The College Football Playoff Committee announced the four teams that would play for the sport’s national championship this week and this time, it counted. At-large Alabama was their No. 4 seed, thus sending Big Ten champ Ohio State to a consolation bowl.

It was the committee’s most controversial decision since the last time there was a decision to make in 2014 when the committee passed on the TCU/Baylor choice and took Ohio State.

This controversy does not stem from injustice. Alabama, however much on accrued reputation from seasons past, passed most people’s eye test ahead of Ohio State. Or perhaps the Tide passed a reputation test. It’s not clear how many were watching Bama because they weren’t playing anyone.

Sunday’s decision was controversial because it contradicted everything the committee had done before. In past seasons, the committee placed a heavy weight on quality wins and conference championships. Ohio State had both. Alabama had none. Instead of rewarding tough schedules, the committee reverted to the argument that it would’ve made far more sense to schedule Tulsa rather than Oklahoma. Had Ohio State done that, the Buckeyes would have been in the field.

Buckeyes fans may feel doubly aggrieved because the most similar team to 2017 Alabama in the playoff era was 2015 Ohio State. That team was among the four best on ability. It had the pedigree of winning the playoff the season before. That team’s loss, by three points to a Top 10 MSU squad, was less damning than Alabama’s. Its best win, by 29 on the road at a Top 10 Michigan team, was better than anything Alabama put forth this season. The committee ranked that Ohio State team seventh because it didn’t win its division.

The committee’s bold departure from precedent surprised many who did not feel the committee had it in them. But the choice also made little business sense. This is a crucial year for the playoff to rebound with big ratings for ESPN. That would have been more probable with Ohio State in the field.

Not having Ohio State leaves the playoff without a significant ratings brand. Alabama is important. But there’s no casual SEC fanbase. They watch, come what may. They were already on board with Georgia in the field. Alabama does not add anything ratings-wise.

Ohio State brings casual fans from the Northeast and Midwest with it. Four of the top seven audiences for Playoff/BCS title games came when Ohio State was playing. Two of the other three involved Texas. One could extrapolate Michigan and Notre Dame would also have that type of impact, but that’s it. It’s no exaggeration to say the difference between Alabama and Ohio State in the field could be a few million viewers.

This field avoided one unpopular pitfall: rematches. Auburn having played both Clemson and Alabama during the regular season could have been a major issue. An Iron Bowl rematch would have seen the ratings crater. From a rematch perspective, Clemson-Alabama in an opening round is better than Clemson-Ohio State. Most importantly, it guarantees those schools won’t meet in the final for a third straight season. The first two meetings did not rate well.

But this field has another potential flaw. It is about as regional as college football could have produced. Interregional conflict is a more attractive selling point. Georgia and Alabama are SEC teams. Clemson, located in an SEC state, is about as close as one can come to being an SEC team without being in the conference. Oklahoma is not in the “South,” per se. But it borders three SEC states. Wherever one views it, OU does not bring another region along with it.

There’s little reason for the Midwest, Northeast, or West Coast to get invested in this tournament. That may not diminish the enjoyment of SEC fans any. But it should hurt the ratings and ESPN’s bottom line. Note that the Auburn-Oregon BCS title game in 2010 drew a bigger audience than either Alabama-Clemson game.

This will be the fourth iteration of the College Football Playoff. First-year ratings were great. The next two years were dreadful. ESPN invested hundreds of millions per year in this event. The network spent entire seasons relentlessly promoting it. Ratings for the final in year two or three were no better than a BCS title game.

No structural reasons will impede this year’s games rating well. The semifinals are on New Year’s Day instead of New Year’s Eve. The bowls involved are the Rose and the Sugar. College football is not enduring any political campaign against it. If the playoff games don’t rate better this postseason, it will be a sign that the event, as currently constituted, just isn’t that popular.

Rejecting Ohio State cost ESPN a needed ratings boost. Choosing Alabama negated any claim to precedent and credibility that the committee process had. The Big Ten, one of the principal organizers of the event, will be livid. This choice wounded the four-team format. The only question whether the wound is in the foot or somewhere more severe.

About Ty Duffy

Ty is a freelance writer/editor based outside Detroit. He's a Michigan Man. He enjoys dogs, whiskey, yoga, and composing pithy career summaries. Contact him at

  • rat618

    Always good when one of the big boys gets a small taste of what it is like for lesser P5’s or G5’s.

