Expanding The College Football Playoff The Right Way
College Football Playoff expansion is going to happen.
That’s what I keep hearing over and over and over again, and considering it would be a money maker, and decision makers in college football are driven by short-term financial decisions, I believe it to be true.
The question then is how do you expand in a way that doesn't hurt the game? The conversation right now is about expanding to an 8-team playoff and giving the five Power 5 conferences an automatic bid. I think that is an absolutely terrible idea.
The more you expand the playoff in its current format the lesser importance we see placed on the regular season. The current system has already ruined the bowl system, and chipping away at the importance of the regular season would do unnecessary damage to the game.
We’ve seen that in college basketball over the last decade, as regular season games become less and less interesting, and important. Back when the NCAA Tournament was 32 teams the regular season was much, much more important. Now you can go under .500 in your league and still make the tournament as an at-large, which makes for a relatively boring regular season.
College football is not at that point ... yet, but on a smaller scale the more you expand the playoff the less important regular season games become. Think about it, Ohio State suffered October blowout losses to Iowa and Purdue in back-to-back seasons (2017-18), and those October losses kept the Buckeyes out of the playoff in both seasons. October games impacted the championship.
Expand to eight in the current format and neither game was more than a blip on the radar. Staying in the Big Ten, Michigan lost to a pair of Top 10 teams last season, including getting thrashed 62-39 by Ohio State to end the season. Expand the playoff to eight and Michigan can lose to the two best team they played, they can trail for over 96 minutes combined in those two games and still be a playoff team.
A simple expansion to eight teams does to the regular season what it has already done to the bowl season, which is make it far less exciting, far less entertaining and far less watchable. You’ll see far less “scoreboard watching” as you see right now, which hurts the game.
I believe there is a way that you can expand the playoff system, involve even more than eight teams, and not only preserve the regular season, but you can enhance it, and you will make the bowl season even more important.
Here is my proposal:
1. Remove The College Football Playoff From The Bowl System: The playoff should remain at four teams, but it should take place the two weeks after the bowls are completed. The knock on this proposal is that it extends the season, but the reality is it only extends the season by a week, and it only adds a 16th game for two teams. This comes after getting a month off to rest between the end of the regular season and the start of bowl season.
2. Go Back To Major Bowl Tie-Ins For Conferences: I miss the days when Ohio State woud beat Michigan, or vice versa, and winning players would have roses in their mouths. They had achieved some big, winning the Rose Bowl. That doesn't matter anymore, because the winner often times is only focused on whether or not it will make the playoff. By making the major bowls less important - unless they are one of the semi-final games - we’ve made it a “playoff or bust” for far too many teams. If the playoff comes AFTER the bowls are played, it makes the major bowls far, far more important.
Now your focus as a program is on winning your league and earning that major bowl berth, and then winning that. If you don't accomplish all that there is no playoff shot anyway. This is good for the game as a whole because it gives teams within conferences something to play for beyond the playoff. It adds much greater value to winning your conference, which is what the game used to be about, even more than winning titles.
3. Change The Tie-Ins: There are five major bowls plus the Peach Bowl. My proposal would eliminate the conference vs. conference automatic tie-ins like we see with the Rose Bowl. Critics might say it takes away the history and tradition of those bowls, especially the Rose Bowl, but two years ago the Rose Bowl was Georgia vs. Oklahoma. That’s has already happened, and last year’s Rose Bowl between Ohio State and Washington didn’t mean much because it wasn’t a playoff game.
I would give the five conference title winners a berth into one of the five major bowl games. The Pac 12 would keep the Rose Bowl, the SEC would keep the Sugar Bowl, the ACC would keep the Orange Bowl, the Big 12 would get the Fiesta Bowl and the Big Ten would get the Cotton Bowl. The opponents of the conference champs would be at-large teams that will be decided either by the CFP committee or you could have a rotation where the bowl games get to pick from teams that qualify for one of those games (something like a Top 12-15 finish would be required). Both have merit, but I think for entertainment/money making purposes its best to keep the CFP committee so ESPN can have their weekly TV show about the rankings.
I would give the best Group of 6 winner an automatic bid ONLY if they finish the season ranked in the Top 15. So UCF would have earned an automatic bid in 2017 and 2018, but Memphis would not earn that bid in 2019. In years where the best Group of 6 team does not quality for the Peach Bowl, the game becomes an at-large vs. at-large game.
The games would be played over two days. With a noon, 4:00 PM and 8:00 PM game being played each day. On those two days the only games that are played are the major bowls. Imagine the eyes on those games!
4. Pick The Top 4 AFTER The Bowl Game: Once the bowl games are completed the committee would then pick the four best teams. The semi-final would take place about a week after the the bowl games are concluded and the title game is played a week after that. A case could be made that you need to have the semi-final and title games on a weekend, or at least a Friday-Saturday, so you’d have to manage the bowl schedules each year to ensure that happens, which might change when the major bowls are played and then there might be years where there is an extra day or two after the bowls before the semi-final starts.
Here’s how it would look this year (and to make this a bit more entertaining for Notre Dame fans, let’s assume Notre Dame beat Michigan or Georgia this year, making them 11-1):
Saturday, Dec. 27
Sugar Bowl — 12:00 PM: #1 LSU (13-0) vs. #12 Utah (11-2)
Cotton Bowl — 4:00 PM: #2 Ohio State (13-0) vs. #8 Baylor (11-2)
Orange Bowl — 8:00 PM: #3 Clemson (13-0) vs. #10 Florida (10-2)
Saturday, Dec. 28
Peach Bowl — Noon: #5 Notre Dame (11-1) vs. #11 Penn State (10-2)
Rose Bowl — 4:00 PM: #7 Oregon (11-2) vs. #6 Georgia (11-2)
Fiesta Bowl — 8:00 PM: #4 Oklahoma (12-1) vs. #9 Wisconsin (10-3)
The semi-final games would then be Jan. 4 and the title game would be Jan. 11.
