Golden: College Football Playoff expansion could work, but issues remain
- The other six bids would go to the highest ranked remaining teams.
- “We put hundreds of hours into it," said Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, a member of the CFP subcommittee.
The current college football playoff format is in need of an upgrade, just as it was back in the old BCS days.
Some important people in charge have arrived at the same conclusion. Four playoff teams will expand to 12 in a few seasons, and college football’s postseason will take on a look similar to that of its NFL counterparts.
A subcommittee comprising Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick and Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson has been toying with the idea for some time now and has come up with a format the members believe will pop during the holiday bowl season.
They're tripling their pleasure with a recommendation of eight more teams being added to the playoff bracket. Better late than never, say TCU fans who still remember being leapfrogged by Ohio State and left out of the inaugural CFP semifinals back in 2014.
A 12-team bracket would presumably solve those issues from years ago.
Bowlsby told me in a Saturday conversation that the idea of expansion has been a huge topic of discussion for the past couple of years.
“We put hundreds of hours into it,” he said. “I wouldn’t tell you that every little aspect of it is perfect because there are always ways it can be improved, but it will be great for college football. We’re excited about it.”
If approved, a dozen postseason spots would go to the six highest ranked conference champions — the top four would receive a first-round bye — and six at-large choices, the remaining highest ranked teams.
Teams ranked 5 through 8 would play teams 9 through 12 in the first round in the higher seed’s home stadium: 5 would host 12, 6 would host 11, etc.
Of course, the bowl designations and sites aren’t set in stone, but the New Year’s Six bowl games — Cotton, Fiesta, Orange, Peach, Rose and Sugar — would be the obvious choices to host the four quarterfinals and two semifinals.
The national title game would be played at a neutral site.
More playoff teams will equal more excitement and much more money.
"After reviewing numerous options, we believe this proposal is the best option to increase participation, enhance the regular season and grow the national excitement of college football,” the subcommittee said in a statement.
Eleven playoff games would provide a postseason jolt to the sport, but I worry that the best parts of the regular season would be relegated to second-tier status.
The sport’s most dedicated purists relish those annual blood-feud matchups that make college football unique. Rivalries such as Texas-Oklahoma, Auburn-Alabama, Michigan-Ohio State and Florida-Georgia are the heartbeat because those red-circled games not only represent bragging rights for the year but in many cases of midseason matchups, they’re often a crushing blow to the postseason hopes of the loser, outside of recovering in time to make it to the conference title game.
College football is different because of the traditions it has successfully upheld in this era of billion-dollar television contracts.
So, Mr. Bowlsby, would this new format take away the importance of the regular season, as some purists fear?
“I think quite the contrary,” he said. “It will enhance the regular season because with five to six weeks to go in the regular season in mid-October, instead of half a dozen teams still in the hunt for four spots you will have 30 to 40 teams that will have a chance for more spots. By mid-November, you will still have 20 to 25 teams in the hunt.”
The top four teams would receive a first-round bye, but it bears mentioning that those schools would not have the opportunity to host a playoff game.
The same can’t be said of seeds 5 through 8, which would pack their stadiums for first-round contests. And therein lies one issue. The NCAA, ESPN and the New Year’s Six bowl games are all in bed together and the Power Five schools have no choice but to climb under the sheets as well because for the top four to host quarterfinal matchups would mean having to blow up the entire major bowl structure as we know it.
Imagine if you’re a Texas fan and Steve Sarkisian actually turns out to be a Saban clone in his first year by going 11-1 and winning the Big 12 title game. So which is sexier: 100,000 frenzied fans at a packed DKR for a 5 vs. 9 first-round matchup against Texas A&M (allow me to dream) or a bye and a quarterfinal matchup in Atlanta?
For those saying it’s an obvious choice, I disagree. A championship is the ultimate goal, but can you imagine how buzzed this fan base would be for a playoff game in the 512 with a chance for a natty still on the table with a win? It would be nuts.
I think an eight team-playoff with the New Year’s Six bowls hosting the first two rounds and a neutral-site title game would have worked, but it ran the risk of being too Power Five-heavy. A field of 12 should give the A5s a fighting chance to show they can compete at a high level against the big-budgeted football factories.
Last season, AAC champion Cincinnati went 9-0 and earned a Peach Bowl Bid against Georgia after finishing No. 8 in the rankings, but No. 12 Coastal Carolina of the Sun Belt wasn’t so lucky, despite an 11-0 record and a late-season win over unbeaten BYU. The No. 12 Chanticleers, who beat two top-20 opponents, were edged out for an at-large bid to the Fiesta Bowl by No. 10 Iowa State, a three-loss Big 12 runner-up.
Coastal ended up in the Cure Bowl (don't ask), where it lost to Liberty. Under the proposed new format, the Chanticleers would have visited No. 5 Texas A&M in a first-round matchup, in case you're wondering.
Change isn’t always easy, but the allure of more greenbacks makes for good business sense, and this is, after all, a business. There isn’t anything amateur about the massive amount of money at play here.
ESPN and the NCAA revising that $470 million annual payout for the right to broadcast 10 playoff games and a national championship showdown represents a very small hurdle, given the stakes in play.
The university presidents and committee members will all fall in line when they see the extra zeroes and commas, and fans — we hope vaccinated — will flock to the stadiums in droves.
The 10 FBS commissioners — along with Swarbrick since Notre Dame is an independent — will reportedly meet next week to determine if everyone can come to an agreement on the final proposal.
If agreed upon and approved by the CFP board of managers in Chicago next month, the new playoff would take effect for the 2023 season at the earliest.
As the Big 12 commish said, it’s far from perfect but a step in the right direction. College football, the television executives and the NCAA will always navigate a slippery slope in their dealings because there are just so many cooks in the kitchen.
Because of the dollars.
Always the dollars.