What CFP expansion will mean for the Big Ten (and everyone else)
It should come as little surprise that the rollout announcement of the expanded College Football Playoff was as ham-handed as the rest of the process.
A matter that could have and should have been announced in the summer of 2021 was saved for the eve of Week 1 of the 2022 season. The sport’s powers that be altered the focus from what’s already been an exciting start to the current season to an event that’s at least 2 years in the future.
Well done, people. Take a bow.
So while I’d rather be writing about 2022, let’s take a moment to peek ahead at the ramifications of a groundbreaking moment in college football history. Specifically, what it will mean for the Big Ten — and beyond.
1. More B1G teams in CFP
This is clearly the most significant development. Unlike the SEC, the Big Ten has yet to place multiple teams in the 4-team iteration of the College Football Playoff. That will change when the field expands to 12 teams no later than (but likely to be sooner than) 2026.
Last year, 3 B1G teams would have made the field — No. 2 Michigan, No. 7 Ohio State and No. 10 Michigan State. And there’s multiple teams throughout the entire CFP era.
- 2020: No. 3 Ohio State and No. 11 Indiana
- 2019: No. 2 Ohio State, No. 8 Wisconsin, No. 10 Penn State
- 2018: No. 4 Ohio State, No. 7 Michigan, No. 12 Penn State
- 2017: No. 4 Ohio State, No. 6 Wisconsin, No. 9 Penn State
- 2016: No. 4 Penn State, No. 5 Ohio State, No. 6 Michigan, No. 8 Wisconsin
- 2015: No. 3 Michigan State, No. 5 Iowa, No. 7 Ohio State
- 2014: No. 4 Ohio State, No. 8 Michigan State
In real life, only 3 Big Ten programs have reached the Playoff in 8 years: Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan. But in a 12-team version, Penn State, Wisconsin, Iowa and even Indiana would have punched CFP tickets by now. That’s exactly half the teams currently in the conference.
Penn State is the most interesting case in this instance. The CFP will award the top 4 seeds and first-round byes to the top 4 conference champions. In 2016, the 11-2 Nittany Lions won the Big Ten, but 11-1 Ohio State earned the No. 4 seed in the CFP.
In the future, a team like Penn State not only makes the Playoff field, but gets a better seed than a team with 1 loss fewer.
Sports Betting in Big Ten Country
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People will debate whether that is a positive or negative development, but it certainly places a premium emphasis on winning a conference title. Which means the Big Ten championship game will always matter. Because if, say, an 8-4 Northwestern team pulls an upset in the title game, it has a path to the Playoff.
2. Home games!
Postseason homefield advantage matters at every level of football except the FBS.
High school. Division III. Division II. FCS. NFL.
Just not the highest level of college football. Which has always been odd, but that’s the power the bowl system has had on this process for a century-plus.
That will change, albeit in an imperfect manner. First-round games will be played on campus sites, with seeds 5-8 hosting. The quarterfinals and beyond will be played at bowl venues, which doesn’t seem like a big enough reward for top-4 seeds. And especially their fans.
From the conference championship game forward, top-4 seeds will potentially play games at 4 different neutral sites. That’s ridiculous. If you’re the best team in the CFP field, you should get a home game in the tournament. Period.
But I digress.
A B1G team would have hosted a first-round CFP game every year with the exception of 2020. And this has always been imagined as the ultimate equalizer for Big Ten teams whenever anyone pictures a College Football Playoff with home games.
Sure, Florida or LSU will have a speed edge on Wisconsin or Iowa. But what will those SEC teams do at Camp Randall or Kinnick in December?
Although, since this matter is being handled by the people who run college football, there’s also a chance it will be screwed up.
This was a compromise struck by commissioners in the fall, particularly to allow cold-weather Big Ten teams to move first-round home game into nearby indoor stadiums. https://t.co/Oi3BavhfgI
— Ross Dellenger (@RossDellenger) September 2, 2022
Any Big Ten athletic director who elects to cede homefield advantage and the weather advantage to create a smoother, climate-controlled in-stadium experience is a dope who should be fired immediately.
3. A still-meaningful Rose Bowl?
When the Big Ten plucked UCLA and USC from the Pac-12, it cast a shadow of doubt on what the future of the Rose Bowl would look like. The conferences are decades-long partners in preserving the game’s venerated place on the New Year’s Day calendar, and now their relationship is estranged. To say the very least.
But the Rose is expected to make some concessions in order to maintain a place of importance within the Playoff structure.
*Yes, Rose; once a sticking points, the belief is the Rose Bowl is now in a more.. compromising position… https://t.co/Kg0SCV57e4
— Ross Dellenger (@RossDellenger) September 2, 2022
The Rose Bowl is always going to matter to Big Ten fans. And ideally it will be in a spot that every team still aspires to play in Pasadena.