The BCS is dead; long live the BCS. College football fans unhappy with championship controversies under the Bowl Championship Series are knee-deep in the NCAA’s first-ever run of the College Football Playoff.
The BCS system was put in place in 1998; a blend of algorithm-based computer rankings and polls taken of select coaches and members of the media, the system led to multiple seasons for which more than one team could claim a legitimate championship.
Now that the College Football Playoff (or CFP) system is in place, it’s important for fans and bettors to understand how the NCAA playoff works and how it affects betting strategy.
The New College Football Playoff
The purpose of the new CFP system is to determine a single nationwide champion, recognized by everyone in Division 1, coaches, players, fans, and bettors alike. The 2014 season was the first time an actual playoff system (with seeding and elimination games) was used by the governing body of college football.
But the basics of the CFP are easy to understand – it’s nothing more than three additional playoff games in which the nation’s top four teams, as determined by a selection committee made up of players, coaches, fans, and other noteworthy football personalities, compete in two semifinal contests. The winners of those two games will play for the title of D1 NCAA football champions.
Recognizing the importance of tradition in the sport, existing invitation-only bowl games will continue; in fact, six existing bowl games will act as hosts on a rotating basis for the new CFP end-of-season contests.
The games will be divided up among the Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Cotton Bowl, and Peach Bowl contests. As for the annual championship game, its location is chosen after a bidding system. The first site for the NCAA College Football Playoff is AT&T Stadium in Dallas, home of the Cowboys.
Is the CFP Good or Bad for Bettors?
Ultimately, we believe the new system will have a net positive effect on college football wagering. The addition of three high-profile contests at the end of the season is not just the most glaring change in the college football schedule this year, it also means more opportunities to wager. On the other hand, these high-profile games will likely draw a lot of amateur betting attention, so they may not be ideal for handicappers or advantage bettors looking for a soft line.
But, because the playoff games will no doubt draw attention away from extant bowl and end-of-season games, the CFP might have the curious effect of making non-playoff bowl games more attractive to sports bettors.
Essentially, the CFP only adds one game – the location-by-bid championship game – but the new hierarchy of teams means this one game has a massive ripple effect on the rest of the college football season. College football bettors in particular, and sports bettors in general, should keep a close watch on the 2014 College Football Playoff and take note of how its existence affects their hobby.
Yes, the CFP will increase interest in the sport, and yes, it will settle some long-standing issues in terms of deciding a league champion, but it may not end up having that much impact on the way bookmakers behave.
Some Thoughts on CFP Betting
Keep Calm and Bet On
Since the CFP is still new, college football fans and bettors need to be sure that they’re not over-extending their bankroll by placing wagers on an exciting new playoff system. Remember that these final three games will attract tons of wagers on either side due to fan bias, increased media presence, or other garbage. Avoid over-wagering, especially early on in the CFP system, when bettors have no experience to fall back on.
Keep Tabs on No-Loss Teams
The three biggest factors in the selection of CFP teams are quality wins, losses, and overall strength of schedule. The inclusion of strength of schedule may prevent small-market / small-conference schools from walking into the playoffs after beating a schedule full of cupcakes.
On the other side of that coin, the big boys of the Power Five conferences will spend the second-half of every season picking one another apart, weakening the field at the top. It’s going to be a wild ride – and to make it through, bettors should start handicapping CFP teams early by following teams without losses.
It’s not as simple as all that, of course. A Big 12 team with a top-10 strength of schedule that goes 11-1 will be much more likely to enter the CFP than a 12-0 team that emerges from the Mountain West. Then again, because the CFP teams are selected by a 13-member panel rather than a series of computer calculations, an undefeated Cinderella from a small conference may be chosen over a Power Five one-loss team depending on the circumstances.
Essentially, betting on the CFP requires close consideration over the course of an entire season.
Learn to Love Bowl Games Again
Part of the problem with betting on bowl games under the BCS system was the huge amount of action bookmakers got on college football during the Holiday season. It will be much less difficult to find advantageous lines now that some of the focus has been shifted from bowl games to the CFP itself. Bettors may find lots of value in down-card bowl games.
The CFP may be in the middle of its first go-round, but bettors and fans of college football should get used to it. NCAA football’s champion will be determined by the playoff until at least the 2025 season, thanks to existing bylaws and broadcast contracts. Understanding how the CFP works and how to bet on it is important, especially at the beginning of its existence.