Should the College Football Playoff be expanded?

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Sports writer Drew Hill discusses why he believes that the College Football Playoff should be expanded.

DREW HILL

In early June, a 12-team playoff format was proposed by a subgroup from the College Football Playoff (CFP) management committee. This new plan would build on the current four team format and give spots for the top six conference champions, as well as six “wild card” teams. The top four conference champions would get first-round byes, and the other eight would begin play in seeded games. Yet the plan to expand has halted as the conference commissioners cannot agree on whether to continue or not.

The current playoff of four teams is supported by some. However, there are some serious flaws. For one thing, an exclusive tier of elites has ruled college football. For example, only 11 teams have made the Playoff since it last expanded in 2014. Out of those eleven teams, three—Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State—have won 17 of 21 playoff games. Clemson and Alabama have won five out of the last six championships. Furthermore, some teams are excluded. The only team that has appeared in the CFP that is not from a Power Five Conference is Notre Dame, an independent. Central Florida, Coastal Carolina, Cincinnati and Western Michigan have all gone undefeated since the Playoff was expanded but have been denied a spot because of the conference they are from. Expansion would reduce this dominance because it is harder to win three or four games than two.

Other concerns with the current state of the CFP are the fact that it discourages good matchups early in the season. To get to the Playoff, highly-ranked teams fear the risks of scheduling games with other ranked teams because a loss in the first game of the season could jeopardize a playoff berth. Talented players often opt out of bowl games to avoid injury to prepare for the NFL draft. However, players playing for a championship rarely opt out, giving fans a more talented game. 

There are some objections to expansion. Some view perfection as college football’s defining characteristic. With even one loss, a team’s position in the CFP would be extremely jeopardized. This can also be a bad thing, however, as teams may shy away from scheduling challenging matchups or may be eliminated despite being an able challenger. Also, even when a non-Power Five team has achieved perfection with an undefeated season, they have always been denied a spot, usually losing their spot to a one-loss Power Five team. Another objection is an increased risk of injuries due to a longer season. However, FCS already uses a 24 team playoff, and the NFL plays 17 games and then has a 14 team playoff.

The most important reason to expand is to give more teams a chance to contend for a playoff. Teams that currently are relegated to bowl games despite going undefeated or playing a difficult schedule would have that chance. Even if they were blown out by a powerhouse team, it still is more satisfying to give an effort for a championship than simply win a bowl game.

The CFP should take a hint from the most popular American sports tournament of all: the NCAA basketball tournament, which features 68 teams. It is time for the CFP Board of Managers to take action.