Should Group of 5 create their own four-team College Football Playoff?
The College Football Playoff committee appears ready to deny another Group of 5 application.
That looks to be the case in 2020 after No. 7 Iowa State (8-2) jumped ahead of No. 8 Cincinnati (8-0) in the third set of rankings Tuesday. The Bearcats, out of the American Athletic Conference, are the highest-ranked Group of 5 team. But there appears to be a slim-to-none-chance they can crack the top four teams.
Sporting News’ Bill Bender and Mike DeCourcy have two very different ideas about what the Group of 5 should do about it — including the potential for a separate four-team playoff.
BILL BENDER: “If they’re not going to put a deserving Cincinnati team in the playoff — and they’re not — then it’s time to think about giving these teams a reward that isn’t a New Year’s Day 6 bowl against the third-best team from the SEC or an Alphabet Soup bowl against a mismatched Group of 5 opponent: Give them their own national championship. So, I submit the G5 Playoff. Cincinnati vs. Buffalo; Coastal Carolina vs. Marshall. The winner gets a trophy, and the ratings and revenue will be much better for the bowl system. Of course, if the Playoff ever does accept a Group of 6 team — and they won’t — then that school could decline the G5 Playoff. Who says no?”
MIKE DeCOURCY: “The NCAA sponsors such a championship. It’s called the NCAA Division I Football Championship. We know it as the FCS. The people of North Dakota love it. Everyone else seems to want out. Since they first staged that championship in 1978, champions such as Georgia Southern, Boise State, Marshall, Massachusetts, Western Kentucky and Appalachian State all have abandoned ‘1-AA’ to move up to the big time. So have Old Dominion, Arkansas State, Buffalo, Florida Atlantic. Oh, and Coastal Carolina, a name you certainly know by now.
I could go on, but what’s the point? It’s obvious Cincinnati, BYU and San Jose State want nothing to do with it. Because even though it’s a championship they could win, it is not the championship they want. They are part of the FBS structure because it’s where they want to be. Nobody forced Charlotte to play at this level. It was a choice.”
BENDER: “A choice that has produced the same ending for eight teams since 1998. Tulane (1998), Marshall (1999), Utah (2004, 2008), Boise State (2006, 2009) and TCU (2010) all went undefeated either before or during the BCS era. The Utes and Horned Frogs used that to move up to the Power 5 — and they still struggle to make the Playoff on a good season. UCF (2017) went unbeaten twice and couldn’t make the playoff. It’s a disservice to the players and alum of those schools to dangle the illusion of a playoff berth that isn’t happening. The compromise is to give them something more to play for. Why is a four-team G5 Playoff such a bad thing?”
DeCOURCY: “If you give me broccoli, no doubt it’s good for my health: No fat. Almost no calories. Lots of fiber. A ton of vitamin C and vitamin K.
I won’t eat it. Smells and tastes terrible, at least to me. That is the position you encounter when you try to persuade the Group of 5 programs that they need their own championship. What they need, and what they want, is a reasonable path of access to a legitimate College Football Playoff.
They are not getting that now. Because the CFP is not really a playoff; it’s an invitational. You can try to call that broccoli ‘French silk pie,’ but it’s still broccoli. When the CFP committee puts Iowa State, with an 8-2 record and a loss to Louisiana ahead of an undefeated Cincinnati team in your CFP rankings, it is being neither lucid nor reasonable.
If the playoff was structured to guarantee one spot out of eight to the best of the Group of 5 teams, then I expect you would find great acceptance among them.”
BENDER: “Maybe that happens down the line, but in the present structure the end game for a Group of 5 school is the same. A New Year’s Day 6 consolation prize. I go back to last weekend’s game against BYU and Coastal Carolina. Great game. Maybe the game of the year. It felt like a second-round tournament game between Saint Mary’s and Xavier. You can watch and be entertained, but in the end there is an acceptance those teams aren’t playing for the national title. It’s the only sport (maybe?) where half the field gets no chance before kickoff. They need something else to play for.”
DeCOURCY: “By consenting to their own playoff, the G5 teams would be effectively abandoning the pursuit of what they really want. To them, a spot in the Orange Bowl or Fiesta against a Power 5 opponent is an opportunity for legitimacy — with the public and recruits.
They do not wish to sit at the kids’ table for this holiday feast. They have fought hard to gain this status, or to maintain it. I covered Cincinnati football at a time when they had to be ‘creative’ with their attendance figures to ensure they would stay at the highest level of Division I. Then Brian Kelly came along and took the players recruited by Mark Dantonio, and some which he lined up himself, and made the Bearcats into the force in the sport that continues to this day, over a decade later.
They’re not Alabama or Clemson, but neither are most members of the SEC and ACC. But they don’t wish to be Delaware. They’ve chosen to compete at the highest level. Anything short of that is a step backward.”
BENDER: “I watched my alma mater rise to a steady program under Frank Solich, and I have watched Ohio win the Bahamas, Frisco and Famous Idaho Potato Bowl the last three seasons. I can’t wait until they make a New Year’s Day 6 bowl — which would be equivalent to the Sweet 16 appearance in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. That said, I want the Bobcats to have a real chance at a national championship. A Group of Playoff would offer that now, and it would give an insurance policy if the Power 5 ever breaks off and does their own thing. Maybe an eight-team playoff offers that opportunity. I still have my doubts.”
DeCOURCY: “If that’s what you want, then I’d suggest you give the fine people at OU a call and lobby for them to drop to the FCS. They’ve chosen to stay where they are for decades, and they have produced some wonderfully successful teams.
If they want to be North Dakota State, however, the opportunity certainly is there for them. Funny thing: For all the App States and Boise States and Georgia States that have endeavored to play at the sport’s highest level, I can’t remember any program that opted to drop down a level for the chance to win a trophy.”