Opinion Roundtable: Discussing The Potential Of An Expanded College Football Playoff
Ever since college football adopted a playoff system, people have been clamoring for expansion. Four teams has never felt like enough resulting in discussions about a potential new eight- or 16-team field. It's hard to come up with anything negative surrounding an expansion but there are people from all corners breaking down the possibility of a new format in about five years. Most notably, FBS athletic directors are apparently in favor, by a wide margin, of expanding the playoff. We discuss the opinions of the ADs and also give our own opinion on the potential expansion.
I love everything about an expansion. Whether it's eight or 16 teams, I'm all for it. I really like the idea of conference champions getting in automatically and also giving a Group of 5 team a shot. In recent years we've seen teams like UCF, Boise State and Memphis have had great seasons with virtually no shot at making a run. An expansion would change that. I mean, honestly, how could would this have been?
Or perhaps even better yet...
I do think there are some issues with a 16-team playoff, but man it would be awesome. The first round or two being played at the home field of the higher ranked team and then neutral site games to follow? Sign me up. The money would be huge, the atmospheres would be electric and more teams would actually have a chance to win the whole thing.
We'd probably still end up with a semifinal made up of Clemson, Ohio State, Alabama, Oklahoma, Georgia and then a one-off perfect storm team like LSU, but the road there would be so much better than what currently exists.
I'm not sure 16 teams will happen, but eight seems like an inevitability at this point, and I'm ready for it.
There are two primary problems college football has right now:
1) It doesn't have a playoff but an invitational, with a totally subjective and largely unknown decision-process guiding who ultimately gets invited.
2) There aren't enough meaningful games, particularly in the postseason.
As someone that was always a "college football has the best regular season" guy, I was worried that going to a playoff would erode the notion that every week is a playoff in college football. And it has. Therefore, college football has to get busy living, or get busy dying. It cannot continue to straddle the fence here. It is now a sport driven by its playoff, and therefore needs to understand the regular season and playoff have a symbiotic relationship like the NFL figured out decades ago. That instead of trying to maintain the uniqueness of the regular season, you need a regular season that culminates with the unique tension of your playoff.
In the NFL, a game between the Colts and Titans two years ago on the final week of the regular season had enormous tension -- because the winner made the playoff and the loser did not. We need more of this in college football. And the best way to get there is to expand the playoff, especially to a format that values winning conference titles, because that would further enhance the value of the regular season and finally create an automatic way everyone knows you can earn you way in (which we don't have now).
Expanding the playoff would also further democratize the sport, which is also desperately needed. College football has always been driven by traditional powers/rivalries and dynasties, except now it's become a plutocracy. Fewer teams then ever before have a legit shot of playing for a national title, or having a meaningful season. And just like expanding the NCAA Tournament democratized college basketball in the post-Wooden era, the same would happen here. It's no coincidence the very first year the field was expanded to 64, 1985, a No. 8 seed won the whole thing.
The reality is even getting to a major bowl game just doesn't mean what it used to unless it's a playoff game or the Rose Bowl aside from the playoff. So now that the playoff is driving the narrative, the sport needs to be playoff-driven and that requires expansion. And you need to take the star chamber power out of the subjective selection committee, and put it in the hands of the players and coaches to earn their way in. Then you can have the selection committee determining the three at-large bids in an 8-team field.
I love the idea put forth by the FBS ADs. I'd like to see an 8-team playoff with each conference champion getting an auto bid (get rid of the conference title games) and home sites for the quarterfinals and potentially even the semifinals (who wouldn't want to see a Big Ten school hosting an SEC school in mid-December). But if the playoffs back to Christmas break then yes, I understand doing them at neutral sites. Still, I want ONE in the Big Ten footprint, say Indianapolis, in a dome stadium so there is an inherent advantage to a higher-seeded Big Ten team. I also think Atlanta (SEC & ACC), Dallas (Big 12) and Los Angeles (Pac 12) should be host cities for the semifinals. Take these games away from the bowl system and put them in cities that are accessible to local fans.
I love the idea of a Group of 5 participant too. Let's give EVERY school in the country a chance. Their odds are still long, but if you're the best of the best in the MAC, Sun-Belt, Conference USA, etc., you deserve a shot.