Almost immediately before the college football season began, the NCAA College Football Playoff Board of Managers unanimously approved a proposal to expand the playoff from four teams to 12.
Under the new format, six conference winners would receive an automatic bid to the playoff. The remaining six teams would get in via at-large bids. For example, in 2021, Michigan State would have played Ohio State in the first round. Additionally, MSU would have made the new playoff six times since 1999.
Both fans and media personnel have differing opinions on expansion. Some think expanding the playoff system would alter college football in terrible ways and should be avoided. Others wanted expansion, but less teams. Some want to go an extra mile and bring 16 teams to the dance. Some see 12 teams as the perfect solution.
At The Only Colors, we have differing opinions, too. Some don’t want to see college football expansion at all. On the other side, if you’re like me, you want more than 12. Some argue about whether they want 12 teams or if there’s a better format to use.
Here are our staff roundtable thoughts.
Verdict: More football, who would hate it?
Honestly, I don’t feel strongly about any one particular format (eight-team, 12-team, 16-team, etc.), or about playoff expansion in general, but I would say I am generally in favor of it overall. College football is an ever-changing landscape, so why not embrace it? I think the four-team playoff product has gotten a bit stale — every year it’s essentially the same six schools (Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma) fighting for four spots, and yes a program like Michigan State, Washington or Cincinnati has snuck in before, but there is not much parity in which teams are winning championships.
Now, of course, expanding the College Football Playoff to 12 teams will still include all of the aforementioned usual suspects, as losing two or even three games won’t hurt them. However, there will be more opportunity for upsets with an expanded field, and I think the idea of playing playoff games on college campuses is pretty cool (although, that is no longer certain to happen). I think it also generates a lot more buzz for the postseason — rather than watching two Group of Five teams play a low-tier, mid-December bowl game in Florida, for example, you can now watch playoff football at the college level during the second or third week of December.
I think the proposed 12-team format — it includes the six highest-ranked conference champions and six at-large bids, with the four highest-ranked conference champions getting the top-four seeds and a first-round bye, and the remaining eight teams playing with the higher seeds hosting the lower seeds — makes total sense to me.
However, expanding the playoff is about one thing only for these decision-makers: money. According to CBS Sports, a 12-team playoff format has been valued at $1.2 billion annually, up from $600 million with the current four-team structure.
Verdict: 12 is just right
I think they got it right with the format. Less than 12 is probably too small to satisfy everyone, though there are never truly 12 teams title worthy (there aren’t 68 basketball teams, either, after all). Taking the six-highest ranked conference champs gives smaller leagues a guaranteed “in” and even an opportunity to beat out a particularly bad power conference for two group-of-five bids any year, and doesn’t make a conference title pointless.
On-campus games for the first round are a nice touch for purists of the sport, even if it is a huge logistics hurdle (including lots of money needing spent for weatherproofing upgrades) for half the country. Keeping the existing bowls for later rounds helps solve that issue, though they should keep the title game out of those venues as a result.
Verdict: 12 is too many, eight is enough
I have thought about the expansion of the college football playoffs a fair amount, and I even ran a few simulations on tournaments of different sizes. What I learned from this is that while 12 teams would likely be a lot of fun, there is really no reason to expand the tournament to beyond eight teams.
I would prefer automatic bids for the champions of each Power Five conference, the highest ranked Group of Five teams and two at-large teams. If we consider that each conference has a championship game, there is still “access” for over 12 teams in this format. Four tournament rounds is simply too many, and teams ranked No. 7, No. 8 or No. 9 frankly do not deserve to participate.
In my perfect playoff, the bracketing principles would also prioritize the traditional bowl matchups and they would absolutely prioritize avoiding rematches within the same season. This is the least logical part of the current proposal. I would also cancel all bowl contracts and empower the committee to assign teams to bowls to create interesting and compelling matchups. The NCAA should seriously just let me handle this. I will set the whole thing up for half of what they paying the Selection Committee members. My DMs are open.
Verdict: Is 12 enough?
Just take it to 16. We’re headed there anyway, aren’t we?
Sure, the same characters will show up on a yearly basis — Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, Oklahoma. I’m all for expanding the playoff. In most cases, expansion can be good. I also don’t think we’ve given enough consideration to whether a team like Michigan State, Oregon, or others can win a national championship.
Personally, I would go the whole nine yards and revamp the entire college football season: move bowl games to the preseason for an entire week of college football chaos, implement rules requiring teams to schedule at least one team from a major conference to be eligible for the playoff, take away games against FCS opponents. These are obviously radical ideas that may never see time in any college football boardroom, but if expansion is bad for the sport, maybe your sport is broken. I think college football is. The same three or four teams winning every year isn’t healthy.
So what if the same teams win every year? Why even have a playoff game? Just crown Alabama the champion before the season even begins. My point exactly.
Verdict: 12 is too much
I am against expanding the playoff to 12 teams. I think that is way too much. The maximum amount of teams that the College Football Playoff should expand to is six. As teams in the playoff increase, the value of the regular season decreases. The same way as if we print more money, the value of each dollar bill decreases.
The four-team playoff created a mentality within players and fan bases that if they don’t make the playoff, it is a failed season. That is prevalent nowadays with players opting out of bowl games frequently. Throughout the history of college football that has never been the case.
Expanding the playoff to 12 teams will devalue the regular season. It will not spread top recruits around either. The best recruits will still go to the best programs. That will never change.
Verdict: Good for the sport
I think the expansion will be a boon for secondary football programs with strong traditions and good brands, if not elite football programs such as Notre Dame, Michigan, Florida and others.
The differences between the haves and the have-nots in college football will not be mitigated by the new playoff format immediately, if at all. There will still be monumental blowouts in the early rounds of the playoffs. I see the committee trying to offset that by putting in teams at large with strong brands and followings to create “helmet games” that will draw large television audiences. If the comments made by Gary Barta last year about disregarding the results of games are instructive, this format could be very frustrating for Spartan fans in the future.