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Expanding the College Football Playoff Field Is Simple, But Will It Ever Happen?

By on December 19th, 2018 in Football, News 32 Comments »

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 conferences 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 setup: One or more of the Power Five conferences gets left out each year, and there is 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 closed doors to decide who’s in and who’s out, here’s a novel idea: 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 its conference championship, it will advance to the national-eight semifinals. Then the highest ranked non-Power Five conference 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 performance.

Keep the committee, but change its 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 path to the championship while insuring that Notre Dame has its “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 plan wouldn’t work because an occasional two-or-three loss team might 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 Super Bowl. By the way, six of those at large teams became Super Bowl 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 a conference championship because if you make it there, you’re in the semifinals.

* College football needs to stop adding more games.

Well, that’s easy enough to fix. Start the season a week earlier or subtract cupcakes 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’ requests 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 end them because it covers 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 college divisions have been handling playoffs for years.

So, if it’s really that simple, why can’t we move to the eight-team model?

The answer is twofold. 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 recently, “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–Michigan game would draw a larger audience and, hence, produce more revenue.

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

32 Comments

  1. Tigerpharm says:

    Good article ATM. You said “Not in your life time.” Even with the Power-5 not being for expansion, I believe it will be changed in the next 4-5 years. So I hope you will be around to see it when it happens.

  2. uglyjoe says:

    I like the idea, not crazy about your model…..five power fives and three non power fives, sounds like some entitlement in play…… Would rather see the power five conference champs and then top three of all that’s left and let the chips fall as they may. Better yet though, let a committee rank the top sixteen and play it out through the bowls. Much easier to tell number seventeen they’re out rather than number five or number nine. Or same idea with 32….give all the conference champs
    (power 5 and not) an auto bid and seed them like basketball.

    • AubTigerman AubTigerman says:

      That could be another option. I just feel like if the conference championships were included it would be more representative since the 5 power leagues combine for 64 teams; meaning the league champions have proven themselves through half of all the FBS teams in America. In addition the fact that they won their division makes them winners already and not just eye candy for ESPN or the committee.

      If you wanted cut out the Power-5 advantage, you could include all 5 non power conference champions and expand to a 10 team format – that would be okay too.

  3. Solution: Any school who wishes to play for a National Championship is REQUIRED to join a conference. Every conference is REQUIRED to send their champion to the committee. The committee seeds the play-off. Cut the regular season back to 10 games.

    It is that simple!

  4. easyedwin easyedwin says:

    If NDU refuses to join a conference, they cannot play for a championship.

    It is that simple!

    • uglyjoe says:

      Still can’t get past a Conference USA champ in, in excluding a potential 12 and 1 SEC runner-up.

      • AUglenn says:

        ???? Could you explain your comment?

      • uglyjoe says:

        Let’s say a playoff is based on just all conference champs. Suppose the conference USA champ is a 10-3 UAB. Let’s say Georgia and Alabama meet in the SEC championship game, both undefeated, and Alabama wins. You would have 10-3 UAB in the playoff and 12-1 Georgia out. You going from the frying pan to the fire.

        • AUwaterboy AUwaterboy says:

          Not trying too start an argument here Joe but you confuse me. In a comment above you inferred that you didn’t want to see entitlement:
          “five power fives and three non power fives, sounds like some ‘entitlement’ in play”

          But here you say you think a 10-3 UAB Conference USA Champ should not be in the final eight while a 12-1 Georgia that lost the SEC championship game be left out when this article is about a playoff of champions …
          Wouldn’t putting a 6th power 5 team in over a C-USA champ be entitlement for the power 5’s ?

          • uglyjoe says:

            I’m thinking practical strength of schedule / body of work. In this hypothetical, if you are trying to find the best team, is it right to have UAB in and Georgia out…..no argument, just discussion.

        • AUglenn says:

          Thanks for clearing that up for me.
          It looks like you want to keep some version of present process. And that’s ok. I just can’t agree.

          • uglyjoe says:

            Yeah, I guess that is what I’m saying. I want a bigger field with the best teams. If conference champs need to roll into that so be it, but a bigger field…..how does Div II playoff work?

      • easyedwin easyedwin says:

        If the 12-1 Sec team does not like it; they enter another [easier] conference. It is as somple as that!

    • AubTigerman AubTigerman says:

      Agree but I think the decision makers will always give Notre Dame an entitlement.

  5. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..I’ve heard the argument years ago that conference championship games would kill the bowls. Nope! We have more than ever! I heard that the SEC would never win another national title, having to play an extra game. Nope! The SEC has won about HALF the national championships since the SEC Title game was instituted. The SEC has won or shared 14+, and the nearest competitor is the Big 12 with 5.

    …..Tell me that the Boca Raton Bowl wasn’t important to UAB!

