An Expanded College Football Playoff

About two weeks ago, I posted a bunch of comments about the upcoming college football season.  Here is a paragraph from that essay which has seemingly come to pass:

“The CFP remains at 4 teams playing 3 games to determine the national champion for a year.  The CFP poohbahs said that would stay the same until 2026 – – but that pronouncement was before the stratospheric TV deal struck by the Big-10.  Expanding the CFP to 8 teams will slightly more than double the games to be put on TV and that means big money for the CFP beneficiaries.  Do not be surprised when that decision to stand pat at 4 teams is ‘revisited’.”

The “revisitation” seems to have happened already as the CFP overseers recently announced a plan to expand the CFP – – not to 8 teams as I think would make sense – – but all the way to 12 teams and they might implement that change as soon as 2024.  There have always been competing and parochial interests in college football that have made a national championship tournament difficult if not impossible to achieve.  It seems to me that the amount of money to be derived by such a thing is now so big that those competing interests have coalesced sufficiently to allow all of them to have a taste.

The idea of determining the national college football champion on the field is not a new idea.  I recall articles in Sports Illustrated about 50 years ago calling for such a thing in support of a proposal put to the NCAA for just – – such a thing.  Obviously, those articles and the proposal itself had no impact on the NCAA mavens at the time because nothing really happened until the late 1990s when the BCS came into existence.

There is an adage that says:

“Perfection is the enemy of progress.”

And that was certainly the case with the BCS which was anything but perfect, but it was progress.  Compared to the idea that a national champion would be decided by a vote of either scribes or coaches – – NONE OF WHOM would have seen very much of all the potential candidates for the title – – the BCS was great.  The problem with the BCS is that it was one game involving two teams; and in most years, there were more than two “worthy teams”.  The BCS Committee tried every which way to come up with a process to make the selection that would minimize the bitching and moaning the minute they announced the pairing and were never able to do that.  However, the BCS did one thing exceedingly well:

  • It showed that there was a large TV appetite for a championship game and that such a “large appetite” resulted in the ability to get a large payment for the rights from media outlets.

Ultimately, the BCS exited stage left as the CFP came to center stage in 2014.  The CFP doubled the number of teams in the tournament and tripled the number of games that could be sold to TV companies.  As was the case with the BCS, people still bitched and moaned about teams that were not selected to take part and a drumbeat for expanding the CFP beyond 4 teams began almost immediately.  And so, here we are with an expanded CFP in sight; so, all is well.  It is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius for college football:

“Harmony and understanding

Sympathy and trust abounding

No more falsehoods or derisions

Golden living dreams of visions

Mystic crystal revelation

And the mind’s true liberation…”

[Hat tip to The Fifth Dimension here…]

Allow me to channel my inner Lee Corso here for a moment:

“Not so fast my friend!”

There will assuredly be complaints that there is no need to wait even until 2024 to effect the expansion; it should be done immediately.  If you have not yet heard that criticism, be prepared.  And while it will be very difficult for folks to have a meaningful basis for including even more teams, I will be shocked if we do not hear a ton of complaints about which conferences are “over-represented” and which ones never get a chance to show that they can compete with the big boys.  Diversity and inclusivity are touchstones for US society in 2022 but I will argue that in terms of deciding a college football champion, diversity and inclusivity have virtually no place in the decision process.

Let me point to last year when Cincy made the CFP as the first team outside the Power 5 conferences to do so.  Cincy was a very good team in 2021 and arrived at the game with a 13-0 record playing in the AAC.  What kicked them up in the consideration for a spot in the CFP was a victory at Notre Dame early in the season; that win purported to show that they could “hang with the big guys”.  I had no problem with that selection; I felt that Georgia and Alabama were clearly the best two teams in the country last year, but adding Cincy to the mix made no big difference to me.

Then Cincy ran into Alabama in a first-round game, and it was not even close.  Cincy was a very good team; Alabama was an excellent team; picking participants in the CFP based on diversity and inclusivity is such a bad idea.

In a 12-team field, the only thing that makes sense to me is for the Selection Committee to identify its “Top 4 Teams” and give them a BYE Week; then play the other 8 teams to cut the field to 8 and take that bracket down to a championship game.  I want to be wrong here, but I am afraid that this will set up some blowout games in the first two rounds.  If that is the case, then a 12-team field simply represents placing a higher value on quantity of games as opposed to quality of games.

The arguing and the negotiating on the matter is not over.

  • The expansion will happen by 2026 but might happen as soon as 2024.  Negotiation item.
  • The expanded CFP will need either a new media rights deal or a modification to the current one depending on the timing of the expansion.  Negotiation item.
  • Will there be a formula for CFP invitations, or will it be free-form every year?  Negotiation item.
  • Quo vadis the myriad college bowl games?  Negotiation item.

And because there are some people who always want more than they have:

What is the OVER/UNDER on how long after the 12-team field is implemented until there are calls for expanding the field to 16 teams?

  • I set the OVER/UNDER at 7 days after the championship game in the first 12-team field.

Finally, since the Selection Committee for the CFP has been – and should continue to be – considered as college football experts, let me close with this definition of an expert from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Expert:  A person who gets to give an opinion via satellite on television news programs simply because he is an adjunct professor of public health policy at Sunnydale Community College and wrote a book called something like ‘World Perspectives on the Indigenous Growth of Interdepartmental Conflict in Tanzania, 1929-1947.’”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………



2 thoughts on “An Expanded College Football Playoff”

  1. “I set the OVER/UNDER at 7 days after the championship game in the first 12-team field.”

    I take the UNDER. I think the calls to make it a field of 16 teams will begin about 5 nanoseconds after the first group of 12 is SELECTED. Because once the selections are announced (in a large over-the-top televised event of course) there will be about 10 other teams and their fans/alums who will feel they “should have been there instead of [whomever]”. They will then instantly and reflexively begin the bleating to expand the playoffs to 16 teams.

    The question becomes, and this one I honestly don’t know if it will happen, will the left-out-of-the-field-of-16 folks then start asking for a field of 32, or will everyone collectively realize that’s completely ridiculous?… (Because it is.)

    1. Matt:

      There are 68 teams in March Madness – – and everyone knows that 55 of them (I am being generous here) have no chance to win the tournament. And yet the day after the selections are made, people complain about who got in and who did not.

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