A week ago in the space we said that if there was ever going to be a serious discussion about an eight-team playoff in college football, these questions needed to be answered first:
Well, well. What a difference a week makes. Thanks to some very good reporting by Nicole Auerbach of The Athletic, it was revealed this week that some of college football’s power brokers, including Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez and Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, believe the time has come to at least start talking about expanding the playoff field from four to eight.
We are in the fifth year in a 12-year contract for the College Football Playoff. At least one Power 5 conference gets left out every year. So why all of this angst now?
There are two reasons, IMO, and both involve the SEC:
1—With Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and LSU in the final Top 11 of the CFP rankings, the SEC has one-third of the 12 slots available in the New Year’s Six Bowls (Sugar, Rose, Cotton, Orange, Fiesta, Peach). The Big 10 (Ohio State, Michigan) and Big 12 (Oklahoma, Texas) have two each while the ACC (Clemson), Pac-12 (Washington), Independents (Notre Dame) and AAC (UCF) have one each. That lineup is a bit too SEC-centric for some people’s tastes.
2—The mere fact that the selection committee even CONSIDERED putting in Georgia (11-2) ahead of Big 12 champ Oklahoma (12-1) or Big Ten champ Ohio State (12-1) apparently freaked a lot of people out.
The UCF issue is certainly a part of this conversation as well.
Now the folks who run the CFP will hold their regularly-scheduled meeting in Santa Clara just before the national championship game on Jan. 7. Bill Hancock, the executive director of the CFP, says this topic is not currently on the agenda. Could that change? We’ll find out.
But this much we do know. As my colleague Mark Blaudschun points out, there never will be any real movement on this issue until Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany and SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey are ready to move.
Until then, let’s have a little fun today.
So you say you want an eight-team playoff? Here are six possible formats, fulling knowing there are others. Each format assumes that the selection committee will choose any at-large teams that may be required.
You are the czar of college football. Which would you chose?
AUTOMATIC QUALIFIERS FOR POWER FIVE CHAMPIONS: Guarantees a spot in the playoffs for each of the power five conference champs which will, IMO, be a deal breaker if not implemented. In short, there is no incentive for the commissioners to blow up the system unless all of the P5s know they are going to get in. The problem is this opens the door for a 3 or 4 loss team to get into the playoffs. There could be a minimum win or minimum ranking rule for a champion to get in. But if Northwestern had beaten Ohio State for the Big Ten championship, are you really going to tell the Wildcats they are not in?
NO AG FOR POWER FIVE CHAMPS: Having no AQs is the only way the CFP could claim that the “eight best teams” were selected for the playoffs. That means that the selection committee would pick and seed all eight teams, which would keep the “political element” in the process. It would not satisfy the fans who want to see the championship “decided on the field.”
AQ FOR THE GROUP OF FIVE CHAMP: There is a reason why the CFP set aside a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl for the highest ranked team in the Group of Five. There has to be some kind of access for the G5 or legal action will surely come. Giving the highest ranked G5 a spot in the playoffs would be simplest solution to the issue. It would not be popular with the P5. It’s one thing to give away a bowl slot. It’s another thing to give away a playoff spot that could go to another P5 team.
NO AQ FOR GROUP OF FIVE CHAMP: The CFP could go back to the BCS days where a G5 school could qualify for one of the big bowls if it met certain criteria. Example: The highest ranked Group of Five would have to be ranked in the final Top 12 in order to qualify for the playoffs. Of course, as soon as the selection committee put the G5 champ at No. 13 there would be charges of collusion and threats of law suits.
CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES: Assuming the conference championship games survive what happens next, it would certainly put some juice into the first Saturday in December. If a playoff bid was riding on every P5 championship game the ratings would certainly be better than they are now.
NO CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES: One plan that has been floated includes doing away with the conference championship games and simply letting regular-season play determine the champion, which was the case before the SEC started this process 1992. Under this plan the first Saturday in December would be the first round of the playoffs played on the campus sites of the top four seeds.
The problem? The commissioners, especially Greg Sankey of the SEC, don’t want to give up the tradition and the payoff that comes with those games. For the SEC, which has been playing the game to hard sellouts for 27 years, this would be a deal breaker.
Now we’ve barely scratched the surface of the possibilities. But as you can tell, there will be difficult decisions to make.
The main question is this: There is discontent with the process, to be sure. But is it enough for change? Remember that people fussed and cussed every year about the BCS, and it lasted 16 years.