It’s November. The college football season is entering its final stage. For the past three weeks, the playoff committee has been releasing its weekly Top 25 rankings. Media outlets, mainly ESPN, supplant the “Top 25” they usually use, most likely the AP Poll, with those new rankings. The shift creates an inordinate amount of distortion. Outlets should stop doing this.

The committee rankings are worthless. Compiling them is busywork. Like the assertion that committee members are studying film on their tablets, the effort expended with these rankings adds neither value nor validity to the ultimate decision, which is the only reason for having the committee. Their weekly rankings are mostly breaking down teams and resumes no one needs broken down at this point.

Even if we accept that the committee must descend from its ivory tower every Tuesday beginning at an arbitrary point midseason, there’s no reason to use a poll. The poll is an unsound mathematical anachronism, dating back to the 1920s and wholly restricted to college sports. Even if we accept the poll, there’s no need for it to be 25 teams. There are no longer 25 teams under consideration for the playoff (if there ever were 25). The question is not what the committee thinks about a 7-3 LSU, but who cares?

The only apparent value of a committee Top 25 would be to goose the ratings of the preferred four resumes by slotting their opponents in at the back end for “Top 25” wins. We can’t prove the committee isn’t doing that because the process is opaque.

If the committee rankings are a promotional tool, they are a crappy one. People would be talking about the College Football Playoff and scenarios every week without the rankings. For all the buildup, the last two College Football Playoff finals have drawn almost identical viewership to the previous BCS title games.

The only sillier thing than compiling these rankings every week is using them as the ranking of record. Media outlets use Top 25 polls to provide clarity. The polls provide a framework for understanding the confusion of FBS football, alerting the audience who the best teams are. The committee rankings do not do that. They rank the 25 best incomplete playoff committee resumes. Is team No. 3 better than team No. 6? Or did team No. 3 play its toughest opponents earlier?

Ranking systems are judged by their predictive value. What does last weekend say about the committee? No. 1 Georgia got beat by 23 points. No. 3 Notre Dame lost by 33 points. Oddsmakers made No. 13 Ohio State a (-16.5) favorite over No. 12 Michigan State. The lower ranked team won by 45 points. Was that a fluke? Or was that an irrational conclusion based on the committee using incomplete resumes, not accounting for victory margin, and not accounting for Ohio State playing Michigan later in the season? These rankings are pointless snapshots in time.

College football has never made sense. That’s one of its charms. One could accept all the flaws in the system we have but for one factor. These rankings have no logical consistency week to week. What happens in Weeks 11-14 has no bearing on the only ranking that counts in Week 15.

The committee proved this in 2014, the only time in its history it had to make a contentious decision. TCU entered the final week No. 3 in the committee rankings. The Horned Frogs beat the opponent in front of them 55-3. What happened in the final rankings? TCU dropped to No. 6, out of the playoff. The decision made no logical sense. What happened was the committee could not make an impossible choice between Baylor and TCU, so it went with Ohio State. Most charitably, there was a startling amount of recency bias in that bland, alcohol-free conference room.

Media outlets should cover the committee rankings and pore over them with a speculum to enforce logical consistency. They should fight for both clarity and transparency. But don’t treat the cockeyed math from committee mandarins with more gravitas than it is due.

All Top 25 polls are flawed. However, the AP Poll is at least trying to accomplish what a Top 25 poll intends to do, offer a consensus ranking of the top teams in college football. Use that to inform the audience, not the committee busywork.

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 tyduffy@gmail.com.

  • Deon Hamner

    Couldn’t disagree more. In year 1, the chairperson stated that people were accustomed to a top 25 poll. Instead of just the 4. It also helps to determine strength of schedule between teams and common opponents.

  • Single_H

    I couldn’t disagree more strongly. The AP and Coaches polls are meaningless. Like it or not, the CFP *IS* the ranking of record in the sport. It determines not only the playoff teams, but the New Year’s Six bowl games, and the lower rankings are meaningful because the top-ranked “group of five” team makes a NY6 bowl game as well.

  • This is the dumbest take I’ve ever seen on this dumb website full of dumb takes.

    Shame on Ralph Russo for getting me to come here.

    The CFB Rankings are the most unbiased rankings available, and the ONLY rankings that matter.

    The AP had Ohio State still in the top-10 after giving up 55 points to IOWA. The CFB Rankings at least had the temerity to drop them to 11th.

