Pressed to make a decision, College Football Playoff's move towards expansion the right call
Finally, the College Football Playoff delivered some good news.
Thursday marked the ribbon-cutting ceremony of a new era for college football. A release from the College Football Playoff stated that the management committee working group has proposed an expansion model, which would increase the bracket from four teams to 12. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but the wheels are in motion.
A broken system is getting a much-needed makeover, and it’s coming a lot sooner than any of us anticipated. The colossal news was sweeter than that first bite of a fresh slice of watermelon on a hot day on June.
Not everyone agrees. I understand it.
When the idea of a College Football Playoff first emerged and the number of teams to be included was set at four, I thought it was exactly the shot in the arm the sport needed. A “plus-one” system seemed to be the perfect solution for a flawed BCS system that regularly stirred up controversy.
If you would’ve told me back in 2014 that a playoff system at the FBS level would include 12 teams, I would’ve argued against it. Now, I think it’s the option that makes the most sense. So go ahead and label me a traitor, a hypocrite or a flip-flopper, I’ve been called much worse.
My breaking point for this four-team format came in 2017. We witnessed an explosive and entertaining UCF team left in the rain after finishing 12-0, defeating three ranked opponents during the course of the season, winning the AAC title and posting an average margin of victory of more than 24 points per game. Instead, Alabama was granted that fourth spot despite failing to win its division and sitting in Tuscaloosa while Georgia and Auburn battled in the SEC Championship Game.
A year earlier, Ohio State got the nod over B1G champion Penn State, despite the Buckeyes’ head-to-head loss to the Nittany Lions. Penn State’s two losses early in the season were too much to overcome, despite winning a conference title.
Criteria was constantly changing. A single loss for teams in one conference was viewed as a death sentence while in other leagues a lone blemish might be considered nothing more than a minor bump in the road. The Group of 5, which accounts for half of the entire sport, was not given a chance to ever compete for a national championship.
So yeah, change was necessary.
What’s to like about this new proposed 12-team model? First off, there at least appears to be some semblance of criteria as to how teams can earn a spot in the bracket. A quick refresher:
- The 6 highest-ranked conference champions receive automatic bids
- There will be 6 at-large bids available
- The 4 highest-ranked conference champions will receive a first-round bye
- Notre Dame, an Independent, is not eligible for a first-round bye
- Eight teams will play first-round games, scheduled to be held on campuses
None of this has been chiseled in stone right now, but it’s a start. It’s still a hell of a lot more than we have under the current four-team format. At least programs will have an idea of what they need to accomplish in order to be considered for a spot in the field.
I’m not as naïve as I was last time when the four-team College Football Playoff was introduced. We won’t know whether this will fix the issues in college football that cause so many complaints. There’s no guarantee it narrows the gap between the haves and have nots. A lot of these matchups could still result in blowout scores.
What we do know, though, is that the current model isn’t working. The concerns mentioned earlier have led to a lack of general interest in the College Football Playoff. Ratings have continued to decline for both the rankings shows and the games. Some have opted to unfold their lawn chairs and watch the grass die on a 20-degree day in December rather than click on ESPN and hear about the same five or six teams competing for one of the four spots in the Playoff.
That’s a problem for the sport.
Including more teams generates more interest across the country. It will create more meaningful games in November, while maintaining the significance of those early-September contests. The only thing the regular season will lose is that silly one-loss double standard that eliminates teams from the Pac-12 from contention, yet impacts a team from the SEC very little.
I’m fine with throwing that out the window.
Very little about the College Football Playoff has impressed me over the last seven years. The lack of transparency and inconsistent criteria has created a fair share of frustration across the sport for nearly a decade. For once, something from this system made sense.
Don’t expect it to be perfect. Don’t anticipate it will end all of the issues with college football. Neither is going to come to fruition. But an extensive playoff system has worked at every other level of football, from high school to college to the NFL.
Why can’t a 12-team model work at the FBS level?