Opinion: College Football Needs to Expand the Playoff this Season
I've always felt like college football is the best sport with the worst postseason. It's flaws are well documented and there are plenty of reasons why the playoff is imperfect. In general, I think the postseason needs to be more inclusive so that more regular season games are played with playoff implications. However, that's not the purpose of this article. Ahead of an unprecedented college football season, if there is one, the college football playoff needs to expand for the 2020 season. Here are a few reasons why:
1. Different Scheduling Plans Across Conferences
As I write this article, the Power Five conferences have different scheduling plans for the 2020 season. The PAC-12 and Big Ten conferences have opted out of non-conference games. The SEC and Big 12 are doing everything in their power to play 12 games. The ACC is favoring a conference-only model plus one non-conference game. Bob Bowlsby, the Big 12 commissioner, recently told ESPN that he's not worried about different schedules among P5 conferences. "They can't be incompatible, but they don't have to be identical."
How do you compare the strengths of two schedules in two different formats? Strength of schedule is typically one of the most important criteria for the playoff committee. Even if every game is played as scheduled (which is highly unlikely, see Miami Marlines) it will be impossible to fairly compare schedules. How would you compare an SEC team that has played 12 games against a PAC-12 team that has played 10 games? You can't, you need to expand the postseason.
2. Games Cancelled by COVID-19
Games will be cancelled due to COVID-19 outbreaks. It's not about whether it will happen or not, it's about how often it will happen. It's not impossible to imagine a scenario where one team plays 10 games and another only plays 6. How would the committee view a 10-0 team versus a 6-0 team? You can't necessarily punish a team that only completed six games. What if multiple opponents had outbreaks? You can't compare those teams for the same playoff spot, you need to expand the postseason.
3. Traditional Bowl Games
Considering the restrictions we've talked about, it's going to be extremely difficult to establish a "bowl-eligible" criteria for all FBS teams. It will be also difficult for a bowl games to operate with travel and fan restrictions. As things currently stand, I can't imagine a 'normal' bowl season with traditional bowl games. If bowl games are eliminated then the playoff should be expanded.
I don't have all the answers - there would need to be adequate time between postseason games to avoid cancellations. How many teams could they include? Eight is probably the limit. COVID-19 will still be a challenge in December, what would traveling restrictions look like? Like I said, I don't have all the answers. However, I do believe that an expanded playoff is the only way to fairly recognize a champion during an unprecedented college football season.
Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section.