"Two, four, six, eight....let's expand because it's great!"
The College Football Playoff folks have a scheduled meeting next week and there are reports the group is ready to seriously consider expanding the current format of four at-large teams. While Yahoo's Pete Thamel reported that many athletic directors feel 12 teams seems like a number most might agree on, there are many options being considered. But what appears to be on the way is a plan to have more than four teams.
Almost two months ago, I suggested the College Football Playoff should expand to 11 teams.
So let's look at some of the key items about expanding the playoff:
--The pandemic saw many large brands of college sports lose tens of millions in revenue and the quickest way to make money is to get media partners to pay more and right now, they appear to be willing to pay more for more playoff games.
--The need for variety. While an expanded playoff may mean more appearances for Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson but also means new faces making the tournament and many believed the repeat teams made the playoff boring.
Why 12 teams and could it be fewer?
--Adding eight more teams seems to make most happy. It's impossible to get everyone to agree on a number. My guess is there are a few commissioners and ADs who want to stay at four. But 12 is a number that allows everyone to say P5 champs get a slot and make the regular season important(more on this in a moment). A dozen teams likely means a bone is thrown at the top G5 team(which still requires a committee to determine who that team is).
--Could they choose 6, 8 or 10 teams? Yes. Don't think a dozen is set in stone. There will be models that argue if 9-3 SEC teams deserve a spot in a 12-team format.
What about conference title games?
--This is where it gets interesting. For all P5 leagues this game means money. And these days, no one is giving up money. But my prediction is every league will re-evaluate how they select their teams for a conference title game. Conferences may do away with the division model and pit the top two teams against each other. Why? Because the feeling is a playoff selection committee would likely look favorably on a 11-2 team who just lost to a 13-0 team as opposed to a 9-3 or 8-4 team that won a division and then wins a conference title game. The SEC may choose to keep its current format because it's worked but every conference will study how to determine title game teams.
--Here's something else I suggest every conference do. There will be seasons where a team loses one game to the best team in the league and if that lose is within your division it's possible the one-loss team is not playing in the conference title game. But perhaps that team or multiple teams in your league are in the same position. This past year, in dealing with the pandemic, the season started late and scheduling needed to be flexible. The Big Ten gave us the plus-one model for championship week. All teams played and matchups were based on division standings. Once the two teams playing for the conference title game are set, leagues can then pit games that might help at-large teams and their resume. Imagine if Florida had lost to Georgia but won their other 10 games or maybe was 9-2. The SEC could give Florida a quality game to bolster their at-large resume by playing 9-2 Texas A&M that championship weekend.
What about teams playing 17 games?
--It is amazing how we went from coaches and ADs talking of their concern for the health of the players when we said it would be hard to expand a playoff to four teams and play 15 games. Now we seem to have no problem with the idea that a UCF could play 17 games if they played 12 regular season games, a conference title game and then four playoff games. Money seems to make all pain go away.
What about the NFL and their schedule?
--And here is what people are forgetting right now. The NFL rules all. They play when they want to play and don't care what your plans are. The league is expanding its schedule to 17 regular season games over 18 weeks. The Super Bowl is moving to the second Sunday in February and any expanded College Football Playoff will need to avoid competing with the NFL.
--My suggestion is that college football celebrate every new season with a two-week party featuring bowl games. The NFL has consistently said it wants no part of Labor Day weekend. Great. College football should own that weekend and the week before. Start the season the last weekend of August and allow teams to play either weekend. Play games Thursday through Monday those weekends and provide more national TV windows to showcase big games. I suggested in my column in April(see link above) that major bowl games should strongly consider a move to the start of the season. With expanded summer weekends, fans can travel to these bowl games and enjoy great matchups. I've suggested keeping the current conference matchups in these bowl games. Let the previous season champions in the Big Ten and Pac 12 meet in the Rose Bowl Labor Day weekend. Let the SEC and Big XII champs meet in New Orleans one of those kickoff weekends. Let the Citrus Bowl host the second place teams from the SEC and Big Ten Labor Day night. An expanded playoff will make bowls reinvent themselves and this way they remain relevant and play at times fans feel good about their team. There could be other bowl games that remain in the holiday season for those teams who don't make a playoff and there's nothing wrong with that
--But back to the schedule...We've moved up the start of the season but that also means we end the season earlier. My model ends the regular season the week before Thanksgiving. While some schools have no problem drawing a crowd that holiday weekend, many do. My plan moves conference title games to Thanksgiving weekend. The NFL owns Thursday and Sunday but college football has Friday and Saturday to play their conference title games and any conference who wants to use the "plus-one" model of scheduling games to help at-large teams.
--If there is a 12-team model, I would then take the following week off. The bye week allows teams to get healthy and adds to the hype of the event. If we give four teams a first round bye those teams are rewarded with two weeks to get healthy and prepare. Using the 2023 calendar, first round games would be played December 9th. Maybe you want to play one game on Friday night and three on Saturday of this weekend. Play the quarterfinals the following weekend on December 16th(again, maybe you play one game Friday night and three on Saturday). Then take a week off around Christmas and play your semifinals on New Year's Day and then your title game on your second Monday of January and crown a champ.
--The above model avoids conflicts with the NFL. The NFL regular season ends January 14th in 2023. The league will play games on Saturday in week 17 and you don't want to compete with that. My model rewards top teams with an extra week off and gives all four semifinal teams a week off.
Who knows what format and how many teams the powers who run the game will settle on but there appears a movement that is no longer an idea but something inevitable. The pandemic has pushed up the plan to expand the playoff and if the media partners are ready to do it sooner than later, it will happen. It may not be until the 2024 season(2023 at the earliest) but it looks like it's coming. Then we will spend time complaining which 9-3 SEC team got in over an 11-1 G5 team with two P5 wins...
Final thought: Rollins college played in the first Cigar Bowl in 1947 in Tampa. The Tars lost to Delaware 21-7. FSU beat Wofford in the 1950 version of the game. The bowl was last played in 1954.