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Carlson: Tired of Alabama, Ohio State and Co. always in College Football Playoff? Here's a fix

Alabama hoisting the national championship trophy, as offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood and head coach Nick Saban did last week, has become an almost annual event. [AP Photo/Chris O'Meara]
Alabama hoisting the national championship trophy, as offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood and head coach Nick Saban did last week, has become an almost annual event. [AP Photo/Chris O'Meara]

A week has passed since the college football season came to a close with Alabama and Ohio State playing for the national title.

At least it wasn't Alabama and Clemson in the Big Bowl again.

Though it was the Crimson Tide winning the championship again.

College football’s biggest games have become like broken records, with the same teams and the same results, many of them lopsided, on that annoying repeat each season.

Parity has gone poof.

Some believe those results are why the College Football Playoff should go no further than four teams. Don’t add any more teams at the bottom. Don’t create even more blowouts.

I understand the logic, but it's flawed. Expanding the playoff would actually help college football, ultimately reducing the number of lopsided games and making a more level playing field throughout the sport. It would be great to have eight teams in the playoff with automatic bids for every Power 5 conference champ and the top-ranked Group of 5 team, but it would be even better to have 12 or 16.


More recruits see more programs as championship contenders.

Before we go any further, let’s establish two things.

First, the playoff has become a monolith. Like it or not, it has become THE driving force in college football. Winning a championship is the thing that pushes most teams in most sports at most levels, but because college football has long had the bowl system, there have been other accomplishments for teams to hang their hats on over the decades.

Nothing wrong with that.

But there’s also nothing wrong with priorities changing and orientations shifting.

The College Football Playoff has become the sun around which the sport revolves.

Second, the handful of teams that have become playoff regulars have done so because they have a huge advantage in talent. I know that might seem obvious — you have to have great talent to win so many games year after year — but what might not be so clear is just how top heavy the distribution of talent has become in college football.

Last year, more than half of all first-round picks in the NFL Draft came from just five schools: Alabama, Clemson, LSU, Ohio State and OU.

Five programs accounted for 17 of the 32 first-round picks.

And there’s every reason to believe that consolidation of talent is only going to continue. Look at the recruiting rankings for the Class of 2021, and you’ll see many of the same programs.

The top five: Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, LSU and Georgia.

So, if you’ve grown tired of the broken record that the playoff has become, I have bad news — it’s not going to change any time soon.

But expanding the playoff would set college football on a new course. It would create more of what sports fans love, parity and excitement, by allowing more programs to sell recruits on the possibility of going to the postseason.

Right now, coaches from programs all across the country pitch prospects on a chance to compete for a title, but it really isn’t true at most places. And that is becoming increasing obvious to anyone paying even the slightest bit of attention.

This past season, for example, Cincinnati and Coastal Carolina were undefeated during the regular season, but neither Group of 5 team so much as sniffed the playoff. Having one of them in the playoff would’ve signaled to the college football world that there's room for new programs. Instead, it's the same old, same old, and that is only intensifying the concentration of talent at the top.

Listen, the playoff isn’t the only reason the balance is boffo. Recruits, after all, pick schools for myriad reasons. Proximity to home. Availability of playing time. Connection with coaches. Fit in the system. Track record of sending players to the NFL.

But the ability to play for a national championship is becoming a bigger and juicier carrot. Expanding the playoff would give more teams a shot, and that would eventually spread talent more broadly.

It wouldn’t happen right away. Truth be told, for a few years, the playoff would likely have some ugly blowouts. There would be some growing pains.

But in the same way an NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament with 60-plus teams has given the likes of Gonzaga and Creighton and Butler and Northern Iowa and so many more to build programs that can stand toe-to-toe with the blue bloods, an expanded playoff would have similar benefits for college football.

Expanding won’t fix everything.

Won’t fix it immediately either.

But the broken record will never stop skipping if college football doesn’t expand the playoff and nudge the needle forward.

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or Like her at, follow her at, and support her work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.

Jenni Carlson

Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football... Read more ›