Big Ten Playbook: Why an eight-team playoff is coming soon. And why that's a good thing.

We’re at that point in the college-football season where the arguments about who’s worthy, and who’s not, of joining Alabama in the Final Four, really become heated.

Gould Headshot square

How to solve it: It’s as simple as 2-3-4.

The arguments are not confined to discussions about Louisville and Clemson, Ohio State and Michigan, Washington and Oklahoma.

I love the Barry Alvarez conspiracy theories, too—the ones that apparently believe the Wisconsin AD has enough magical clout to inflate the Big Ten’s influence. I don’t know enough about them to debunk them. But I’ll debunk them, anyway, by saying, `This is America. Everyone is free to manipulate the system.’

When No. 2 Clemson, No. 3 Michigan and No. 4 Washington all went down on Saturday, that neat little unbeaten-four package went out the College Football Playoff committee’s office window.

And in came the arguments.

Well, gather round. And let Uncle Herb explain to you how to take the quandary out of the conundrum.

Just let the champion from each league advance. It’s a concept so basic that it pre-dates the original ancient-Greece Olympics—you know, the ones where they had naked wrestling but not beach volleyball.

David beats Goliath. David advances. No committee needed.

Yes, there is the little issue of five leagues and eight slots.

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We’re getting closer and closer to what Uncle Herb has been advocating for nearly 25 years: An eight-team playoff is the best place for college football to end up.

And it will happen sooner than later—not because it’s best, but because the people who run college football will not be able to resist the cash that will come with it.

This process may appear Darwinian, in the evolutionary sense. But it owes more to the capitalism of Adam ``Wealth of [College Football] Nations’’ Smith.

Briefly, here’s the evolution: In 1994, Penn State went unbeaten, but finished second because the Big Ten’s Rose Bowl obligation kept it from meeting Nebraska for the national championship.

So the Big Ten made the Pac-10 and the Rose Bowl an offer they couldn’t refuse, and the Rose Bowl troika joined the hated BCS, which matched the nation’s two ``best’’ teams, and never mind that arriving at the two best was filled with controversy.

That was a revenue-booster.

After years of arguing that the college football world as we know it would end if there was a four-team playoff, it happened—and the same people who told me I was wrong in thinking an eight-team playoff was best now admit that a four-team playoff is pretty cool.

It’s also a big revenue-booster.

Many of these skeptical people still insist that an eight-teamer really will be the end.

I expect that within five to 10 years, they will admit that an eight-team playoff was the way to go. Maybe they’ll even congratulate me for my evolutionary foresight, although I doubt it.

Until then, I’m going to root around for my early ‘90s columns that pushed for the then-radical, if not ridiculous, establishment of an eight-team playoff.


First of all, it won’t hurt the regular season. As we have seen with the four-team field, schools are scheduling wonderful nonconference matchups that improve strength of schedule and are amazingly entertaining.

That will continue with eight teams. It may even grow. Because a strong nonconference schedule will help prepare teams for their league races.

Second, an eight-team playoff opens the door to my original cornerstone: Win your league and you are in. And worthy runners-up also are in. Plus the occasional Group of Five over-achiever, and the occasional Notre Dame.

Yes, a committee, complete with stats and eye-tests, still will be needed to select the remaining three playoff teams. But if you didn’t win your league and you get left out, the answer is simple: You didn’t win your league. Shut up.

Think of how this would enliven the Big 12 this fall.

Third, an eight-team playoff does not require radical scheduling change. Instead of the current two New Year’s winners advancing, there would be four. The two semifinals would come a week later, around the time this Jan. 9 championship game is played.

And then, I like the idea of playing the championship game in the Super Bowl city, a week before the Super Bowl. That would give the two finalists time to rest up and prepare.


What I absolutely would not want is games on campus in December.

I still like and support the bowl experience. And sending a team to Tuscaloosa or Ann Arbor in December is not a bowl experience.

Also, there is the argument that another game is too much wear-and-tear on college athletes. OK. Let’s go back to 11 regular-season games. That would benefit far more athletes than adding what amounts to two more games.


Who would be in an eight-team playoff if we were setting it up today?

Let’s go with these five league champions, with their current CFP ranking: No. 1 Alabama, No. 3 Michigan, No. 4 Clemson, No. 6 Washington, No. 9 Oklahoma.

And let’s say the committee picks these three at-larges to fill out the bracket: No. 2 Ohio State, No. 5 Louisville and No. 21 Western Michigan. (Because the Group of Five is likely to get a seat at the big-boy table if it runs its table.)

Yup. I know. Ohio State and Michigan could turn into Ohio State and Penn State/Wisconsin, depending on how the Big Ten championship game goes. Or Ohio State could get left out etc.

But that’s why an eight-team playoff is cool. All of the games still matter.

You win your league, you’re in. The committee fills out the last three slots. And the committee seeds the playoff, avoiding rematches and first-round conference matchups.

So here’s the hypothetical bracket:

No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 8 Western Michigan

No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 7 Oklahoma

No. 3 Ohio State vs. No. 6 Louisville

No. 4 Michigan vs. No. 5 Washington

Yes, there are lots of things that can be nit-picked. The minimum standard for the Western Michigans/Boise States of the world. . . . Tweaking the seeds when setting up the bracket (which hasn’t hurt the NCAA basketball tournament) to keep conference rivals apart. . . . Deciding how much weight to give conference champions once they're in. . .

In other words, there’s still plenty of stuff to argue about. Which is one of the many appeals of college football.

There can be no argument here, though: Money talks. An eight-team playoff will happen soon.

And that’s not a bad thing.[/membership]