The All Things CW notes column by Christopher Walsh will appear in five parts this week, one each day. This is ...
For years, Nick Saban and I had a similar opinion about College Football Playoff expansion: We weren't for it.
Actually, that's not accurate.
The competition aspect of it has always been fine. Not to put words in his mouth, I've generally thought the coach's attitude has always been primarily "Just tell us the format and we'll be there ready to go," which was reflected by how he didn't blink when college football went from the Bowl Championship Series to the four-team College Football Playoff.
The Alabama Crimson Tide won three national championships with each setup.
The concern that we both had was for the players, who didn't have any say in the matter and could be getting a raw deal. For me, specifically, it was that the wear-and-tear of the season was getting to be too much, resulting in too many injuries.
A perfect example was last season, with Alabama losing wide receiver John Metchie III in the SEC Championship Game, and then Jameson Williams in the National Championship Game, which were both played on turf. It's part of the game, but still lousy when injuries have such a huge impact on the outcome.
Money is what's led the game down this path, and what it took for college football to have a tournament of some sort to decide its champion. But we keep adding, and adding, and adding ...
I still remember when establishing the 12-game regular season in 2006 was the compromise to conference championship games, giving each school a guaranteed sixth home date.
Now we're looking at the possibility of numerous teams playing more than 15 games. That's a lot of extra hitting, and so forth.
Saban's other big concern was the potential loss to the tradition of bowl games, but the damage has already been done there. So he's had a change of heart, and it's not necessarily because the Crimson Tide took two losses this season and is on the verge of missing out on the semifinals.
If anything, having a 12-team tournament instead of a four will only make things easier for Alabama.
It would also create a lot more overall excitement for college football.
“When we started the four-team playoff, I was one of the first to say this is a good thing, but it’s going to diminish the importance of bowl games," Saban said (and yes, he was correct). "So what has happened now? If you’re not in the playoffs, half your team doesn’t want to play in a bowl game. Anybody that’s got a chance to go out for the draft, anybody that’s thinking about transferring or whatever. And now you’ve got name, image and likeness, so maybe you ought to get into the portal and see how much money you can get from some other team. There’s all these dynamics that are created that bowl games, sort of, the importance got diminished.”
More bowls will be included in the new 12-team playoff structure, however only on the top end. Bowl Season executive director Nick Carparelli lobbied conference leaders to play first-round games at bowl sites instead of on-campus venues, but that's not going to happen, at least for now.
Keep in mind what developed at the FCS level, which originally went to a four-team, playoff in 1978. It expanded to eight teams in 1981, 12 teams in 1982, 16 in 1996, 20 in 2010, and 24 in 2013.
If the non-major bowls are patient, they too might eventually have a seat at the table, because the more successful the CFP becomes, the more the tournament will grow.
“I'm actually an advocate of having a bigger playoff because the only fan interest now is in the playoffs,” Saban recently said on his radio show.
"Now, that will completely diminish bowl games and, hopefully, some kind of way, we can make the bowl games a part of this playoff system so that we don’t diminish some of the bowl games and the traditions that go with those bowl games.”
Going back to the players, they've been ignored throughout this whole process and debate. At least with NIL we can say that they're getting more financially, yet at what cost to their physical, and perhaps mental well-being?
"I’m in favor of having a 12-team playoff as long as we don’t make the players play too many games," Saban said on his radio show at the start of the season.
“We’ve had several teams here play 15 games. That’s a lot of games to play. So if you keep championship games, like the SEC Championship Game and all that, and then make players play all these playoff games, it’s probably not gonna be good."
Pay attention folks. There's no better expert on this subject in the world.
Getting rid of conference championship games would be a good first step to giving the players some relief although it'll never happen because they make so much money. Look for the NCAA to instead start the season a week earlier and include another bye week.
It won't be enough.
Few will care.
The players will be the ones to live with the consequences.
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