As the 2021 college football season is set to get underway on the final weekend in August, one question continues to be on the mind of fans, players, coaches, and anyone with a connection to the sport. Should the College Football Playoff expand?
A better question may be how many teams should a newly expanded playoff include? Or even better, how exactly should the CFP expand? These are all great questions, but it appears the one thing that appears to be a certainty is that the CFP committee is going to expand. So, should they?
The biggest reason for expanding the current CFP model comes down to one thing – money. There are millions of dollars to be made by increasing the number of teams, and therefore the number of games, in the playoff. The revenue generated eventually feeds back to the conferences and, ultimately, every FBS program. That’s a good thing.
With the money issue out of the way, there are other reasons for CFP expansion. One is more conference representation. The CFP is only seven years old. That equates to 28 bids to play for a national title. Only 11 teams have been involved thus far and of those 11 Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, and Oklahoma own 20 of those 28 bids.
An expansion of the playoff to say eight teams would likely mean that each Power 5 conference champion would earn a spot. Two more teams, not conference champions, but worthy of a shot would be selected by the CFP committee and the final team would be the best of the Group of 5.
Using 2020 as an example, Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma, and Oregon would have represented the Power 5 conferences. The highest-ranked Group of 5 team was Cincinnati, which was definitely deserving of an opportunity to play for a national title after going 9-0. The committee would then have had to choose from among a handful of teams – Notre Dame, Iowa State, Texas A&M, and a few others – for the other two spots.
Any expansion of the CFP would also mean home playoff games. The current four-team format puts the national semifinals as part of the six major bowl games. That means they are played at neutral sites. Any expansion would change the current schedule and likely mean that first-round games would be played at the home of the higher-seeded team.
In a sports culture that loves playoffs, home playoff games would feed the college football frenzy. If the NFL, NBA, and other college sports have playoffs, why not college football? It’s what sports fans are used to and it allows for more competition. Fans could eventually tire of watching Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, and Oklahoma playing each other every year for a national title.
One of the biggest arguments against any expansion of college football’s playoff system is the number of games played and the length of the season. Teams that play for championships typically play 14 and 15 games in a season. They play in conference championship games before playing in the CFP. A season begins with training camp in early August. Some teams will play into January. That’s a long time for amateur athletes.
Expanding the playoff may also make mediocrity acceptable. Expanding to just eight teams will put teams with at least two losses into the CFP. Expanding to 16 teams could mean a four-loss entrant into a playoff to win a national championship. Is a two-, three-, or four-loss team deserving of a bid to play for the national championship?
In reality, in any given season there are only two or three teams that are capable of winning a national championship. Right now, it just so happens that those two to three teams are usually Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State or Oklahoma. And guess what? Oklahoma’s record in the CFP is 0-4. In fact, No. 4 seeds are just 2-5 overall and the five losses have been by a margin of 20 points.
Expanding the playoff field would only decrease the importance of the regular season too. With three or four losses being acceptable to make the playoff, games like Alabama-Miami or Georgia-Clemson in the regular season don’t really mean as much. One of the things that make college football so great is the importance of each individual game. Playoff expansion kills that.
A four-team playoff may not be perfect. A six-, eight-, or even sixteen-team version will not be perfect either.