How would you feel if your favorite NFL team could win every single game during the season and yet have no realistic chance at winning a championship? How would it feel if your favorite MLB team couldn’t make the World Series because they just so happened to play in the wrong division? What if your favorite NBA team had a perfect season and their prize at the end of the road was a largely meaningless exhibition game?
If those things existed in professional sports, there would rightly be a mutiny among fans decrying an unfair and unjust system. And yet, that’s exactly what the top level of college football has done to smaller schools for years.
There are 65 teams (half of FBS, a count that includes the Group of Five and non-Notre Dame independents) that enter every season knowing they have no chance at winning the national championship. Zero. Zilch. Nada. In no other realm of competitive athletics does that paradigm exist. And it shouldn’t exist any longer in college football.
It’s time for the Group of Five to break away from the FBS, exit from the elitism of the College Football Playoff, and start their own championship competition.
This year surely had to be the breaking point that proves the Group of Five will never get a fair shot in the current setup. While the college football world had to suffer through a tiring debate over which “brand-name” school was less flawed between Alabama and Ohio State, the CFP committee could have made a bold choice in selecting undefeated UCF for the fourth slot and finally give the Group of Five a chance. Did they do that? Of course not.
But it’s not just that UCF was left out of the top four after the only undefeated season in the FBS. It’s that they clearly weren’t even in the discussion. The Golden Knights finished 12th in the final playoff committee rankings — behind five teams with two losses and one team with three losses. And the worst news of all for Group of Five schools is that it was the highest ranking one had received at the end of the season from the playoff committee.
2017: UCF (12-0) #12
2016: Western Michigan (12-0) #15
2015: Houston (12-1) #18
2014: Boise State (11-2) #20
What’s painfully obvious is that the glass ceiling for these schools isn’t even the top four of the rankings, but the top 10. If this is the case, the playoff committee and the NCAA should come out and put in writing what is clearly an unwritten rule of FBS college football: the Group of Five are ineligible to win the championship that they purportedly compete to win. And no, a berth in the PEACH BOWL is not the same as having a legitimate chance to win a championship.
There have been suggestions in the past, most prominently from Northern Illinois AD Sean Frazier, of the Group of Five looking to hold their own playoff event. Apparently, the conversation has begun again, this time with the commissioners of the various leagues involved. However, there’s nothing that these conferences can do until the current playoff contract expires in 2025.
Sun Belt’s Karl Benson tells @GregMcElroy Group of 5 commissioners have had “some casual conversations (about a Group of 5 playoff), nothing serious because we’re under contract w/@CFBPlayoff … but right now everyone is happy where we are”
— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) December 14, 2017
While it sounds great, there are consequences. The Group of Five is stuck in a Catch-22 situation when it comes to their place in college football. Break off and form their own subdivision risks losing out on all of the revenue that comes with being in the FBS. It’s no secret that the Group of Five schools get decent money from the current setup and relationship with Power Five schools.
If the Group of Five got serious about their own playoff, there might be Power Five institutions and conferences that would be more than happy to bid them adieu and keep all that revenue for themselves. Weighing that against the Sisyphean task of trying to reach the top four of the final playoff rankings would be an agonizing choice for each Group of Five member.
But what if there was a way to give the Group of Five a chance to compete for something and allow them to maintain the financial security of staying in FBS? And one that didn’t have to wait until 2025 to take place.
Why not hold an FBS-AA playoff as part of bowl season? Between now and Dec. 24, there are a whopping 12 bowl games that are being contested between Group of Five schools. The idea is simple — take three of those bowl games and use them as two Group of Five semifinals and a final. The “Group of Five Championship Game” (we’ll have to think of a better name for that eventually) would then be played the week before New Year’s Eve.
That would allow the Group of Five champion to still play in the New Year’s Six as their highest ranked team against a Power Five opponent. But they would do so after winning their own championship.
Here’s how it could theoretically work this season, using some of the bowl games that would fit into this schedule.
Saturday, Dec. 16 – Group of Five Semifinals
New Orleans Bowl: #1 Central Florida vs #4 Florida Atlantic
Las Vegas Bowl: #2 Boise State vs #3 Toledo
Saturday, Dec. 23 – Group of Five Championship
Birmingham Bowl: UCF/FAU vs Boise/Toledo
Tuesday, Jan. 1
Peach Bowl: Auburn vs Group of Five Champion
Who wouldn’t be all in for this?!?!
This is a better system on almost every level, isn’t it?
First, the Group of Five actually gets to play for their own championship instead of being an extra in the college football postseason. Second, it actually gives some meaning to these early season bowl games where right now there is none. Third, the playoff would pull in increased ratings for ESPN for those games and make them much more attractive for all parties involved. Finally, it gives more meaning to the New Year’s Eve showdown when a Power Five school actually has to take on someone who earned a berth via a playoff instead of being awarded a spot to merely avoid antitrust litigation.
What are the arguments against this system? That it makes the other bowl games even more insignificant and meaningless? That’s the same thing that happens with Power Five bowl games right now! The Bahamas Bowl between Ohio and UAB will be impacted just as much with the G5 playoff as it currently is without.
This system could easily be incorporated within the current college football setup. The committee (or even a separate committee where people can actually pay attention to the teams and games) can do a weekly Group of Five Top 10 rankings, existing bowls could bid on the Group of Five playoff games, and it would give much more significance to the regular season. Suddenly, a matchup like Boise State-Washington State isn’t just a chance for a smaller school to get a good victory, but even a close showing could impress the G5 committee enough that they could earn consideration for a spot.
The regular season gets better with a Group of Five playoff. The bowl season gets better. And these schools that currently have nothing to play for in an unjust system finally get a chance and a spotlight to play for a championship of their own.
Of course, because of all the good it could do college football, it’ll never happen. But we can dream, right?