In theory, you’ll have at least six or seven teams with a shot to make the playoff. But if Notre Dame would have beaten either Georgia or Michigan you’d have five teams with a legit playoff resume going into the bowls. An Oregon victory and losses by Notre Dame and Oklahoma would thrust the #7 Ducks into the playoff. A Georgia win over Oregon wouldn't vault the Dogs into the playoff, but Oklahoma beating Wisconsin is far from a shoe-in, and a win by the Badgers and Nittany Lions would then push Georgia into the playoff.
Imagine that, a bunch of SEC fans cheering and rooting for a pair of Big Ten teams to win major bowl games. Georgia fans would spend the afternoon before their game locked into the Peach Bowl, and then as soon as the Rose Bowl is over the Bulldog fans would then have their eyes glued to the Fiesta Bowl.
This is great for the game, its great for the bowl system and its great for TV ratings.
The 2018 season would have had even greater intrigue in these bowl games. Here’s what last year’s matchups would have looked like:
Rose Bowl: #9 Washington (10-3) vs. #5 Georgia (11-2)
Orange Bowl: #2 Clemson (13-0) vs. #11 LSU (9-3)
Fiesta Bowl: #4 Oklahoma (12-1) vs. #7 Michigan (10-2)
Sugar Bowl: #1 Alabama (13-0) vs. #12 Penn State (9-3)
Cotton Bowl: #6 Ohio State (12-1) vs. #10 Florida (9-3)
Peach Bowl: #3 Notre Dame (12-0) vs. #8 UCF (12-0)
Based on that how things played out, a case could be made that #5 Georgia, #6 Ohio State and #8 UCF all would have had a shot to earn a playoff berth based on how the major bowls played out.
Here’s how the 2017 bowl games would have looked like, and again, for Notre Dame purposes, let’s pretend Notre Dame didn’t lay an egg at Stanford to conclude the season.
Rose Bowl: #9 USC (11-2) vs. #6 Wisconsin (12-1)
Orange Bowl: #1 Clemson (12-1) vs. #8 Notre Dame (10-2)
Fiesta Bowl: #2 Oklahoma (12-1) vs. Miami (10-2)
Sugar Bowl: #3 Georgia (12-1) vs. #10 Penn State (10-2)
Cotton Bowl: #5 Ohio State (11-2) vs. #7 Auburn (10-3)
Peach Bowl: #4 Alabama (11-1) vs. #13 UCF (13-0)
How would the committee handle UCF beating Alabama? Would it be enough to vault them up into the playoff if enough other upsets happened? #5 Ohio State, #6 Wisconsin and #8 Notre Dame all would have had a chance to get into the playoff with wins and an upset.
Every single one of those games would have playoff implications. Imagine how many eyes would tune into each of those games.
REGULAR SEASON MATTERS AS MUCH AS THE POSTSEASON
The great thing about this proposal is it would not only keep the regular season as important as it is now - if not add value to it - it would also give teams something to play for beyond the playoff. Conference teams could once again get back to focusing on winning their league. Getting to the major bowl that you are tied into is what will give you a chance to get a playoff bid. You have to get into and play that game to get into the playoff.
You have to win the SEC and win the Sugar Bowl to have a playoff shot. You have to win the Big 10 and win the Cotton Bowl to get into the playoff in most seasons, which I discussed above.
It would keep the regular season as good as it is now, and in my opinion the regular season in college football is the best regular season in sports. It would restore importance to the bowl system as well, and not just the major bowls. A league’s reputation can take a major jump forward, or take a major hit, depending on how the league as a whole does in all the bowls. For example, if the ACC goes into the bowl system with a poor reputation and then goes 5-2 in the bowl games, how does that impact Clemson's strength of schedule? You could make that case for a lot of teams, so you'll have teams rooting for their opponents to win bowl games.
There would be other rules I would change as part of this. I would make caveats to scheduling. I’d require every league to play the same number of conference games, and every team must play at least one Power 5 opponent in the non-conference. For Notre Dame, they’d have to play at least 10 Power 5 opponents to be eligible.
Regarding FCS opponents, teams could only play an in-state FCS program or a FCS program that was ranked in the Top 25 at some point in the previous two seasons, otherwise the game doesn’t count. For example, Florida went 10-2 this year but had two wins over FCS opponents, but neither is from their state, so the excuse/justification of it benefiting fellow in-state programs doesn’t hold water. Towson has been ranked in the Top 25 the last two seasons, so that game counts. Tennessee-Martin has gone 15-19 the last three seasons, so why is Florida playing them? That’s a joke and it should stop, so that game would not count and it would make Florida just 9-2, which could put the Orange Bowl berth I gave them above in jeopardy.
In my opinion this is the best way to expand the number of teams with a chance for the playoff in a way that makes more money, keeps the regular season great and expands the value of the bowl system.
It would add financial value for those who have that as their main priority, but more important it would be great for the game as a whole.
Let me hear your thoughts in the comments section below. What would you prefer? What tweaks would you make to my proposal, or do you have a different proposal? Let's discuss it below.