The pros and cons to a group of five playoff system in college football


The Appalachian Online

Jason Huber

Prior to the College Football Playoff system’s existence in 2014, the highest collegiate conferences were called the “Automatic Qualifying” conferences, meaning every conference champion received a berth to a major bowl game.

The non-AQ conferences and independent schools would only receive a major bowl invitation if they ranked high enough. BYU won it all in 1984 and Boise State became prominent in 2007 as they beat powerhouse Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.

With the new playoff system coming into play in 2014, and the old-Big East conference splitting, division one football has 10 conferences split into Power Five (Big Ten, ACC, Big 12, SEC and Pac-12) and Group of Five teams (Sun Belt, MAC, Mountain West, AAC and C-USA). There are also four independent teams (BYU, Notre Dame, Army and UMass).

In the old BCS system, non-AQ teams could qualify to national bowl games based on their final rankings. With the new playoff system, the highest ranked G5 conference champion plays in a New Year’s Six bowl against against a Power Five foe.

Since the inauguration of this new system, not a single G5 team has made the College Football Playoff. However, G5 teams are 2-1 in their first three games against Power Five teams in the New Year’s Six bowl games with Boise State knocking off Arizona in 2014 and Houston upsetting Florida State the following year.

This has led many discussing the possibility of a playoff system for G5 teams:

Why a Group of Five playoff is a step forward

The third year of the College Football Playoff system came to an end this month as the Clemson Tigers, a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference, took home the title and another year went by with a dominant Power Five school taking home the national championship.

This also concludes three straight years of no Group of Five teams receiving a playoff berth and 33 years since a G5 team has won a title.

Appalachian State, Troy and Old Dominion, all G5 teams, are the only three FBS teams with 10 wins in 2016 to not receive a single vote in the final AP Top 25 ranking.

Western Michigan ranked 15 despite holding a 13-1 record and an undefeated record in the regular season before falling to Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl.

The problem is that it is time for a change and we need a G5 playoff system to be the solution.

Northern Illinois athletic director Sean Frazier began the discussion of a possible automatic G5 playoff system in December, saying, “Why not? There is absolutely no ability for us [teams in the G5] to be in the national title conversation. That’s just reality. Anyone that says we can: that’s a flat-out lie.”

Frazier is right. Since the playoff system’s existence began in 2014, Houston has been the highest ranked G5 team in the final AP Top 25 at No. 8 in 2015. Western Michigan finished 2016 undefeated and did not rank any higher than 13, only qualifying them to an automatic New Year’s Six bowl for the highest ranked G5 team.

A New Year’s Six bowl against a Power Five team is the best thing a G5 school will be selected to play. The system is setup to where G5 schools will never be looked at as a serious national title contender because of the lack of star-players, strength of schedule and not being labeled a Power Five school.

G5 teams, in reality, only have two things to play for: conference championships and a bowl game invite. Only one G5 school makes a New Year’s Six Bowl and that is the best outcome they can receive.

G5 Sun Belt conference member Appalachian State finished the last two seasons with 11 and 10 wins respectively and a Sun Belt championship this season, yet they only have two Camellia Bowl wins.

No disrespect to the Camellia Bowl, but it doesn’t really lift the hairs on your arm.

If there was a G5 playoff system, not only could the smaller schools still compete with FBS teams, but they can also compete for some type of national title.

Many people disagree because it would feel like there are two separate divisions competing for their own title, like the FCS does, but that doesn’t have to be the case.

Group of Five teams can still make the CFB Playoff if voters feel they deserve that berth. Power Five conferences play G5 conferences every year, so if App State happens to beat Clemson, Tennessee and Georgia in a season, they still have an opportunity to receive a playoff bid.

Realistically, there is no shot for a G5 team to win a national title because they will never be given the chance. Even with Toledo beating Arkansas, Memphis beating Ole Miss, Temple beating Penn State and Houston beating Louisville just in the last two years, voters will always come up with a way to say these smaller schools are undeserving because of some blemish through the team’s season, or, again, not having the Power Five label.

