College Football Playoff
(Tony Gutierrez/AP Photo)

College Football Playoff Expansion Is Bad for College Football

The College Football Playoff is reportedly considering a proposal to expand the four-team tournament to 12 teams in future iterations.

The proposal does not include guarantees for conference champions. Instead, it calls for the bracket to include the six highest-ranked conference champions, plus the six highest-ranked other teams as determined by the CFP’s selection committee. There would be no limit on the number of participants from a conference, and no league would qualify automatically.

Heather Dinich, ESPN

This proposal is an absolute travesty. It’s ironically doing the exact opposite of what it thinks it’s doing in almost every aspect. Here’s a list of everything I can think of that is wrong with expanding the College Football Playoff.

CFP Expansion Would Ruin the Importance of the Regular Season

Under the current College Football Playoff format, every regular season game matters. A single loss seriously jeopardizes a given team’s chances of being selected for the four-team field. In essence, every game is an elimination game. If your team loses a game, you’re praying the other teams up for CFP consideration drop a game as well. When every game matters, that’s exciting. What’s not exciting is when a team like Ohio State loses to Iowa and it has absolutely zero effect on them whatsoever. A 12-team format just diminishes the value of regular season games. Losing a game or two doesn’t matter as much because the top 12 teams get to the playoffs. Oklahoma can lose to Kansas State and still get in as an 8-seed, which makes such upsets way less exciting.

Traditional Powers Benefit More Than Anyone Else

Doesn’t anyone remember how refreshing it was when Alabama missed out on the CFP in 2020 because they lost two games? All expansion would do is ensure that this never happens again. Alabama is never going to drop out of the top 12 teams in the country, so we’re really just giving them a free ticket into the playoffs every year. This goes hand in hand with diminishing the value of the regular season. Losses don’t mean nearly as much now. Expansion only serves to benefit the traditional powers who would get in anyway. They now have a huge buffer that will 1) protect them from missing out and 2) continue to marginalize Group of 5 teams.

Plus, teams like Alabama and Clemson will get a bye in the newly-formatted tournament every single year. That just gives them an extra week to prepare for an opponent they are already better than. You really want to give Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney more time to scout an opponent? The fact that people think this primarily helps Group of 5 teams is ridiculous to me. It’s the other way around.

This Isn’t Actually Helping Group of 5 Teams, It’s Hurting Them

“It’s not fair that [insert Group of 5 team here] doesn’t get the chance to compete for a national championship.” Sorry I have to be the one to tell you this, but it’s actually extremely fair. You’re telling me that Cincinnati or Coastal Carolina were actually on par with Alabama or Ohio State last year? The fourth team to get into the College Football Playoff is always met with “they don’t deserve to be there.” How is expanding the playoff going to fix that? If you think one of the four CFP teams doesn’t deserve to be there (cough cough Notre Dame), the solution is not to let in eight more teams who also don’t deserve to be there. The number of teams who can realistically win a national championship in a given year is always closer to four than 12.

The format of the proposed expansion isn’t going to help your favorite Group of 5 team, it’s actually going to hurt them. In a 12-team tournament with four byes, it will take a team in the first round three wins to get to the national championship game. That means a Group of 5 team would hypothetically have to win a first round game, then two more games against teams like Alabama or Ohio State that were selected for byes. There’s absolutely zero chance that ever happens. No Group of 5 team is winning those two games back to back. The path for these teams has become even more difficult than before. If an undefeated Group of 5 champion was admitted into the traditional four-team CFP, they would have to win just one game to play for a national championship. Under this new proposal, they now have to win three.

If the CFP Committee truly wants to include G5 schools, why would they make price of inclusion so high?

College Football Is Not College Basketball

So many people supporting College Football Playoff expansion point to the excitement of March Madness. During the NCAA Basketball Tournament, there’s a ton of upsets that spice things up. Why not transfer this concept over to college football?

Uh, because it’s a horrible idea. It doesn’t take a genius analyst to tell you that basketball and football are different sports. The talent gap in football is so much more difficult to overcome than it is in basketball. That’s just the nature of the game. 11-seeds beat 6-seeds all the time in March Madness. The hypothetical 6-vs-11 matchup in last year’s CFP would have been Texas A&M vs. Indiana. If you paid any attention to college football last year, you know Indiana loses that game 10 times out of 10. There’s a handful of schools that have a major leg up in recruiting when it comes to football. Over a whole roster, that sums out to a huge competitive advantage such that the better team will pretty much always win.

