To James Franklin, major CFP expansion is what's best for college football
INDIANAPOLIS — As we go through potentially the most destabilizing wave of conference realignment yet, it’s quite clear that one question hasn’t been given very thorough consideration.
Is it best for the health of college football as a whole?
There’s no doubt it’s better for the financial well-being of schools in the Big Ten and SEC. One way or the other, it will end up being best for Notre Dame.
Beyond that, however, much remains to be determined.
“It’s all speculation of where it’s going to head as more dominoes fall,” said Minnesota coach PJ Fleck, who led Western Michigan to a Cotton Bowl appearance in 2016.
Is there still going to be a spot at the table for an undefeated Mid-American Conference champion at the big boys’ table?
If the College Football Playoff field expands to a sufficient size, the answer may still be yes regardless of whether there’s a Power 5 or a Power 2.
If James Franklin was in charge, the next iteration of the CFP would expand to a large enough number to include access for programs considered part of the sport’s have-not class.
“Everybody loves the movie Hoosiers. And I’m not talking about [Indiana University]. I’m talking about that story of this small school,” Franklin said. “It was 1 state champion, not all these divisions. So that Cinderella story happened. I think there should be a model that allows that to happen in college football.
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“Do I think it’s a little less likely in football than other sports? Probably. But you see it in basketball and other sports. It also allows those schools to have hope, and hope is a powerful thing. It’s in the best interests of college football.”
As Franklin notes, football isn’t very conducive to a Cinderella run. Even in the 24-team FCS playoffs, North Dakota State inevitably reaches the semifinals or beyond on an annual basis. But you might see some upsets in the opening rounds.
Though he didn’t give a precise number, a 12- or 16-team bracket would likely be necessary to accommodate such teams.
“At the end of that day, that number should be strategic,” Franklin said. “It has to take all of the important criteria into consideration. The academic calendar has to be considered. The length of the schedule. We keep adding games.
“Are we willing to take a game out of the regular season? All of these things have to be considered.”
College football’s best interest
Maybe it owes to his roots as a quarterback at Division II East Stroudsburg. But when Franklin attends American Football Coaches Association meetings, his goal is to make sure decisions benefit the highest number of programs.
“You take your Penn State hat off to a degree and take your Big Ten hat off and say ‘What’s in college football’s best interests? What’s in the student-athlete’s best interests?’ ” Franklin said. “And if you’re not willing to do that, then you shouldn’t be in a position to vote.”
Though he didn’t name names, Franklin says not every coach has such a magnanimous view. Not even those who were still working their way up the ladder very recently.
“I’ve sat at AFCA board meetings, and there was a coach at School X and he’s pounding the table for this rule. The next year, he’s at School Y and he’s got a very different opinion,” Franklin said. “Why? Is it because his opinion has changed? No. It’s because of how it’s going to affect that school compared to [the previous] school.
“That’s not how you should be voting, in my opinion.”
Not that Franklin is above putting Penn State’s best interests first. He’s a firm believer in power conference champions earning automatic CFP bids. That’s because the 10-2 Nittany Lions won the 2016 Big Ten title but were left out of the Playoff behind 11-1 Ohio State.
“Any school that won the Big Ten and didn’t get in would have a problem with it,” Franklin said. “So I think [an auto bid is] important.”
Guarding against ‘unforeseen consequences’
Franklin isn’t against changes in college football, as his advocacy for an expanded CFP demonstrates. But he does get annoyed when those changes aren’t very well thought-out.
For example, he was opposed to a Big Ten policy to stop scheduling games against FCS opponents. Part of that was because he appreciates how vital money games are to smaller programs.
“That was not in the best interests of college football,” Franklin said. “A lot of those schools depend on that game for their season budget.”
As a result of the B1G moving away from FCS games, Group of 5 programs were able to demand more guarantee money to get on the schedule.
“Why? Because we had less of a pool to choose from,” Franklin said. “For me, I try to look at all of these things. And I hope the people making decisions do as well. Because I hate when we say ‘Oh, there were unforeseen consequences.’ ”
Name, Image and Likeness being used as a recruiting inducement is another instance of this happening.
“‘Oh, we didn’t know it was going to impact recruiting.’ Come on. Everyone that really lives and studies college football knew it was going to have a recruiting component,” Franklin said. “So I don’t want to hear the unforeseen consequences. Think it all out. Talk to the best minds in college football. Factor in all the other things, and go from there.”