  • Deon Hamner


    • Edward Greene

      Agreed. 100% guarantee an OSU team whose only loss is to OK gets in over Alabama. I understand that the committee seems to have changed their criteria this year, but OSU ended up doing this to themselves. It’s not ‘schedule Tulsa instead of Oklahoma’, it’s don’t lose to the 33rd ranked team in RPI BY THIRTY PLUS.

      • Deon Hamner

        Well some will argue that scheduling Oklahoma last year is what help them jump Penn St. I think even if they lost by 10 or less they would have gotten in. But even Urban knows that Iowa lost was the deal breaker…

      • SatirevFlesti

        Their “only” loss wasn’t to Oklahoma. They had two losses, and lost by 31 to Iowa. Hello? Are you fucking stupid?

        • Edward Greene

          …I obviously meant a hypothetical OSU team that only lost to OK since I referenced the Iowa loss in my comment (“it’s don’t lose to the 33rd ranked team in RPI BY THIRTY PLUS.”). So, hello. Are you stupid, or illiterate? Or did you only read my first sentence and your boner to prove someone wrong got so huge you just couldn’t help yourself?

  • Chris Armada

    Let’s pretend that Alabama won the SEC but lost to Vanderbilt on the road by 31 points and lost to Auburn at home by 15 points, would they belong in the playoff? I’m very confident, everyone would be screaming (rightfully so) how awful that decision would be. And by that metric, USC won their conference but lost on the road to WSU by 3 and to ND on the road by 35 (never losing at home). Both teams were highly ranked at the time and are still in the top 25. There would be more of a case that USC belongs in the playoffs over OSU. What about UCF who won their conference, were undefeated and beat several top 25 teams?

  • Jean H Pierre

    I think the ratings are going to be fine. It’s New Year’s Day these will be the two big marquee games plus with everything on the line I think America will tune in.

  • Matthew McCord

    Well first of all if you want an an 8-team playoff or better yet a 16 be my guest go right ahead and do it next year it’s worked out for 4 Division 1 double A, Just fine …..and the people, well the fans and the committee spoke and they put the best team in there cuz frankly the Pac-12 had nothing to offer other than Oklahoma there was nothing else to offer from the Big 12 because nobody can play defense out there and coming into the season everybody sai d the SEC is overrated LOL no actually the SEC was probably the toughest division in football this year as we found out. maybe besides the ACC .I don’t care who you play in the SEC if you don’t come prepared to play anybody can be beaten On Any Given Saturday in that conference whether you’re a cellar-dweller or atop of the standings. Personally Alabama would’ve whipped Iowa’s tail and they would have done a lot more damage to Wisconsin then Ohio state did and didn’t Ohio State just get in last year the same way Alabama did and Penn State was left out and but Penn State was the champ were of the Big Ten but for whatever reasonbecause the ad of Ohio State is part of the committee well Penn State got ruled out different situation with Alabama Wisconsin did not win and Bama had a better body of work overall. The wins the losses the injuries, how telling the losses were Ohio State’s 30 point loss to Iowa who Alabama would have definitely whipped up on in Alabama’s 12-point lost all burn who Ohio State probably Woulda lost to. The fact that we had all the injuries on defense and the mantra next man up and we still were number one all year long overall defense until we played Auburn. All those things were accumulated in discussed by the fans and by the committee and they fell Alabama was the better option in the better team and I don’t disagree they have a better shot to beat Clemson than Ohio state does I mean if Wisconsin 21 they would be in in neither Ohio State or Alabama would be in there but see last year that didn’t happen the better team won the Big Ten championship last year and they didn’t get in which was ridiculous they should have not Ohio State this is the different situation. in Alabama is the best one-loss team in the nation without being in a conference Championship. Everybody knows how good they play after they have a loss and how legitimate their teams are when Nick Saban has a chance to play for a national title he usually doesn’t disappoint, &how well-prepared Nick Saban gets his teams for games like this and he’s gotten back four guys on defense that hi storicaly make all the difference in the world they are absolute wrecking balls on defense and they are crucial parts to that defense which we missed all year even though we only lost one game without them, like I said the next man up didn’t affect our defense one bit until that last game Nick Saban’s teams historically always play better after a loss. And I don’t care how tough or easy their so-called schedule was they play in the SEC like I said the SEC the see was 1Bama played LSU Mississippi State Fresno State and Florida State with Deondre Francois who was the Heisman front-runner at the time and he played that whole game except for the last series and never played another game. And you know as well as I do if he would have played with Florida State the rest of the year they would have had no more than three losses , would have been in the top 15. I mean hell they’re 6-6 and their bowl eligible and they lost every game by six points or less but that’s besides the point when we played them they were number fou in the nation and we beat them and that was with Deondre Francois losing him would be like losing Jalen hurts. They got it right I don’t disagree they need to move up to a 8 or 16 team playoff but they got it right just like they did last year you almost have to leave a conference Champion out until they make it an 8 team playoff unless the higher seed would have went one like Wisconsin but they didn’t and how last year it was even more of a travesty Penn State one and they still didn’t get in. Wisconsin was number for the nation and Alaba5 thema was the next team up at # 5 .All we can do is hope that they start an 8 team playoff next year. But you can’t criticize one team for the way that the four-team playoff is gone it’s a combination of the last couple years. Penn State won last year they should have been in not Ohio state-wisconsin did not win so Alabama should have been in there and their overall body work was more telling than Ohio State’s bottom line but things aren’t g it