  • realbbbb

    Of all the poor things Ty Duffy has written, this is quite possibly the dumbest.

    1. Virtually everything listed here as a criticism of the CFP Rankings applies to the AP Top-25 as well. Some examples:

    “Even if we accept that the committee must descend from its ivory tower every Tuesday beginning at an arbitrary point midseason, there’s no reason to use a poll. The poll is an unsound mathematical anachronism, dating back to the 1920s and wholly restricted to college sports. Even if we accept the poll, there’s no need for it to be 25 teams.”
    -So how does this make the AP rankings better than the CFP rankings???

    “Ranking systems are judged by their predictive value. What does last weekend say about the committee? No. 1 Georgia got beat by 23 points. No. 3 Notre Dame lost by 33 points. Oddsmakers made No. 13 Ohio State a (-16.5) favorite over No. 12 Michigan State.”
    -Rewriting that for the AP rankings “No. 2 Georgia got beat by 243 points. No 3 Notre Dame lost by 33 points.” Yes, the AP Poll had OSU 2 spots ahead of Mich State. So because of that one example, we should dismiss the CFP rankings and instead use the AP Rankings? Seriously?

    “These rankings are pointless snapshots in time.”
    -Again, this applies to both sets of rankings, AP Top 25 & CFP rankings.

    Basically 90% of the article is valid criticism of using polls in general to rank teams/inform the public about which teams are good and which ones aren’t, not criticism of the CFP ranking methodology vs the AP Top 25 ranking methodology.

    2. “However, the AP Poll is at least trying to accomplish what a Top 25 poll intends to do, offer a consensus ranking of the top teams in college football.”

    And the CFP rankings aren’t ranking the top teams in CFB? Then what exactly are they ranking?

    My whole complaint with the CFP rankings has been that they should not release any rankings before the final set. Or at the very least, release the rankings in groups of teams (top 4, next 4, etc. or top 6, next 6, etc.). But the idea that the AP Top-25 (which literally ranks teams based on # of losses and automatically moves teams up when they win and down when they lose regardless of the outcome) should be used instead is laughable.

  • Matt Jones

    This reads like the CFP is the 1st time a ranking system besides the AP/coaches polls was used or displayed when teams are discussed. The BCS did the same thing for over 10 years. Does the writer all of a sudden find this inconvenient. Terrible article.

  • PeteF3

    Terrible take. I thought the consensus during the BCS era was that the AP and Coaches polls were stupid. Now they’re infallible?

  • WolfmanOtto

    Dear AA, please stop running articles written by Ty Duffy.

  • Mister Buttinski

    The AP Poll is not even used to award a National Champion… why do we even have them?

    • There’s an audience for them.

  • whittx

    Wrong. There is a specific purpose to dive further down than the top 4 or 6 teams, since the CFP group is also tasked with identifying the team from the Group of 5 that will be playing in a New Years 6 bowl. In order to do this, you have to go further down into the standings.

  • The 2014 example he cites disproves his whole case. TCU dropped two places even though they won their last game. But that’s the whole problem with the writers and coaches polls: They refuse to “punish” a team by dropping them in the rankings even when a clearly superior team is behind them. It’s even worse with those polls because they set the rankings before a single down has been played.
    By the way, Ohio State was the team that leapfrogged them, and they happened to win the whole damn thing. I get why a Michigan man might leave out that salient point in his hot take.
    Ty complains that the CFP rankings are merely a snapshot, but that snapshot is a lot more accurate (not to mention relevant) than asking people to lock themselves in their office and list the top 25 teams even though it’s unlikely they’ve seen more than three games that weekend.

    • Ian

      “The 2014 example he cites disproves his whole case.”

      Actually, that 2014 example disproves his whole case in the opposite manner. TCU dropped two places in both the AP and Coaches Poll as well, so it’s not like the committee rankings were an outlier. And the reason for them dropping is obvious. Yes, they won 55-3…against a 2-9 Iowa State team. Meanwhile OSU won 59-0 against UW in the B1G championship game, and Baylor beat #9 KSU.

  • PeteF3

    Even though the weekly unveiling of the new rankings is gimmicky and money and ratings-driven, I think it’s a good way to insure that the entire committee is paying attention to as many teams as possible, instead of waiting until the very end and just hoping that committee members watched or discussed in-depth teams like UCF or WASU.

  • Jeff Johnson

    Re: this asinine article…”stupid is as stupid does.”