It has been a long time since my last post and we have a lot to catch up on (to say the least). There will be more to come, but let’s focus on a timely topic: the very real possibility of college football playoff expansion.
Last week, the College Football Playoff management committee issued a press release about its latest meetings where it stated that it had a working group exploring expanding the playoff with “some 63 possibilities for change. These included 6-, 8-, 10-, 12- and 16-team options, each with a variety of different scenarios.” While CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock had all of the standard disclaimers that there is still a 4-team playoff and the discussions are all exploratory, the fact that the CFP directly acknowledged all of this on its own indicated that the powers that be might have been further along in its talks than anyone could have imagined up to this point. Remember that conference commissioners were all publicly firm that the old BCS system wouldn’t change only weeks before the current CFP format was put into place and the party line until now has been a steadfast, “We have a 4-team playoff under a 12-year agreement and that’s not changing.” The powers that be in college football HATE talking about college football expansion, so unilaterally offering it up to the public that they’re discussing the issue isn’t just throwing out there for speculation.
Needless to say, this got me quite excited! I have been writing about college football playoff scenarios for as long as this blog has existed (and way before conference realignment really became such a huge focus here). My oldest post on this subject was a proposal in July 2006 to have an 8-team playoff with power conference auto-bids using traditional bowl matchups (such as always having the Big Ten and then-Pac-10 champs play in the Rose Bowl). All of these years later, that would personally still be my optimal playoff format. That 2006 post would need a few tweaks and updates to account for events that have occurred since that time, but all of the principles I wrote back then pretty much apply today.
Following up on that press release, The Athletic reported on Wednesday that college football playoff expansion discussions are indeed progressing along quickly. That in and of itself didn’t surprise. However, what did surprise me was what was revealed in the opening of the article:
Concerned that their four-team product has been harmed by the dominance of a select few teams from the same region, FBS commissioners are seriously considering expanding the College Football Playoff. And while it’s long been assumed that any change to the format would be modest, several influential decision-makers are suddenly open to a playoff system that skips past eight teams and into the double digits.
“I sense 12 teams is building support,” one Power 5 athletic director said.
My initial reaction was, “WTF?!” I had it in my head that an 8-team playoff was the inevitable next step for so long that the thought of the system moving to 12 teams made my head feel like I just did a keg stand on a Slurpee machine. How could the powers that be that have inched along with playoff expansion for the last century suddenly zoom up to a 12-team playoff?
Taking a step back and thinking about it further, though, maybe the powers that be are (weirdly) seeing a 12-team playoff as a system that is closer to the status quo than an 8-team playoff. Consider the following:
(1) Many college football fans (myself included) have been so focused on whether to expand the 4-team playoff itself that we have generally neglected the fact that the overall CFP system consists of 12 teams competing in the New Year’s Six Bowls. Those 12 teams consist of the Power Five conference champs, the top Group of Five champ, and 6 other teams (at-larges and conference contract bids). Essentially, the powers that be could be viewing this as simply taking that existing field of teams (with the exception that the 6 “other teams” would all be at-larges based on merit) and turning it into a playoff.
(2) A 12-team playoff would presumably provide first round byes to the top 4 teams. This preserves the top 4 horse race that exists in the current CFP system (and goosing the ratings of those weekly CFP rankings release shows on ESPN) while expanding enough to allow for auto-bids for the Power Five conferences and the top Group of Five champ. That wouldn’t be the same in an 8-team playoff. This also alleviates concerns that Power Five schools that have clinched conference championship game berths might rest players in late season games (similar to NFL teams that have clinched playoff spots) and just bank on winning their conference championships. Putting in the carrot of a first round bye means that teams would be competing just as hard for a top 4 spot throughout the entire regular season. (Personally, one of the reasons why I have advocated for an 8-team playoff was to minimize the power of the CFP selection committee. If we end up with a 12-team playoff, the powers that be clearly aren’t as bothered by that issue as the ability to grant byes arguably gives the CFP selection committee more power than ever.)
I don’t know if I personally like the prospect of a 12-team playoff more than an 8-team playoff, but I’ll have to say that it’s growing on me. If that’s the size of field that’s required to have auto-bids for all of the Power Five conference (which I believe is a minimum requirement for any playoff expansion), then it works for me. To be sure, there are many other issues to examine over the coming months (not the least of which is what happens to the bowl system).
In any event, with colleges large and small getting squeezed with a double whammy of higher expenses and lower tuition and room and board revenue as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, university presidents are likely far past the point where they can afford to pass up any opportunities to generate revenue regardless of past reservations. Expanding the College Football Playoff is simply one of the easiest ways out there for universities to instantly raise revenue, so it’s not a surprise that it is coming to forefront now.Follow @frankthetank111
(Image from Scarlet and Game)