Every year the discussion of expanding the college football playoffs comes up, but this year there seems to be a groundswell that includes some of the game’s most influential figures.
On Tuesday, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany told Nicole Auerbach of The Athletic that the Big Ten would welcome discussions when it comes to possible playoff expansion.One of the reasons Delany may be open to discussions now is because his conference has been shut out of the playoffs the last three seasons. Penn State in 2016 and Ohio State the last two seasons suffered losses bad enough for them to not get in the playoff.
Those cries have grown even more as the SEC and ACC have reached the playoff in every season, sometimes getting two teams from the same conference in the playoff.
The current College Football Playoff format is supposed to exist until the contract is up in 2026, but with the ongoing outcry that could be changing sooner rather than later.
So, it possibly has turned into a matter of not if we will expand the college football playoff but when will it happen and how many teams will get in. Well, I’ve crafted five different ways college football can find a way to “properly crown” their national champion.
Option No. 1: Keep it at four teams (stay as is)
Keep it simple? Well, it’s not as easy as we thought it was a few years ago.
Making the playoff is like getting an invite to the prom. After a while, you’re going to be bitter that you didn’t get an invite to the prom (I never had that issue). However, if the Big Ten had made it in from some time between 2016 and this season, are we having this discussion? Four teams has worked out, even if not all of the conferences are represented.
Positives: Simple way to get the four best teams and have a championship game within 10 days. You also get matchups you may normally not see and now they’re at the most prestigious bowl games.
Negatives: Teams ranked No. 5 and 6 will complain. You could be leaving out a conference champion and not every conference is represented.
Option No. 2: Expand to six teams (minimal expansion)
Five and six, you’re in the club!
From the end of October to the beginning of December, we see the top six teams on that ESPN graphic and on bowl selection Sunday, teams ranked outside the top four can’t reach the playoff. Well if ESPN and the CFP committee want to show that top six graphic so much, then expand the playoff to six teams. The top two teams get a bye into the semifinals and you would have a 4 vs. 5 and 3 vs. 6 matchup. Seems pretty doable in the current bowl format.
Positives: More football is not a bad thing and a six-team playoff would almost guarantee a majority of the power five conference champions would have some representation. You would also get the two teams who would normally be left out at five and six into the playoff. Mostly, everybody wins.
Negatives: Teams ranked seven and eight now have a beef and not all of the power five conference champions would be represented. With expansion to six teams, you would also start to hear the “group of five” have their highest ranked team represented, looking at you Central Florida.
Option No. 3: An eight-team playoff (The People’s Choice)
Give the people (not me) what they want!
This seems to be the safest route considered by fans, coaches and the college football establishment. Eight teams in a playoff would come with the guarantee that every power five conference champion gets in. The three remaining teams would be the highest ranking schools in the poll that don’t have a conference title. Here is what it would look like in an eight team model I’ve created.
- All power five champions get in.
- Three highest ranked schools get in as at-large schools (unbeaten Central Florida over Michigan for obvious reasons).
- Seed teams 1-8:
- 1. Alabama (SEC) vs. 8. Washington (Pac-12)
- 2. Clemson (ACC) vs. 7. Central Florida (at-large)
- 3. Notre Dame (at-large) vs. Ohio State (Big Ten)
- 4. Oklahoma (Big 12) vs. Georgia (at-large)
Positives: You expand the field and everybody seems to be happy. All power five schools get representation and even the group of five has a seat at the table if they are ranked high enough. You can still work within the current bowl structure and possibly make the first round games on campus to give the top four seeds home-field advantage.
Negatives: Getting all five power five schools in is great idea but what if there is an upset in the conference title game? For example, Pitt who was 7-6 on the season were to defeat an undefeated Clemson in the ACC title game do we put the Panthers in the playoff? A team who had been ranked once in the CFP rankings all year gets in the playoff? I don’t see that happening.
Not saying it is going to happen but there seems to be movement in a restructured playoff to have all of the conferences represented, this could be something the committee has to deal with.
Option No. 4: A 16-team playoff (aggressive expansion)
Let’s get weird? Let’s get weird.
You will have some proponents for an eight-team playoff tell you that eight is truly not enough. While some stop at 12. Sorry to those of you who want 12, but 16 is the more ambitious number.
You are guaranteed that all of your conference champions from the power conferences are in and your group of five champion is in as well. You would also have room for teams like Washington State, LSU and Kentucky, teams who had good seasons and are rewarded with a playoff appearance.
Positives: Further expansion of the field, you create a “College Football Sweet 16” (they’ll trademark the hell out of that) and you’re guaranteed four weeks of top-level college football.
Negatives: You all but kill the decades-long bowl system (that may be a positive for some) and you more than likely end conference championship games across the board. Also, we remember these players are supposed to be student-athletes. Some may not be in favor of that, especially if the players aren’t being paid.
Option No. 5: The FCS 24-team playoff model
If the little guys can do it? Why can’t the the big boys?
The FCS schools have used this model for a while and it seems to work out just fine. For those who don’t know how it works, this is what a bowl-free FCS postseason looks like.
- 24 schools
- All 10 conference champions get in
- 14 at-large bids
- Top eight teams get a bye
In this case for the FBS schools, you would see a Sun Belt Conference Champion get in and a team that finished fourth or fifth in a major conference could very well be left out.
Positives: Every conference champion is valued and respected. So winning your conference title and getting in the playoff carries the same weight in the Big Ten as much as it does in the Mountain West. Plus, schools who had a great season are still rewarded with an at-large bid.
Negatives: Total overhaul to the current FBS football structure. They’ve operated separately from the FCS for so long and have dug in their heels on so many things. While going to this model would benefit all conferences involved, a lot of college football tradition would go by the wayside. We all know how much college football clings to tradition.
There is a major discussion looming on the state of college football and its playoff, how long can the establishment hang onto tradition while looking toward the future?