Expanding the College Football Playoff Field is Simple but Will it Ever Happen?

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Expanding the College Football Playoff Field is Simple but Will it Ever Happen?

Now that we’re in the college bowl season, it’s time for the annual debate on expanding the field for the college football playoff. But it’s really a misnomer to call the present model for crowning a national champion a “playoff.”

After seeing several SEC teams left out of the national Championship game in the past (in particular Auburn in 2004), this writer was glad to see a move toward a different process for determining the Division I (FBS) champion. However, what was agreed upon does not represent a playoff.  

A playoff would give everyone a chance to play in the big game. As we saw last year no independent (not named Notre Dame) has a chance. To call the present selection process “playoff” is disingenuous at best.  Call it The 13 Committee Selection Playoff or the Power Five Playoff but not the College Football Playoff.

A playoff should mean everyone has equal opportunity to access the final game. That is not the case and will never be the case as long as the Power-5 have control. Back in 2011 the Mountain West proposed an 8- game playoff and it was summarily shot down by the big boys.

Here’s the biggest problem with the current set up: One or more of the Power Five conferences are left out and it has left virtually no chance for the so called ‘smaller schools’ to make the final four. It would be an easy thing to fix by simply expanding to an eight team field.

Instead of 13 people meeting behind close doors to decide who’s in and who’s out, why not let the schools make that decision through competition? 

Let the play on the field determine the champion as it does in every other sport. Consider the conference championship games as the first round of the playoffs. The Power 5 conferences represent 64 teams – about the same field as is represented in the NCAA Basketball Tournament. If a power five team wins their conference championship they will advance to the national eight semifinals. Then the highest ranked non power five conferences champions or higher ranked independent would fill out the brackets. That would also mean all teams (not just 64) have a chance to play for the title based on their performance.

Keep the committee but change their responsibility to seeding the teams and selecting three at large teams from the non power fives or independents. This would give the UCF’s of the world a possible path to the championship while insuring that Notre Dame has their ‘privileged status’ protected. Although, it’s this writer’s personal opinion that the Irish should compete just like the other Power-5 schools in a conference championship.

Some say this type of paln wouldn’t work because an occasional two or three loss team may upset a higher ranked team in a conference championship game. Well that’s why it’s called a playoff. A playoff is not supposed to be the two or four teams that a select group (committee) deems as the best matchups.

Just like with the NFL, 10 wildcard teams have defeated teams with better regular season records to advance to the Superbowl. By the way, six of those at large teams became Superbowl Champions.

It really is that simple. Yet all kind of reasons are put forth as to why it wouldn’t work. And most of them are the same ones that were used to discourage moving from two teams to four.

Debunking the arguments against expansion after the jump.

Here are some of the most prevalent:

It would make the regular season less important.
No, it would just heighten the importance of having the best record to get to the conference championship because if you make it there, you’re in the semi finals.

* College football needs to stop adding more games.

Well that’s easy enough to fix. Start the season a week earlier or subtract cup cakes during the regular season. Doing the latter could have the added advantage of providing a second bye week to rest the players.

* Where would another round be played?
The first round would be played at home stadiums of the higher ranked team just like it is with the FCS level. After that, there would be four teams left and they would play in the Bowls just like they do now.

* Expansion would be a death knell for the bowls.
As my grandfather used to say, “That’s a load of bull.”
This argument was used a lot during talks about changing from the BCS. It didn’t happen then and it will not happen now. There will always be teams eager to play in a bowl game. In fact the demand for more bowls has grown since the four team CFP was instituted. In recent years, the NCAA has turned down several cities request to start new bowl games.

 * Moving to eight teams will only prompt cries to add more. Where does it stop?
It stops with this model. Yes there will always be calls for more teams to make the field. But this model should be the end all because it protects all the doubts put forth while still allowing ‘everyone’ a path to the championship game.

The powers that be know this will work because this is the way the other divisions have been handling their playoffs for years.

So if it’s really that simple, why can we move to the eight team model?

The answer is two fold. One, the power five conferences want to keep it an exclusive Power-5 club. The second and most important reason though is money. And that’s driven by the mega TV sports giant ESPN. The network wants to hype the who gets in and the debate over who should have been in. It’s good for ratings and that means more money.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said the other day, “I wouldn’t say we’ll never go to it, but I’d be very surprised if we gave it any serious consideration … We haven’t had any conversations about expanding the field so far. This is a terrific enterprise and I just think we need to be really careful before we tamper with it.” Notice the word “enterprise!”

Yes it’s about business. ESPN doesn’t want to see a UCF vs.Houston when they know an Alabama – Clemson game would have a larger audience and hence produce more revenue.

With that being the case, will we ever see a true college football playoff? Maybe, but I don’t expect to see it in my life time.

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