I promise you that a 12-team CFP will not be as exciting as March Madness. A Northwestern vs. Cincinnati game really gets you excited for the playoffs? Try again.

Don’t Act Like Athletes Are Going to Sniff Any of This Revenue

I saw some people throw out the idea that the extra revenue generated from more CFP games will help the NCAA pay athletes. That’s laughable. The NCAA isn’t adding more games for the good of the athletes; it’s just another moneymaking scheme. More games equals more TV deals, which equals more money to line the NCAA’s pockets. The NCAA generates $1 billion per year. The additional money they get from a first-round BYU vs. Iowa State game isn’t going to be so significant that they can suddenly start paying athletes. If they really wanted to, they would already be doing that.

Expansion Just Exacerbates the CFP’s Competitive Balance Issue

As it exists, the College Football Playoff already has a major issue with putting together competitive games. The idea that this 12-team format will create for better competition is absurd. We already know who the best teams are. We know that a three-loss Florida team should not get to compete for a national championship. Why are we pretending like Coastal Carolina has any chance against Alabama? It’s such a waste of time.

There’s already major blowouts in the College Football Playoff every single year. Over the history of the CFP, 50% of the semifinal games have been decided by 20 points or more. 71% have been decided by at least 17 points. Only one CFP semifinal has ever gone to overtime. Expanding the playoff field is only asking for more blowouts because of how pronounced the talent gap is between different teams. Why is adding more blowouts a good thing? I don’t want to watch Oklahoma beat the brakes off BYU then have to wait a week to watch Oklahoma get slaughtered by Clemson. Adding more games isn’t going to be more fun, it’s just going to create more competitive balance issues.

The Solution

I completely understand that the Group of 5 teams want a seat at the CFP table, but this proposal is such a disingenuous way to do that and makes things unbelievably more difficult for them. As it stands, I don’t think the four-team CFP is perfect, but it’s way better than a 12-team CFP. I can think of three changes off the top of my head to fix some of the complaints people have with the current playoff format.

Decrease the Number of Bowl Games?

As it stands, there are way too many postseason bowl games. If you decrease the number of bowls, then it actually feels like an accomplishment to be selected for and win one. This would help the issue of schools feeling snubbed from the College Football Playoff and Group of 5 teams might view bowl selection as a real honor rather than a lame consolation prize. Or, if you don’t want to decrease the number of bowls, make the requirements for qualifying for one more stringent. Up the win requirement from six to seven. Do something to make bowl games feel like an actual reward.

Institute a Group of 5 Championship Game or G5 Automatic Qualifier?

I’m not trying to disrespect Group of 5 teams, but it’s clear they aren’t able to compete with the Alabamas and Clemsons of the world. We already view the Group of 5 as a separate tier for that reason. I would say the only real Group of 5 snub we’ve seen in the seven years of the CFP was 2017 UCF. Other than that, the G5 issue isn’t as big a deal as everyone wants to make it out to be. One option is to create a Group of 5 Championship game.

Alternatively, they could have a four-team G5 playoff where the winner gets the No. 4 seed in the CFP. That way, we get unique teams in the playoffs, the Group of 5 schools get a chance to compete, and we don’t have to watch the SEC Championship loser get into the playoffs every year. This feels like a win-win for everyone. No need to add eight teams to the tournament.

One-Year CFP Bans for Schools that Get Blown Out?

You want interesting? Here’s an off-the-wall idea. If a team gets absolutely waxed in a CFP semifinal (like Oklahoma or Notre Dame seem to almost every year they get in), institute a penalty for their poor performance. I don’t want to see these teams in the playoff year after year with the same result. To spice it up, give teams a one-year CFP ban for getting slaughtered. That way, at least we might get some new teams and maybe the complaint that we see the same teams all the time will die down a little.

At the end of the day, a 12-team CFP isn’t the answer. It’s not actually helpful to the Group of 5 teams that want to be included, and all it really does is serve to protect traditional powerhouses. There are ways to give everyone a fair shot other than diluting the playoffs with teams that have no business being there.

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