I’ll start off by saying I know this is a losing battle; the College Football Playoff is going to expand. It’s inevitable. The marketability of a playoff to the casual fan is too high and there is too much money to be made — without any of it going to the players, of course! — for it not to happen.
But that doesn’t mean I still can’t complain about making a move that would make college football worse as a product.
At Big Ten Media Days, Jim Harbaugh and Scott Frost both talked about wanting to expand the playoff, joining many other coaches who have spoken on this issue.
Jim Harbaugh wants an expanded playoff. "Let's go to 8 and eventually get to 16."— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) July 23, 2018
Scott Frost all in on an 8-team playoff. pic.twitter.com/EkSpvLa845— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) July 23, 2018
Let’s just get the first thing out of the way that’s bugging me. Hell no, UCF wouldn’t have made the playoff last season with an 8-team playoff. Don’t kid yourself, Frosty. UCF was ranked No. 12 in the CFP rankings after conference championship week. Instead, a two-loss Auburn — who UCF beat in their bowl game — would have made it. No G5 team will ever get a shot at the CFP. It’s not going to happen in the current landscape of the sport.
And if you think that the CFP committee will give a G5 team an automatic at-large bid in an 8-team playoff, I have a bridge that you would just love to see.
The main reason why expanding the playoff would be a bad idea? It would only further devalue the regular season. What makes college football great and unique from most other American sports is the value of each and every regular season game. Every game has weight and massive circumstances.
To have a shot at a national title, a team should have what I’ll call a National Championship Type Season. The team should at most have one loss, and it better not be a bad one, and almost always have won their conference championship — but installing the four-team playoff has hurt that last bit already. The last time a National Champion had more than one loss was in the chaos year of 2007, when LSU somehow made it through as champions. No other team in since BCS era ever won with more than one loss.
If the playoff expanded, there would be no difference for Alabama in going 13-0 or 10-2. They are in either way. The same would be true for other elite programs. Instead of Ohio State being rightfully left out for having two losses last season, they make it despite being gobsmacked by Iowa, 55-24. Rather than awarding teams that deserve to make the playoffs, expansion would only give the already privileged blue-bloods more room for error. The standard for what constitutes a National Championship Type Season would be weakened significantly.
And if it expands to 16 teams like Jim Harbaugh wants, what’s the point of the regular season anymore? There is no difference between going undefeated and going 9-3 for the elite teams anymore. The impact and significance of any given regular season game is for all intents and purposes meaningless and upsets like Illinois in 2007 against Ohio State or Stanford against USC that same year lose a lot of their luster. At that point just make one mega-conference and every week can be a damn playoff game.
College Football doesn’t need to be turned into the NFL or the NBA, where all that matters, and all fans care about, is who wins the championship. Hell, I’d argue that college football was better pre-BCS with the old bowl system, but that era is long gone. Don’t keep making it worse by further devaluation of the regular season.
Again, this is a losing battle and I’m mostly screaming at the void. Expansion is coming. I’d much prefer 6 teams, but it will likely be 8. A 16-team playoff would be a joke. All I know is when the day expansion comes, college football will be worse off for it.