  • bibliomaine

    Aww, the Big Ten is butt-hurt. The CFP is built for the four best teams not the best teams in the four top television markets. The Big Ten’s obsession with ratings is so delusional … like Rutgers guarantees the NYC market. For reelz?

  • norahs99

    Why is no one talking about how Wisconsin was overlooked? They’re 12-1. Unlike Alabama, they got to the conference championship game and lost by a respectable margin. Why didn’t THEY get the nod over Alabama, who didn’t play in their conference championship game?

    • USC was also a conference champion.

  • worldemoc

    Can’t for the Life of Me see how this Moronic ‘Committee’ can Overlook the Very Largest University in America that went 12 & 0 on the Season, and then also insert two Schools from the same Conference. Isn’t that duplicating what’s already been shown ? Why put a loser back into the mix ? They did the same last year by putting in a School that didn’t win their Conference — Oh St. Morons, ALL of TDhem !!!

    • SatirevFlesti

      12-0, then lost to a two loss Ohio State! Fuck Wisconsin.

      • Chris Armada

        I think @worldemoc:disqus is talking about UCF. They are the largest university in America and went 12-0 (GT game cancelled due to hurricane).

  • Unknown Commenter
  • SatirevFlesti

    Funny how this ignorant diatribe fails to mention that OSU lost by 31 points to Iowa. End of discussion. You can’t lose by 31 to Iowa and then complain about not being in the playoffs.. bye bye.

    • Ohio State won the conference. Alabama didn’t even win its division. End of discussion.

      • They needed another 59-0 blowout over Wisconsin to remove the stink from that Iowa game. Their signature win was by one point at home and they were trailing for 58 minutes. Unlike 2014, Ohio State didn’t pass the eye test this time.
        Personally I’d rather see the CFP go to eight teams (power 5, one other conference champ and two at-large) and get rid of the conference championship games. Of course in that scenario, Ohio State would have been shut out too.

  • wmbii

    It’s not about the TV ratings! Sure, TV ratings bring money, but the college football playoff system is designed to pick the best four teams. If you want to make it about money and TV ratings, then change the system.

  • sportsfan365

    This kind of shows that expanding the CFP field will not insure a better playoff, as those spots will simply be populated with undeserving “name” teams – like Ohio State.

    • A conference champion is undeserved? Ridiculous.

  • Phyl

    Um, who was the BIG conference champ last year? And who went to the playoffs instead? You are conveniently ignoring history here. And Clemson destroyed OSU to boot. The committee got it right.

  • noonan18

    is this what college football wants? Power 5 teams playing more cupcake games during the season? Because that’s basically what they are telling these teams now. Schedule Mercer instead of a tough OOC game and you can make the playoffs, even if you don’t win your conference or division. Not unexpected, but the committee really dropped the ball on this one and any credibility they had has just gotten far worse. The noise about having an 8 team playoff instead of 4 will get much louder now.

  • The four teams should be conference champions or 11-1 independents, period.