Top 5 Reasons to Not Expand the College Football Playoff
College football is as close to perfection as any sport will come.
You've got vital games throughout the season and elite teams not afraid to step out of their conferences (in a normal year) to play excellent outfits from other Power Five conferences. Then, when the stars align like they did for the LSU Tigers a season ago, you get to play for a title in a free-for-all College Football Playoff.
In most cases, there are division champions and conference title games, and the best of the best get to have their shot at one another in a four-team playoff at the end of the year.
Are there some flaws? Of course.
Every year, there is discussion about which teams are best and how the committee is going to rank everybody. But most years, there is little question which teams should be left standing in the College Football Playoff. The on-field resumes normally speak for themselves, which is why there's no real reason for expansion of the end-of-the-year spectacle that is the playoffs.
Sometimes, like in 2017, you'll have a quality, undefeated Group of Five program like UCF screaming foul because it didn't get a chance to play in the four-team showdown. But the NCAA recognizes the Knights' claim for a national title that year, so what's the big deal?
As we'll discuss, they probably wouldn't have that title banner had they been invited. So, everybody's happy.
There's an added kink thrown into the playoffs this year, too, so here are the reasons not to expand in 2020.
This Year, Everybody Is Playing the Pandemic, Too
The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting college football in a major way. Two weekends ago, 15 games were canceled or postponed for pandemic-related reasons. Last week, that number swelled to 18.
Many leagues have elected not to play out-of-conference showdowns, scheduled shortened seasons and generally balked at playing any game in which the opponent has reported multiple positives. That's as good a reason as any for why there's simply no way to expand the College Football Playoff this season.
This is a situation in which you are just thankful to play the opponent in front of you, get there, get on the field, get off and see the result go in the record book as a completed game.
Can you imagine a 16-team showcase playoff at the end of the year with myriad games canceled? When would it end? A playoff full of cancellations would not only be a nightmare for the student-athletes trying to finish off or start semesters, but it would also cause major travel issues.
Programs also have to think about the bottom line. It costs athletic departments tons of money to play a game and plenty more to travel to one, and one glimpse at the stands this year should tell you all you need to know about how much money programs are losing.
Not everybody makes the money of the Alabamas and Ohio States of the world. So, while the exposure would be excellent, would it be worthwhile for Group of Five teams like Cincinnati, BYU or especially a program like Coastal Carolina to absorb those costs to travel? Maybe. Maybe not.
The pandemic is throwing a wrench into everything, and plenty of layers of preparations before every game are impacted.
Yes, the committee's selection process will have some imperfections with so many teams playing different numbers of games, and the final four selections will lead to some consternation. But this is not the right time to test the expansion waters.
Part of the Fun Is Debate and Controversy
Speaking of that aforementioned consternation, let's face it: Everybody enjoys taking part in the water-cooler talk about sports, and nothing makes those strong feelings bubble to the surface quite like the back-and-forth over which teams belong and which don't.
We're still talking about Central Florida three years after it didn't get the opportunity to play in the College Football Playoff, and the Knights won't be the only one. Several Group of Five programs—Cincinnati, BYU and even Coastal Carolina—have looked like world-beaters this year, but could any of them get a serious look?
Texas A&M beat Florida earlier this year, but the Aggies will likely get to watch Alabama play the Gators in the SEC Championship Game. If Florida beats UA, could the Gators and Crimson Tide both go to the CFP?
What happens if that occurs and Clemson beats Notre Dame in the ACC Championship Game with a healthy Trevor Lawrence? Does the committee put in the Fighting Irish and keep out an SEC team?
Then there is the Pac-12 and its slimmer slate of games. It may help that the conference allowed out-of-conference games with stipulations last week so teams can bulk up their resumes, but it's still going to be interesting to see how programs playing fewer games will be treated.
Ohio State doesn't need any cancellations, either.
Folks on the other side of this argument would say it's viable to expand for several reasons. But a great season is a great season, and nothing diminishes that. For the one-loss teams: Well, you shouldn't have lost. In the case of the Group of Five teams, it's tough, but the New Year's Six is still an option.
Part of what makes college football great is the lasting impact of these discussions, and it's why an undefeated Auburn getting the stiff arm for the 2004 BCS National Championship Game is still a sore subject in the South.
The memories linger, but so does the madness.
