Debate heats up over expanding college football playoff to eight teams

By Randy Belk
Dec. 13, 2018

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

This week the debate has heated up for expanding the college football playoff to eight teams. An article written this week by The Athletic says that there is a push from some power brokers in college football to get the playoffs expanded to eight teams by 2020. Eventually expanding to an eight team playoff is very likely, but it might be asking for too much to make it happen by 2020. There are a lot of hurdles to overcome to make an eight team playoff happen in two years.

First of all there will need to be an extra game added for the playoff teams with two teams playing up to 16 games. Conference championship games will need to be eliminated in order to keep the number of games where they are now or scale back the regular season by one game. Do you think the SEC is willing to give up their SEC championship gold mine? This years championship game between Alabama and Georgia was tv's highest rated regular season game in the last seven years. Remember when the Big 10 and Pac 12 would not budge for years and years to allow someone other than one of their schools to play in the Rose Bowl in order for a true national championship to take place before the BCS? With Alabama showing no signs of slowing down and Georgia looking like they will stay elite for years to come, the SEC will not want to allow those possible huge profitable match ups go away easily. The SEC championship is not going away in the next two years. So the only option I see is adding an extra game. December is finals time for most student athletes so that has to be considered also. The other option is to play one less regular season game. Again money is the driving force and schools will not be willing to give up twelve games to play eleven games. Many teams have to play six or seven home games to make enough money to keep their athletic programs going. Football is their cash cow. Can the expanded playoffs come up with enough money to pay all schools to give up a regular season game?

I know many people say all the other divisions of college football have at least a 16 team expanded playoffs and says if it works there it will work in the highest division of college football. But in reality that is comparing apples to oranges because of the traditions of the bowl games and the money that these schools make under the current system in the FBS. Money is the biggest driving force. The power five conferences are going to have to find some sort of agreement to marry the bowls and conference championship games into any playoff expansion because the bowls are not going away and I dont see the conference championship games going away any time soon. Now we have 40 bowl games. Once something gets expanded it is very hard to scale it back. An expanded playoff system will have to come up with a more profitable model than the existing model and still include the bowl games and be able to get all five power conferences on board. It is not as easy as it sounds on the surface.

When the playoffs eventually get expanded to eight teams in the future I hope they do not give an automatic bid to conference champions. I have heard from the ESPN talking heads and many on sports talk radio that most want a model with each of the power five conference champions as automatic qualifiers, the highest rated non power five school as automatic qualifier and two wild card teams who are the highest ranked. That model can lead to disastrous results. With that model this year it was possible that we could have ended up with a four loss Northwestern team and a five loss Pittsburgh team as conference champions in the playoffs. Do we want teams with three or more losses in an eight team playoff? I don't. My model would include any conference champion as an automatic qualifier if they are ranked inside the top ten of a committee ranking. A non power five team would also have to be ranked inside the top ten by the playoff committee rankings to be an automatic qualifier. Any power five team that won a conference championship but does not make the top ten would not qualify for the playoffs. That spot would be taken by another wild card team that is the highest ranked team inside the top ten that did not win a conference championship.

Finally, I don't trust AP writers to not include politics and crazy theories in their voting for the playoff teams. For example this week I read that someone did not vote for a top ten Tennessee team in the top 25 in basketball after they just defeated number one Gonzaga on a neutral court while Tennessee only has one loss this year to Kansas. His justification? "I can't vote someone into the top 25 until they win a true road game". If you read twitter on a regular basis, you can see why a playoff should not be put in the hands of some of the sports writers. Most sports writers try do their homework to make the best decision but some sports writers don't have time to see many games so they cant give an accurate gauge in their voting and then we have sports writers like the one who left a top ten Tennessee basketball team out of the top 25 this week because of a radical method. Keep it in a qualified committee's hands to decide the eight playoff teams.

For now the four team playoff is not broken. In the five years the four team playoff has been in place there has not been a strong argument that any team left out of the playoffs had a good chance to win the national championship. Make sure we get any expansion of the playoffs right and it rewards the "best" teams that are most deserving and qualified with a solid resume for the playoffs. Not reward a team that has a mediocre year with three or four losses and has one great game to win a conference championship.