From the Basement: College football playoff should expand to 12 teams

Jude Papillion, Sports Editor

College football is constantly evolving and after eight years since the College Football Playoff and its selection committee replaced the computer calculated Bowl Championship Series, many are pushing for the four-team playoff system to expand. Besides obvious factors such as potentially making losses and mistakes by top programs less significant and the toll a potential 17-game season could have on college athletes, the pros to expanding the College Football Playoff to 12 teams instead of four outweighs the cons. 

The two most critical reasons in favor of expanding the College Football Playoff is the elimination of potential “what if” scenarios and to allow Group of Five teams to compete for national titles. 

In the 2020-21 season, both Coastal Carolina University and University of Cincinnati went undefeated in the regular season and were named conference champions but did not make the playoff. While these teams might not have a shot against a program like the Alabama Crimson Tide, we never had a chance to see if these teams could wreak havoc on any of college football’s powerhouses on the biggest stage.

In fact, it seems like the playoff selection committee blatantly favors Power Five programs over Group of Five teams such as Coastal Carolina and Cincinnati. In last season’s Dec. 8 playoff rankings, 8-2 Iowa State was ranked #7, one spot ahead of the highest ranked Group of Five team, then-unbeaten Cincinnati from the American Athletic Conference. Iowa State was also ranked 12 spots ahead of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, whose only loss at that point was to unbeaten Coastal Carolina on a last second field goal and who beat Iowa State by 17 points earlier in the season.

AAC Commissioner Michael Aresco accused the playoff committee of “undermining its credibility with rankings that defy logic and common sense and fairness,” adding, “I never thought I’d say it, but if this continues, bring back the BCS and the computers because it would be a fairer system than what I’m seeing now. This is the seventh year [of the CFP], and it does appear the deck is stacked against us and other [Group of 5 teams].” No Group of Five team has ever made the playoff including University of Central Florida who went undefeated in the regular season in 2017 and 2018 but did not make the selection committee’s cut. 

While this is a significant problem for Group of Five teams, it also affects Power Five teams. Because the current model is limited to four teams, it is impossible for a team from every Power Five conference to compete for a title every year. 

In the few seasons since the playoff’s inception, only three Power Five conferences were represented in the playoff, such as in 2017-18 when two teams from the Southeastern Conference, SEC champions University of Georgia and one-loss Alabama made the cut.

To solve these problems conference commissioners must come together, but the road to expansion has not been easy. After examining over 100 postseason formats, a subgroup of the playoff’s management committee proposed changing the event to a 12-team format in June. Decision-makers first met to talk about expansion approval last Wednesday, weighing a variety of issues such as if 12 teams the right number, should first-round games be hosted by bowls instead of being played on campus, should there be automatic bids for conference champions, should expansion wait for the playoff’s current contract with ESPN to expire in order to hear offers in an open market and what should be done about the Rose Bowl. The Rose Bowl presents a unique challenge because it insists on keeping its kickoff time and date from changing and also wishes to keep its separate contract with the Pac-12 and Big-10 for tie-ins. 

The playoff is in the eighth season of a 12-year contract and ESPN holds exclusive rights to broadcast the playoff games through the 2025 season. The entire 12-year deal is worth more than $5.6 billion; however, an expanded playoff could increase the playoff’s annual income to over $2 billion. 

According to College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock, decision-makers “have the luxury of time” to figure out the future format of the playoff. These decision-makers have three to four months to make changes to the playoff model before the initial contract expires but will have several years to sort it out if the model changes after the initial contract expires. 

The landscape of college football is constantly changing, as seen by both talks of playoff expansion and the recent rise in conference realignment, sparked by University of Texas at Austin and University of Oklahoma leaving the Big-12 for the SEC. Only time can tell what the key decision-makers in college football’s biggest dance will decide, but it is clear that expansion is the best path for more exciting football.