The Power 5 Will Always Hold a Huge Advantage
When it comes to who will be selected for the College Football Playoff, there is already enough controversy stirring among Power Five programs. But much of the Group of Five buzz should die down in time.
Most of the people around college football know what would ultimately happen if you matched Cincinnati or BYU against Alabama or Ohio State.
It probably wouldn't be pretty.
In 2017, with all the angst surrounding Central Florida's exclusion, the Knights wound up playing No. 7 Auburn in the Peach Bowl. They beat the Tigers 34-27, but AU finished with four losses and had just been whipped 28-7 by Georgia in the SEC Championship Game.
How good were the Tigers? How much did they want to be in that game after they spiraled following a huge Iron Bowl win?
While last year's Cincinnati team was decidedly not as good as this year's, the Bearcats had the opportunity to play a playoff-bound team early in the season when they took on Ohio State. They lost 42-0 in a game that was never really close.
Yes, there are occasionally miracles and flukes when the stars align—Boise State and the famed hook-and-ladder play that upset Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, for example—but those types of games are the exception, not the norm.
Expanding the College Football Playoff would be exciting for Group of Five programs that wouldn't normally have the opportunity to show up on a national stage, but what happens when they leave the field licking major wounds?
The players and coaches at those programs would tell you it was worthwhile. But those pairings would just be wasting fans' time. The best players normally go to the Power 5 programs, and that produces the best teams. The playoffs are designed for the best teams.
Keep it that way.
Every Game Matters
Factions of sports are already gravitating toward the damaging, everybody-gets-a-trophy mentality that doesn't really teach life lessons about dealing with failure.
Do we really want the highest levels of competition to adopt that, too?
While it's fun to see a 9-7 NFL team Cinderella its way through the playoffs and make a Super Bowl appearance, it doesn't happen all that often. This year's expansion of the Major League Baseball playoffs allowed two losing teams to actually make the postseason.
In the NHL, the playoffs are even referred to as a "second season" because you've really got to tank in the regular season to miss them. The postseason is also such a marathon that once it begins, it goes on forever and has plenty of twists and turns.
The ensuing drama is nice, but so is the way college football handles things.
In reality, the entire regular season acts as early rounds of the playoffs because every game matters. If you lose early in the season, you face an uphill battle for CFP consideration. If you lose late in the year or in the conference title game, you can just prepare for a lesser bowl game in most cases.
So much emotion is tied up in college football between intra-conference showdowns, pivotal rivalries waged every year and conference title games. They all mean so much. Every player and coach is invested in every game, and a major mistake in September can cost you majorly in December.
That's not the case in professional sports, and it wouldn't be as true at the college level with an expansion of the playoffs. Keep college football pure and make every game matter in the postseason race.
Once a team gets there, that makes it even sweeter.
There's Little Parity in College Football, Anyway
This argument bleeds over from the Power Five vs. Group of Five section a bit, but at the end of most college football seasons, it's two or three teams and everybody else.
There's not a lot of parity at the top.
No, that's not calling out Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma as being head and shoulders better than everybody else in college football, though those are a few of the usual suspects that find themselves in the catbird's seat at the end of many years.
But plenty of semifinal blunders since the inception of the playoffs should tell us all we need to know about expansion. The last of these was last year's 63-28 debacle of a loss by Oklahoma to LSU that was an embarrassment on the biggest national stage.
In 2019, it was the Bayou Bengals, Clemson Tigers and Ohio State Buckeyes. The discrepancy between those teams and the fourth-ranked Sooners was massive, so just imagine how the teams that didn't make it would have fared. It likely wouldn't have been worth watching.
For every classic like Georgia-Oklahoma in 2017 or Clemson-Ohio State last year, there are two epic duds like the Oklahoma-LSU game.
Since the inception of the playoffs in the 2014-15 season, eight of the 12 semifinal games have been decided by at least 17 points. At least one has come every single year. That means every season we've all been geared up for the playoffs, we've had to endure a clunker.
Now, there have been some semifinal thrillers, and the great games we're accustomed to seeing in the championship proves the system works way more often than not.
Expanding the playoff may give us a storybook showing or an unexpected barn-burner every once in a while. But more often than not, it's just going to be extra blowout fodder leading to the same ultimate outcome.
The best of the best usually prove it.