Alabama or Ohio St for the 4th spot in the College Football Playoff?  What criteria REALLY matters to the committee?

The College Football Playoff committee discusses the “integrity” of the process of selecting the 4 “best” teams.

They talk about how much conference championships mean.

They bring up points about how “every game matters.”

True College Football fans that have followed this thing understand that, at the end of the day, this whole thing is about money and TV Ratings.

Both Ohio St and Alabama are huge brands.  If we want to throw in USC, they are also a huge national brand.

But here is what could end up tipping the scales in favor of Alabama:

TV Ratings.

Nobody on ESPN, or with the playoff committee, will admit that the brand has something to do with this, but if you look back at the last 2 playoff controversies, the team with the better TV ratings ended up getting into the field, regardless of conference championship.

2014 debate:

  • Ohio St: 4.963M viewers per game on average
  • TCU: 2.18M viewers average
  • Baylor: 2.15M viewers average

2016 debate:

  • Ohio St: 6.208M viewers per game on average (11 games rated by Nielsen)
  • Penn St: 5.107M viewers on average (only 5 games rated by Nielson)
  • Washington: 2.941M viewers on average (8 games rated by Nielsen)

First off, props to my wife for putting the numbers into the calculator for me this morning.

The 2016 debate was never between Washington and Penn St, like the Committee wanted you to believe.  The argument was that they did not really want 2 teams from the same conference in the playoff, which will hurt Alabama this year.

In 2014, Ohio State’s brand was significantly bigger than either Baylor or TCU.  Their viewership numbers were immensely better than the two Big 12 schools.

In 2016, there was a very difficult argument that the committee had to make regarding 11-1 Ohio St vs 11-2 Penn St, since Penn St beat Ohio St head to head, and won the Big 10 Championship game, but also had a close loss at Pitt, and a blowout loss at Michigan.  The committee tried to shield that and, instead, turn the conversation to Washington vs Penn St.

This year, there is no head to head, but Ohio St is the 2 loss team with an awful loss, while Alabama is the 1-loss team that did not win their conference.  If it were Ohio St against any other team, there would not be much of an argument, because Ohio St is the 2nd most watched team in the country.

Alabama is the #1 most watched team.

We will toss in USC, just because there are some people harping for them to be in over both Ohio St and Alabama.  Here are the 2017 regular season viewership numbers:

  • Alabama: 5.686M viewers on average (11 games rated by Nielsen)
  • Ohio St: 5.204M viewers on average (10 games rated by Nielsen)
  • USC: 2.807M viewers on average (10 games rated by Nielsen)

Alabama had the 2 most watched games of the entire regular season (13M+ at Auburn, 12+M vs Florida St).

Alabama had the most watched regular season college football game in history on cable television / ESPN (7M+ at Mississippi State).

Ohio St still has incredible numbers, but the truth is that Alabama is a bigger brand.


If this playoff is fielded based on the best football team, then Alabama should be in.

If this playoff is fielded based on the biggest brand that will bring the most eyeballs, then Alabama should be in.

If this playoff is fielded based on politics, and not wanting to upset Big 10 Commissioner Jim Delaney, then Ohio St will be in.

And I have no idea which way it’s going to go.