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College Football Playoff: Origin, Development and the Legacy

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There are many events that are complex and multi-dimensional in sport. The College Football Playoff is no exception to this, and although it isn’t a professional sport mega-event, it is an event that attracts a very large amount of publicity and following. The College Football Playoff is a postseason tournament that hosts the top four rankedNCAAD-I football teams in the country chosen by a human committee of twelve people. There are two games played as semi-finals and the winners of those respective gamesthen play for the national championship. This is only the second year that this format has been in use; antecedent, there were only two teams chosen to play in the title game, which sparked a lot of controversy. With many benefits and challenges to this new format, it takes a large amount of planning and staff to get this event running smoothly in the right direction.

The event is very complex and has a lot of components, from the history of the event, to the legacy the event leaves behind. Prior to 2014, the NCAA football postseasonoperated under the BCS format, which utilized a computerized ranking system todetermine which teams played for the national title and various major bowl games. This caused controversy asteams of similar caliber to those selected believed that they deserved a spot in the final game, having the ability to play just as well as the #1 or #2 team. In 2003, this controversy came to fruition as two different teams were selected as the national champions following the conclusion of the BCS title game, with LSU being named champions by virtue of winning the title game, and USC being named champions by the AP Poll, which was not contractually obligated to name the BCS title game winner as national champions. In 2004, as well, the season saw five different teams finish undefeated, and each deserving of the right to play for the title.

Given these controversies, the formula for determining the BCS ranking was revised to heavily favor human polls, rather than the computerized rankings. However, even with the revision, there was still controversy of the limited number of teams selected to the game, and clamoring for a larger, bracketed style tournament increased, culminating in the creation of the College Football Playoff. With a bracket style tournament, there comes concerns about the amount of additional games being added to the schedule. Especially in football, each game towards the end of the season has a high chance for injuries, and two added games would also affect scheduling heavily (Schroeder, 2014). The CFP solved these dilemmas, limiting the number of additional games to one (a “plus-one” system), by using existing major bowl games as the Semi-final matchups. The “New Year’s Six” major bowls used by the playoff include the Rose Bowl (Pasadena, CA), Orange Bowl (Miami, FL), Sugar Bowl (New Orleans, LA), Cotton Bowl (Arlington, TX), Fiesta Bowl (Glendale, AZ), and Peach Bowl (Atlanta, GA). Each year the two semi final games are rotated between these six, so that each bowl hosts once every three years. In the 2015 semi-finals the Rose Bowl hosted Florida State vs Oregon and the Sugar Bowl hosted Alabama vs Ohio State. Each of these sites are major stadiums either used by NFL teams or built for the sole purpose of hosting the annual bowl matchup. The final championship game, as well, is hosted at a major stadium, however, it isdetermined by a bidding process similar to that of the Super Bowl. Cities around the country with aminimum 65,000 seat stadium can bid to host the title game (College Football Playoff).

In 2015, the site for the championship game was in Arlington, Texas, at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys. The four teams selected into the College Football Playoff are chosen by a 12-person committee. The committee is made up of coaches, student-athletes, college administrators and journalists, along with sitting athletics directors (College Football Playoff). These 12 individuals weekly rank the top 25 teams in the nation, and by virtue of who is ranked #1-4, choose who competes in the playoff. The new system of using a human poll rather than a computerized ranking has been met with mixed response. While most prefer a human making the decision, there is still a lot of controversy behind those decisions. It is arguable to say that because humans make mistakes, certain teams deserved to be selected over others, and were “snubbed” from competing for the title (Armour, 2014). Nevertheless, the new system has been much more successful in creating a competitive atmosphere in late-season, as “While the B.C.S.’s minuscule margin for error sometimes made Novembers feel like grim slogs to see how few teams would avoid losing, [the CFP] last year offered late-season hope to more than a dozen teams.” (Tracy, 2015) There are also many challenges to the event, some of these challenges could be scheduling, controversial committee decisions, and separating itself from the old format by having good success from the beginning. Scheduling in an issue the CFP has to consider when choosing the dates for the games. While the title game is always the final game of the season, usually on the second week of January, the semi final games are held on either New Years Eve or Day, among a potential 6-8 other bowl games that day.

In order to increase TV viewership, the games are scheduled in a way so that not too many of these primetime events happen during the same timeslot. As discussed earlier, there is the also the major challenge considering the selection process. Even with an additional two teams in the CFP tournament compared to the previous BCS format, there are still the same controversies about teams who miss outon the playoff. The committee has to consider carefully which schools are selected so as to make the best tournament possible, both in competitiveness, and in fairness. These are just a few of the challenges that the event has going forwards. Another large challenge and greatly important task is security. It takes a very large amount of security staff to canvas the entire area including field, in the stands, and outside the stadium, to keep the fans, player, and event staff safe while the event is going on, especially with today’s increasing threats of terrorism or mass shootings. There are numerous stakeholders of the College Football Playoff,including sponsors, players, coaches, fans, staff, schools, the team’s conferences, and media broadcasters. One of the largest stakeholders of the event is ESPN, who owns the TV and media rightsfor the playoff until 2026, after signing a $7.3 billion deal (Nocera, 2015).

Such a large investment was returned this past January, as 85,000 fans and 33.4 million television viewers watched the title game, and the two semi-final games were the second and third-most-viewed cable broadcasts in NCAA football history (Nocera, 2015). Another large stakeholder is Dr. Pepper who sponsors the trophy itself, for an estimated $35 million for 6 years (Crupi, 2014). The schools represented by the teams competing are arguably the largest stakeholders, considering the branding and recruitment ramifications of a national title victory. Similarly, the conference a team plays for would benefit from one of their member teams winning a title, as seen by the success of the SEC (Southeastern Conference) in the last decade or so. Lastly, athletes, coaches, fans and staff alike all are stakeholders in the success of the event, as they want it to be continued each year. The final piece of the College Football Playoff is the event’s legacy. Legacy is what the event is trying to accomplish after the event is over, or in the bigger picture. The CFP legacy is limited given its short existence, with the main focus on executing a successful event in order to grow in scope. As a for-profit event, it also has a main task of generating more revenue each successful year (Rick, 2015). However, an early endeavor by the CFP to improve upon its legacy is by attempting to become synonymous with New Year’s Eve (Tracy, 2015).While the NFL “owns” Thanksgiving, and the NBA Christmas, the College Football Playoff wants New Year’s Eve to be its day that everyone sits and watches their event, at home. This would obviously increase and expand its brand image and possibilities if the notion became accepted by the general public. While this would take years of repetition and reinforcement, that is what legacy is all about, making an impact over long-term (Rick, 2015).

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GradesFixer. (2019). College Football Playoff: Origin, Development and the Legacy. Retrived from
GradesFixer. "College Football Playoff: Origin, Development and the Legacy." GradesFixer, 03 Jan. 2019,
GradesFixer, 2019. College Football Playoff: Origin, Development and the Legacy. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 23 September 2020].
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