College Football Playoff Expansion

Underdog Programs Finally Get Big Break?

With news having broken of the College Football Playoff’s likely expansion – and to 12 teams (!) – the college football world is abuzz with what it could or should look like as far as where games get played and what it will mean for the sport as a whole when (and still if) it happens two seasons from now.

According to a number of reports, it will include automatic bids for the Power 5 conferences (ACC, Big 10, Big 12, PAC 12 & SEC) plus one more automatic bid for the best champion of the Group of 5 conferences (AAC, CUSA, MAC, Mountain West & Sun Belt). Then – with 6 at large bids, there could be the possibility of another G5 team in some years getting in, space for Notre Dame or even BYU but – more likely – the second and sometimes even third best teams from the best P5 conferences.

How this will impact week-in/week-out rankings or whether there would be a cap on how many teams could get in from one conference is not yet clear but here are five major things that jump out to me about this playoff expansion:

1.     It’s great for plucky underdog programs like…Ohio State, Alabama, Oklahoma…Notre Dame…okay, okay, my tongue is firmly planted in cheek but here’s the deal - Alabama ain’t missing the playoff if you let 12 teams in. You’re giving the Tide, the Buckeyes, and for that matter the Georgia Bulldogs and Florida Gators a huge mulligan – they can lose probably two games, especially if it’s close to good competition – and still get in. Once talent-laden teams get in, watch out! I was always for going to just 8 – but the more I reflect on it as an Alabama fan, the warmer I get to the idea.

2.     It has the potential to really jump off the screen and engage more casual viewers. For starters, the apparent plan to have the first round between teams 5-12 be played on campus of the higher seeded teams is phenomenal. The atmosphere will be off the charts and, since the first round is likely to played in mid-December, there’s potential for interesting weather in at least half the country.

3.     Unlike some of my favorite college football prognosticators and writers (looking at you Dan Wetzel and Pat Forde - love them both) – I am glad that the bowls will still be a part of this arrangement for the Final 4. I think making the entire playoff non-bowl would further relegate non-playoff bowl games, which are an important part of the sport for the middle of the pack programs fighting for relevance, to an even worse sideshow and make them like the NIT in college basketball – even for junkie fans like me.

4.     When I first heard the idea of 12 teams a few months ago – my initial reaction was that it could come dangerously close to devaluing regular season (as I alluded to a little in point #1). However, with the top 4 teams getting a bye week – that’s a huge incentive to finish undefeated and be conference champion because you’re in and likely in top 4. Secondly, this will actually enhance action in the second half of the year all over the country, including the G5 because teams that may have lost a couple of early non-conference games are still in contention for conference title – which is an automatic bid. Finally – having 12 teams ensures that a 3 loss conference champion isn’t getting in to an 8 team playoff and excluding a very good 1 loss conference runner up in most cases.

5.     The NCAA really needs to get their act together on a uniform NIL (name, image and likeness) law. (Shameless self-promotion - See Glenn Clark’s excellent writeup at Press Box Online of the Maryland legislation that I and Delegate Lierman passed this Session.) Teams that make the final game will end up playing as many as 16 or even 17 games. Even teams that lose in final 4 will have played 15-16. That’s a whole NFL season – and adding these games in mid-December is right in the middle of finals which used to be considered a sacrosanct time for “student-athletes”. They need to be able to market themselves and be compensated for their name, image and the exposure they are bringing to their respective universities.

All in all – while I have some concerns about jumping to 12 from 4, they have two plus years to figure this out and I believe it will bring a lot of fresh energy to the sport at a time when its needed. Looking forward to it!

Check back next week as we discuss some older news that broke in the Spring about an underrated, program-building legend retiring and ranking some of the great “construction” coaches of the past 40 years.