7 Reasons College Football Playoff Needs to Expand
By all accounts, the inaugural College Football Playoff was a smashing success. Following years of fan angst and complaints over the Bowl Championship Series, the first four-team playoff delivered exciting games, huge buzz and a champion who’d never have had a chance in the old format: No. 4 seed Ohio State.
What’s more, the games delivered financially, too. The CFP semifinals and title game registered as the three highest rated programs in cable television history, justifying ESPN’s investment in the playoff. And the two-day tripleheader between New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day served as a perfect showcase for college football.
That said, room for improvement exists. We all wondered what TCU could’ve done following an 11-1 regular season and a 42-3 Peach Bowl obliteration of Ole Miss. And who says Michigan State couldn’t have made a run in an expanded playoff? After all, its only losses were to finalists Ohio State and Oregon.
Even as early as last May, College Football Playoff chairman Bill Hancock was fending off talk about expanding the playoff. “It is going to be four (teams) for 12 years,” Hancock said while speaking with reporters, per Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com. “There is no talk in our group about (increasing playoff field).”
The field won’t stay at four teams forever. Here are some compelling reasons why the College Football Playoff should expand.
Allow Access to Each Power Five League
One inherent problem with the four-team format is the fact that, no matter what, one team from the Power Five leagues is going to be left out in the cold and angry.
2014’s biggest debate revolved around whether Baylor or TCU would snag the fourth spot. As it turned out, neither of the Big 12’s two best teams were worthy, thanks to Ohio State jumping them both in large part due to a 59-0 demolition of Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game.
The Bears and Horned Frogs were both mad, but someone was always going to be upset. If the field is expanded to eight teams, it would allow the champions of the top five leagues to qualify automatically, along with three at-large teams. That, in turn, might end some of the angst over “SEC bias” by opening the door for multiple qualifiers from three leagues.
Or it could allow a Boise State or East Carolina-type program to win enough games to make the top eight if they schedule well enough (something that would be nearly impossible in a four-team format). Sure, the No. 9 and No. 10 teams are going to be upset in this format. But let’s face it, someone’s always going to have an argument. Eight is enough.
Expanded Playoffs Would Mean Campus Playoff Football
Across college football, fans budget for a bowl trip. Two playoff games can be a strain, and a disappointment. Just ask all the Alabama and Florida State fans who stayed home from the Sugar and Rose Bowls, respectively, figuring they’d spend their money on a trip to north Texas for the national championship.
Yeah, not so much.
If the College Football Playoff expanded to eight teams, it’d create another round of games, which could create another round of angst over travel issues.
More likely? The national quarterfinals would be housed at campus sites, giving fans another chance to cheer for their teams at home while creating another revenue stream. Sure, it’d be another trip for the lower-seeded team regardless, but life isn’t perfect.
If you’ve ever watched the FCS playoffs, you know the energy that a home playoff game can generate—especially in cold, snowy conditions. How great would a late-December snowstorm at Michigan or Ohio State look on television?
You could even keep the bowls in the mix. Just let the quarterfinal winners advance to the New Year’s six bowls that are serving as semifinals in that season’s rotation.
Money, Money, Money
Let’s face it. College football, and college athletics in general, are an expensive proposition, what with ever-rising coaching salaries, facility arms races and lawsuits like the Ed O’Bannon case—a landmark class-action lawsuit which could generate thousands of dollars in revenue sharing for athletes once they leave school and open the door for other similar suits that could expand revenue for players.
Last week, the Power Five schools passed cost-of-attendance measures, per USA Today's Steve Berkowitz, which will cover the expenses that fall outside of those covered by athletic scholarships. They’re expected to give each athlete between $2,000-$4,000 in additional revenue annually.
All of that adds up to more money, and the need for more revenue streams.
This was the first season of a 12-year agreement for ESPN to carry the College Football Playoff. The total contract is believed to be worth a total of $5.64 billion, per Rachel Bachman of the Wall Street Journal. How much would ESPN pay for another round of games, which would surely be highly rated? Maybe not another $5 billion, but surely plenty of money over a decade or so.
Enough to cover some lawsuits and cost of attendance? You bet.
More High-Level College Football Is a Good Thing
In America, we’ve proved that we like college football. We even like bad college football, as the 39 postseason and bowl games that existed this season proved. Seventy-six out of 128 teams qualified for the postseason, which ran from a 10 a.m. local-time kickoff in the New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 20 to the national title game between Ohio State and Oregon on Jan. 12.
And there were a good number of us out there who, while not watching every second of every game, kept an eye on every bowl game. Sure, there were some duds, but tune out and you missed a gem like Central Michigan’s wild, lateral-filled ending to the Bahamas Bowl, one of the craziest plays in college football history.
Now imagine adding four quarterfinal games to the mix either just after Christmas or extending another week into January. That’s high-level football that would add another dimension to the postseason and America’s holiday season.
Why fight it? Embrace the eight-team playoff system and the chaos that will come with it.
Ratings Show a Market for More Playoff Football
Sure, ESPN paid huge money for the College Football Playoff. However, its inaugural season proved that to be a savvy investment. The national semifinals delivered ESPN’s largest overnight rating ever and were the most-watched programs in cable television history.
Eleven days later, the Oregon-Ohio State final beat those numbers, drawing an average of 33.4 million viewers, per an ESPN release (via Bloomberg News). In other words, a lot of people tuned in and enjoyed the College Football Playoff.
Another round would only ratchet up the excitement and enthusiasm surrounding the playoffs. Fans want more playoff football. Why not give them what they want?
We Have a Culture of Playoffs
We’ve become a culture of playoffs, and they’re seemingly always expanding. Why shouldn’t college football be next?
Consider this: 12 of the NFL’s 32 teams, 37.5 percent, make the playoffs, and further expansion is on the horizon, which could put more pressure on college football, per John Ourand and Michael Smith of the Sports Business Journal.
Ten of Major League Baseball’s 30 teams, or 33.3 percent, make the playoffs. In the NBA and NHL, 16 of 30 teams, a 53.3 percent clip, make the playoffs.
The NCAA men’s college basketball tournament features 68 qualifiers out of 349 Division I members. That’s 19.5 percent of its membership.
College football? Yes, we have the bowl system, but for the playoff, four of 128 teams, or 3.1 percent, make the College Football Playoff.
Even college baseball has a 64-team championship, capped by an eight-team College World Series, to decide its champion.
Four teams was a good start for college football, but expansion is necessary.
You Can Make Everyone Happy—Well, Almost Everyone
As we mentioned, no College Football Playoff short of 128 teams is going to make everyone happy. Someone is always going to complain about being left out, whether they’re No. 5, No. 9, No. 17, No. 33—you get the point. But an eight-team playoff would bring together high-level programs for some excellent college football.
Just imagine these quarterfinal matchups, as set by the final pre-playoff rankings:
- No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 8 Michigan State
- No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 7 Mississippi State
- No. 3 Florida State vs. No. 6 TCU
- No. 4 Ohio State vs. No. 5 Baylor
Would you watch those games? Of course you would!
The games would provide another level of excitement without taking anything significant from the regular season. Maybe some conference title games are just for seeding, but as we know, playing at home is pretty important.