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Is An Eight-Team Playoff on the Horizon?

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NCAA Football: CFP National Championship-Alabama vs Clemson Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Ever since the College Football Playoff system began in 2014, fans everywhere have been crying out for it to be expanded, at least to eight teams. In fact, just yesterday, Jason Kirk of SB Nation’s college football page, presented his take on expanding playoffs to a six-team system, an eight-team system, and even a 24-team playoff. He used this year’s final CFP rankings to build the brackets. If you like the idea of an expanded playoff, it is worth a look.

Well, if you are really just hoping someone who has some pull will come out in favor of playoff expansion, your cries may have been heard. On Wednesday, NCAA President Mark Emmert, speaking at the Learfield Sports Intercollegiate Athletics Forum in New York stated not only would he be open to expansion, he supported it as a fan. Graham Watson, the editor of Dr. Saturday on Yahoo Sports, quoted Emmert as saying, “I’m kind of old school about that, I guess. It would be really fun to have a model where those five champions all got a crack at moving forward. I don’t know what that looks like.”

Now, it should be noted that the NCAA has NO say in the post-season for college football. That doesn’t take away the fact that it is very interesting that the head of the NCAA has stated publicly that he favors an expanded playoff. VERY interesting, in fact.

However, my favorite response to Mark Emmert’s statement is the man who should have a statue in his honor on campus at Rutgers, Jim Delany. Never known for pulling punches, Mr. Delany basically told Mr. Emmert to stay out of it. George Schroeder, who writes for USA Today, put this out on Wednesday:

Delany is right, as usual. First, Mark Emmert doesn’t have a vote on this thing. Who does? I’d bet you fairly large sum that if you asked 100 football fans who does run the playoff, you wouldn’t get five that knew the answer to that.

The College Football Playoff is actually a company, called CFP Administration LLC. It is headed by a Board of Managers and a Management Committee. The Board of Managers is made up of 11 college presidents. One representative from each FBS conference (Power Five and Group of Five), plus Notre Dame (to represent independents). The Management Committee is made up of the Commissioners of the ten FBS conferences and Notre Dame Athletic Director. They are the decision-makers for the Playoff.

And the money generated is serious coin. In 2012, ESPN gambled and paid $7.3B (that’s billion, with a capital B!) In the first year, they charged advertisers $1M per 30-second ad. Since then, the interest (and the revenue) has risen. Would interest grow with expansion? If we had a definitive answer to that question the issue would be settled. Without increasing revenue, no expansion will ever take place.

Going back to the tweet above, Jim Delany has a second point, and he is right about that as well. Everyone in America has an opinion, including me. Here is my take on it. Before I go there, I know that everyone has their own opinion on how the Playoff should look. The difference is, I have the microphone right now, so I get to say what I want.

What do we need?

We need an eight team playoff. This year’s choices for the playoff (with which I agree, by the way) demonstrates the inherent weakness of the current four-team format. A team who did not win (or even get to play) for a conference championship is in the playoff, and the winner of the conference championship is out of the playoff.

Of course, the special circumstances of how Ohio State is in, and Penn State is out, make the choice a logical one to anyone who does not have a State College, PA return address. It doesn’t make it right, though.

When do we need it?

We need it as soon as possible. That would be in 2017. That would require a LOT of legwork, as two more playoff games/sites would be needed for the additional teams. They could easily be taken from the New Year’s Six Bowls, as the Peach, Fiesta, Rose, Sugar, Orange, and Cotton Bowls trade off which ones will be part of the playoff bracket. So, instead of two playoff bowls and four non-playoff bowls, all of them take part in it. Four would be the initial round, the other two would be the “semi-final” games, and then the championship game. All six would participate in the playoff every year.

Who would be chosen?

Here’s where I get my say. Winning a conference championship of a Power Five conference should mean something to someone. If you don’t believe me, ask the Big XII what they think. So, winning the conference championship in the ACC, Big Ten, Big XII, Pac 12, and SEC would be an automatic berth in the playoff. Next, the best team of the Group of Five should have a seat at the table. Automatically. Without question. In that way, those teams have a real shot at a National Championship. They NEVER will with only four teams, and five larger conferences. Finally, the last two should be “at-large” bids. This rewards the best teams who, for whatever reason, did not win their championship. Whether it is because of the win-loss stats, who beat whom in the course of the season, or a particularly strong conference in a given year, two additional teams would get a shot.

How would that look?

Well, for this year, the teams would be (seeding is in parentheses):

ACC: Clemson (2)

Big Ten: Penn State (5)

Big XII: Oklahoma (7)

Pac 12: Washington (4)

SEC: Alabama (1)

Group of Five: Western Michigan (8)

At-Large: Ohio State (3), Michigan (6)

So, Alabama takes on Western Michigan, Clemson against Oklahoma, Ohio State against Michigan, Washington against Penn State. How it goes from there would be easy to figure out in advance. Any regular eight-team bracket would set it up just fine.

Why Would That Help?

It gives legitimacy to Power Five conference championships, it gives the Group of Five an annual legitimate shot at a title, and strong teams who didn’t win the conference title still have a way to win as well. The battle regarding whether a team who doesn’t win the conference should, or should not make the playoff goes away. And, adding additional teams helps with the fights over who gets in and who does not.

Why Wouldn’t That Help?

It doesn’t matter how many teams you add to a playoff, the teams that just miss the cut will always feel slighted. No matter how large the field, everyone wants more. Don’t believe me? Read the dozens of articles each year about the college basketball teams that are “on the bubble” or who “got robbed” by not getting into a tournament that now has 66 teams participating!

What do you think?

I’d like to hear your thoughts. Do you like an eight-team playoff, and if so, should conference championships matter? Should a Group of Five team get a guaranteed spot? Let’s see what we all say on the matter...