Top 5 Reasons Not to Expand the College Football Playoff
Entering the final week of the regular season, the College Football Playoff rankings show Ohio State, LSU, Clemson and Georgia slotted in the four playoff spots.
That leaves one-loss Power Five conference teams Alabama, Utah, Oklahoma, Minnesota and Baylor on the outside looking in. That list will inevitably be trimmed during the final week of the season and in conference championship games, but it has nonetheless fanned the flames of expansion talk.
Earlier this month, I laid out the top five reasons for an expanded College Football Playoff format.
Now it's time to look at the other end of the spectrum.
Do three-loss teams really deserve a chance to play for a title? Would an expanded playoff mean a watered-down regular season?
Those are just a couple of the talking points among the top five arguments against expansion.
Where Does It End?
The much-maligned BCS system was criticized for a number of reasons, the most prominent being that it didn't always provide a satisfying answer to the question of who the best team in the country was in any given year.
It was finally scrapped in 2014 in favor of the current playoff system.
Here in the sixth year of the College Football Playoff, we're already talking about another potential shake-up to the college football postseason.
If it was changed to an eight-team playoff, how long before we're weighing the merits of a 16-team field?
At a certain point, format instability threatens to undermine the entire college football landscape.
If another shake-up is coming, there can be no question that it will be in place for the long haul and is one that will leave all parties sufficiently satisfied for the foreseeable future.
The Final Spot Will Always Be Controversial
Last season, there were five deserving teams for four spots in the College Football Playoff.
A one-loss Ohio State team ended up on the outside looking in when Notre Dame and Oklahoma joined Clemson and Alabama in the playoff field.
Proponents of expansion will argue that expanding the field will eliminate such controversy.
If only it were that easy.
Instead, it would just push the controversy further down the rankings, with pundits simply pivoting to a debate over who should fill the No. 8 spot in the playoff field.
Rather than talking about Georgia, Alabama, Utah and Oklahoma for the final spot this year, we would be discussing the merits of Minnesota, Baylor, Penn State and Florida to round out the field.
Opens the Door for Even More Debate
If the College Football Playoff had been an eight-team field from the get-go, a three-loss team would have made the playoffs in 2016 (No. 8 Wisconsin) and 2017 (No. 7 Auburn).
Does a three-loss team deserve a chance to be called the best team in the nation?
Opening that door would seem to welcome debates seen during the BCS era when the team crowned "national champion" was sometimes not considered college football's best team by fans and media.
Less is more if the goal of the College Football Playoff is to unequivocally decide who the best college football team in the nation is in a given season. The argument now is that there are more deserving teams than there are playoff spots. Expanding to an eight-team field would create the opposite problem with debates over whether teams were deserving of a playoff spot in the first place.
Expansion would bring with it more controversy and a less clear picture of who belongs at the top of the heap.
Would the college football world really be accepting of a three-loss team being slotted ahead of one or more one-loss teams when the postseason came to a close and the final rankings were released?
It's a question worth asking when weighing the merits of an expanded field.
Expansion Still Favors Traditional Powers
One of the most compelling arguments for expansion is that it would open the door for a team to make a March Madness-like Cinderella run to a title.
Would that really be the case, though?
Consider the following:
"If it expands, I think it gives a huge advantage to the traditional powers. If you want a Cinderella team to win it one of these times, you can't have a Cinderella team going against traditional powers more than two weeks in a row. If it's three weeks, or four weeks of contests, it's going to be so physical, there's going to be so much carnage going on, that a team that doesn't have a lot of depth will never win it," Syracuse coach Dino Babers told Heather Dinich of ESPN.
It's a fair point.
A three-round, eight-team playoff would be a grind for a team like Memphis or Appalachian State that doesn't have the benefit of a second unit loaded with high-level recruits.
And on the off chance one reached the championship, the odds of a worn down Group of Five squad getting blown out would be high, effectively watering down the title game in the process.
A Less Meaningful Regular Season
An expanded playoff field would take away from the fact that college football has the most entertaining and meaningful regular season in sports.
There are meaningful games on the schedule that will have a direct impact on the postseason picture right out of the gates, because that first loss immediately creates an uphill battle to reach the playoff.
Case in point, Auburn handed Oregon its first loss of the season all the way back on Aug. 31, and that was still a relevant talking point with the Ducks on the playoff bubble before they were upset by Arizona State last week.
The end of the season would be even more watered down.
The SEC championship clash between LSU and Georgia? Who cares, both teams are comfortably in the playoff field regardless of the outcome.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney may have put it best while talking to Heather Dinich of ESPN:
"Everybody focuses on the playoff games and the national championship. The way we have it right now, every game we have, especially once we were positioned, every game was a playoff game. Every game. Duke was a playoff game. South Carolina was a playoff game. Pitt was a playoff game. We have layers of playoffs. The more you expand, the less the season matters, especially if a team so-called already in the playoff, well, now you're going to have people not playing guys, just like you have in all these other sports. All of a sudden, games don't matter because everybody is just playing for the playoff and they're in. What we have is the best of both worlds."
The week-to-week intrigue suffers considerably if an eight-team playoff format is adopted, and that's a big part of what makes college football so special.