In an ESPN article by Heather Dinich, she said there are only three realistic ways for a G5 team to make the college football playoff: schedule aggressively, go undefeated and have conference depth.

Western Michigan had two of those three. They didn’t have the conference depth, therefore not getting a lot of respect from the media.

Ratings and viewership would skyrocket for the G5 conferences if a playoff system were born. Schools’ profits would increase and possibly even snowball into recruiting for these smaller universities.

And most importantly, G5 fans would have the opportunity to see their team do something that hasn’t been done since BYU in 1984.

Jason Huber is a junior journalism major from Huntersville, North Carolina.

Why a Group of Five playoff is a step backwards

While the wide availability of bowl games is one concern, there is another one that is lurking in the back of the minds of many Group of Five programs, which is determining the value these certain bowl games possess.

Concluding the third season of the College Football Playoff era, there still has been no team from the G5 to crash the playoff party, and from the looks of it, the odds of that reality aren’t likely to change.

Because of this, the idea for a separate playoff for G5 teams has been gaining some attention, especially from Athletic Director Sean Frazier from Northern Illinois University.

Frazier, whose Huskies play in the Mid-American Conference, sees that a separate playoff for teams outside of the Power Five conferences would offer a realistic approach towards a championship.

Frazier’s proposed idea is almost identical to the idea of expanding the current College Football Playoff from four to eight teams. In this model, five G5 conference champions would receive an automatic bid and three at-larges would comprise the final three slots.

In addition, Frazier sees that this idea would be financially lucrative for participating schools. Reports from ESPN, NBC and CBS have shown a premature interest in televising such a playoff.

Even with a solid base for a G5 playoff, the idea should not and cannot move forward this early in the College Football Playoff era.

Saying that the G5 is its own division, supporters of the playoff try to exaggerate the split between the Group of Five and the Power Five.

In reality, the ten combined conferences all compete for one championship in the FBS. The G5 is not separate from the Power Five, and the idea to officially split the two would be detrimental to Group of Five football.

In the FCS, the division below the FBS, some former top programs such as Appalachian State and Georgia Southern have left in the past few years, which has further diluted a waning product that has seen 1.6 million or fewer television viewers for its championship game in the past five years.

If a similar division split the G5 and Power Five, then a similar problem could occur. Top teams who are seeing widespread success would look only up, wanting to leave to join a higher division.

Even though teams like App State knew they would have a slim chance to win a national championship on the FBS level, they still decided to leave the FCS for the betterment of their program.

More boundaries hurt smaller programs, and winning a “junior varsity championship” as some G5 athletic directors have said, is no better than winning a bowl game. The title sounds better, but it will always have an asterisk next to it.

Bowl games for G5 teams also are pulling in some impressive results in viewership, where a game between San Diego State and Houston pulled in 3.7 million television viewers. On the same day, two basketball blue bloods North Carolina and Kentucky squared off, and that game only had 3.6 million viewers.

Acknowledging that the current system has flaws is reasonable, but it is too soon to say that a dramatic change needs to be made.

Ideas to enhance the current bowl system would be to lower the amount of bowl games, while also playing some of these games on college campuses to try to boost attendance.

Another idea to put G5 programs in the national spotlight could emerge from the expansion from the current College Football Playoff from four to eight teams, where one of the eight teams would be the highest ranked conference champion from the Group of Five.

As of now, there are many questions as to how the current system will evolve, and these questions need time to be worked out before action is taken. Working with the current system instead of quickly trying to break it down would give G5 football the exposure it deserves while also helping build quality programs.

A shot at winning it all on the current stage is better than having no shot at all. A G5 playoff would crown a champion, but it leaves too much to be desired going forward.

Tyler Hotz is a freshman journalism major from Knoxville, Tennessee.