Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Will the College Football Playoff expand?

It seems as if it's on a path to do so:

The proposal for a 12-team College Football Playoff cleared another hurdle Tuesday when the 11 presidents and chancellors who have the ultimate authority over the format authorized the 10 FBS commissioners to "begin a summer review phase" to determine the feasibility of an expanded field and work on the details of how and when it might be implemented.

This was an important step in the process, as the playoff couldn't expand without the support of the presidents and chancellors who make up the CFP's board of managers. The group, which has "authority over all aspects of the company's operations," includes a representative from each of the 10 FBS conferences, along with the Notre Dame president, the Rev. John Jenkins.

With some of the most powerful people in college football now backing further exploration of the proposed 12-team format, it seems to be a matter of when -- not if -- the postseason will grow again, but those within the room continue to caution that this is a long, unpredictable process. The board of managers and management committee aren't expected to meet again until Sept. 28.

The CFP's working group unveiled the 12-team proposal earlier this month, and presented the proposal to conference commissioners last week. The conference commissioners, in turn, blessed it and presented it to the board of managers yesterday. 

As currently proposed, the expanded playoff would include the six highest-ranked conference champions – notably, there would be no limit on the number of participants from a single conference, and no league would qualify automatically – and six at-large teams. The top four seeds of the 12-team playoff would receive first-round byes while fifth through twelfth seeds would play the first round at the home stadium of the higher seed. The quarterfinal and semifinal games would be hosted by the current “New Year’s Six” bowls (Cotton, Fiesta, Orange, Peach, Rose and Sugar) and the final would be at another neutral location.

By virtue of six conference champions being included in this proposal, at least one team from the so-called “Group of Five” conferences would be able to participate in the playoff. This is of obvious benefit to G5 schools (such as Houston), because up until now no G5 school had a realistic chance of participating in the playoff. Under these proposed rules, the Cougars would have made the playoff after the 2015 season, and last year two G5 schools (Coastal Carolina and Cincinnati) would have gotten in ahead of the Pac-12 champion.

Expansion of the CFP is long overdue. While it was definitely an improvement over the corrupt Bowl Championship Series, the four-team playoff has quickly become stale. The same teams seem to participate every year (such that it's earned the nickname of "Alabama-Clemson Invitational") and television viewership has declined accordingly. Expanding the playoff will make it more interesting to more people, and it will also give a sense of hope and inclusion to programs and players that have been excluded from the process so far. 

As John Romano of the Tampa Bay Times notes, "The first year will involve more teams than we’ve seen in the entire seven-year history of the current College Football Playoff monopoly:"

Yup, the current four-team format has had 28 openings since it was introduced in 2014 but, because the field is so limited annually, only 11 schools have gotten invitations. That means more than 90% of college football’s Division I-A programs have had their faces pressed to the window for seven long years.

To put that in perspective, only 3% of NFL teams have failed to earn a playoff berth during that same timeframe.

Ultimately, that’s what this proposal is all about. It’s about cash, too, of course. And television ratings, stadium expansions, athletic budgets, bowl games and cocktail parties, as well.

But for the average fan of the average program, it’s about hope and relevance. Two of the rarest commodities in college football.

Of course, just because there are more teams in the playoff doesn't mean that the same handful of teams (Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma, Ohio Stare) are not going to continue to dominate it. And it's also worth mentioning that, as long as the CFP rankings committee continues to rank teams through an opaque, closed-door process, G5 schools will likely continue to get screwed.

However, the new playoff proposal means that, if Boise State or Central Florida or Coastal Carolina or even, yes, Houston has a great season and wins their conference, they have a legitimate shot at the playoff and (theoretically at least) a national championship. That's more than can be said for these schools today, and that's also something they can tell recruits.

The expanded playoff proposal can still change between now and this fall, and the earliest CFP expansion can happen is 2023. But right now, things are looking pretty good for a more interesting, and  more inclusive, end to the college football season. 

Dennis Dodd lists the winners and losers of the CFP expansion proposal, and Jerry Palm adds his thoughts. Slate's Jason Kirk thinks the expanded playoff will transform the sport, while CFN's Pete Fiutak thinks the proposal "is a solid plan." Of course, the Supreme Court's Alston v NCAA decision, also released yesterday, might destroy college sports as we know it, therefore rendering all of this moot. 

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