  6. AUglenn says:

    I like it. If this model had been in place during the last 15 yrs. Auburn would have been in the playoffs 5 times:
    2004
    2006
    2010
    2013
    2017

    • audad says:

      AUglenn, I like the model too, but have to respectfully disagree with your suggestion that Auburn would have been included in an 8 team field last year. After losing to GA in the SEC championship, I couldn’t see them including a 3rd SEC team in the field of 8 that had 3 losses as we did. It would have still been GA and bama as it was anyhow. In my humble opinion.

      • AUglenn says:

        They would have been in the playoffs if the conference championship counts as the first round. But your right they would have Not made it to the elite 8 semi-finals. Because with the model discussed here AU would have lost out in the first round (the SEC Championship).

      • AUglenn says:

        And Alabama would Not have been in it either because they didn’t make it to Atlanta,

        • Jason Wright says:

          Another plus for this model.

        • AubTigerman AubTigerman says:

          That's exactly what the committee, the Power Fives, and ESPN want to avoid. Eye candy and ratings is what they want – not a true champion.

          It was patently bogus for Georgia to play a championship game to get into the playoff (and risking injuries to key players) while Bama effectively was awarded a bye for losing to Auburn. They had more time to rest players and prepare for the playoffs.

          If they didn't win the conference title or even their division they should not have been allowed to play in one of the 4-team (so called) playoff spots. Maybe they could have been given one of the big six bowls BUT not a Top 4 seed.

          And I would say the same thing if it were another team. It wasn't fair to Big 10 Conference Champ Penn State in 2016 either.

          That year Ohio State didn't play in the Big Ten Championship and lost head-to-head to Champion Penn State, YET the Playoff committee gave a Top 4 spot to the Buckeyes and left the Nittany Lions outside looking in.

          • uglyjoe says:

            The playoff system we have is really no different than the BCS, just two more teams….in some ways I liked the BCS better, because there was a completely objective part of it. …..further, the NCAA tournament works with s combination of conference champs and at large teams, why not do football the same way?

          • AubTigerman AubTigerman says:

            I agree Joe about the BCS, especially regards, “Objective part of it.” That was an attempt to mitigate the human element of the polls. I just don’t like the subjectivity of any polling for choosing a champion. But at least the BCS polls represented the opinions of a 100+ people from across the country instead of the present model of polling the opinion of 13 people.

            The argument against handling FBS like FCS is similar to why FBS should not be expanded: more games, less significance of the bowls, and less money for the networks.

  7. uglyjoe says:

    Division 2 has 28 teams in their playoff. How does that work out for them?

  8. Pine Mt Tiger Pine Mt Tiger says:

    Your plan makes way too much sense Tigerman …. so it can't happen.

  9. neonbets says:

    My ears are ringing for all this echo-chamber love for AubTigerman’s plan.

    I get the appeal, but there’s one huge problem with all this analysis:

    Do you really believe we’ve been cheated out of a true champion these past 5-10 years? If not, the argument for AubTigerman’s plan breaks down very quickly.

    I know most of you will scoff, but it doesn’t change anything. The current model does a fine job of presenting the best 4 teams. I don’t feel cheated that Central FLA or OSU isn’t in the mix. Nor, really does anyone outside those fan bases.

    More teams won’t bring us any closer to a real champion. Teams already had 12 freaking games to make their point. Any team not in the final 4 made 1-2 huge blunders along the way. [But what about Central FLA?! Please…just…stop.]

    And now, one more game against a good out of conference opponent changes everything?

    C’mon. No, it doesn’t. All you are proposing is to make injuries and attrition more of a factor. For example, Kyler Murray hurts his knee in the 1st of 3 playoff games, and the Sooners are toast. Same with Clemson, ND, etc….

    ‘But injuries are a part of the game!’ Sure. But that’s no counterargument, as my point is that AubTigereman’s proposal simply elevates the importance of dodging injuries and attrition. We don’t need it. We’re not getting cheated out of true champions…just a different champion that allows for a slightly better chance of actually bringing each team’s best players to the field.

    • AubTigerman AubTigerman says:

      I don't scoff Neon.

      I appreciate you and UglyJoe giving the other side in this conversation. And as always, you make some very valid points. To be honest, I'm not as concerned about the non-power fives as much as I am with the power-fives. The main genesis for this article is that I think the conference playoffs should carry more weight.

      War Eagle

    • AtkinsonTiger AtkinsonTiger says:

      I don’t scoff either. I’m not sure where I stand on this but it’s good to see both sides of any issue. thanks Neon

  10. easyedwin easyedwin says:

    Scoff on! What we have now is NOT a play-off. Parity will be acheived as teams move to easier conferences to increase their chances of winning that new conference championship.