth mentioning: for those who would embrace the FCS format due to more teams getting in, be careful what you wish for. The North Dakota State Bison have won eight of the last nine FCS championships.

Division II

Here we have the playoff format that may make the most sense for a future expansion.

Division II football has seven teams make the cut, a system that is slightly less than double the current CFP. Eight teams has often been a suggested next step, but this change actually makes more sense. Throwing in a bye week for the nation's top team ensures that the elites still have incentive going down the stretch, all while maintaining the high-stakes intensity of the regular season.

Theoretically, if the NCAA were to add three more teams, it would allow for all five of the major conference winners to advance, a move that would surely delight beleaguered conferences like the Big-12 and Pac-12. The final two spots are somewhat up in the air; two additional 'wild cards' could sneak in this way, not to mention the looming threat of Notre Dame. A plucky Group of Five upstart like this year's Cincinnati Bearcats would also be in the thick of the race.

Although any increase in playoff teams still feels too good to be true, the D-II model appears to make the most sense in terms of parity and finding the right balance between giving every team a shot and rewarding truly exceptional regular seasons.

Division III

While the Division II playoffs are a logical next step for the CFP, there is something about the D-III system that just

A sixteen-team field makes it entirely feasible that two, three, or even four teams from one conference could make the postseason, creating the possibility that rivals could meet on the sport's biggest stage. In addition, one or two Group of Five schools would almost have to be given the chance to prove themselves against top-tier competition. The top eight teams would still get the chance to host a game at home, creating scenarios where postseason games can be held in Tuscaloosa and South Bend for the first time ever.

While critics would point to the playoffs being watered down (they probably wouldn't be wrong), anyone looking at this bracket would have to be intrigued:

Still, it would be unlikely to see the College Football Playoff expand any time soon, let alone by adding twelve more teams. A push for something more gradual, such as Division II's setup, would be a more logical approach.

Hopefully, the NCAA can properly assess why a large portion of their fans are frustrated with the current system, rather than maintaining a status-quo bracket that creates massive gaps in competition between programs. The CFP is a great idea on paper, but with the same schools making an appearance every year, it will continue to be a small step up from the much-maligned BCS. To keep college football from becoming stale, it is time to make the playoffs a goal every team can strive for, not just the usual suspects.

Are you an Athlete?

With GMTM you can gain exposure with fans, sponsors, coaches and brands like never before. Ready to step up your game? Get started.

Class of 2021 safety Derrick Davis Jr. narrows his list down to 7

Class of 2021 safety Derrick Davis Jr. narrows his list down to 7

Class of 2021 prospect Derrick Davis has been highly recruited ever since the end of his freshman year campaign. Davis, a 6-foot-1, 194-pound safety prospect out of Pennsylvania, narrowed his list of...

ByEd O'Brien | Mon Jul 13 2020
The Benefits of Playing at a Power 5 School

The Benefits of Playing at a Power 5 School

playing at some of the premier universities in the country is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that can change your life on and off the field. Here are five benefits of playing in the Power...

ByBryan Armetta | Thu Jan 07 2021
Who Put All the "Power" in College Football's Power 5?

Who Put All the "Power" in College Football's Power 5?

Today's FBS landscape has never been more divided between the haves and the have-nots. Less prestigious Group of Five upstarts have been denied access to both the College Football Playoff and...

ByBryan Armetta | Mon Jan 04 2021
Ohio State: 50 Years Later, Buckeyes Could Make Very Unlikely History

Ohio State: 50 Years Later, Buckeyes Could Make Very Unlikely History

In a week that had Buckeye fans' chestnuts roasting over a Big Ten fire, an announcement from the conference could pave the way for Ohio State to make a very historic run to a National Championship....

ByScotty Jenkins | Thu Dec 10 2020
Five Defensive Linemen Who Will Make An Impact In College

Five Defensive Linemen Who Will Make An Impact In College

Many former players and coaches say that the game is won upfront. It showed in the 2017 NFL season where the eagles continued to make a super bowl run even after a season-ending injury to Carson...

ByNisshanth Perumalsamy | Thu Dec 10 2020