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The College Football Playoff: To Expand or Not to Expand, Part 1

With expansion talk starting to amp up, we thought it would be a great time for another STS roundtable

For many years, college footballs national championship was decided by voters. Then, along came the BCS. An era in which fans finally got to see an annual #1 vs #2 matchup, however with one caveat, and that was the fact that computers picked the two teams that would vie for the title. With it came plenty of controversy, highlighted by the 2012 title game pitting Alabama and LSU in a rematch from a game that had just taken place weeks earlier. Two teams from the same division facing off in a rematch would be the death knell to the BCS, opening up the door for the College Football Playoff, in which a committee picks the four teams.

The four team playoff has not come without some controversy, usually over who deserves that fourth spot, but all in all the committee has gotten the teams right. Yes, even last season when a Bama team that did not win its division, much less its conference, got in as the fourth seed with one loss. They only went out and won the whole thing, it is safe to say they belonged.

In normal seasons, an undefeated SEC Champ, ACC Champ, one loss Big 12 and B1G champs would make the committees selections easy. This year though, we had an added wrinkle with ND going unbeaten. That resulted in the B1G being left out for a second consecutive year, and this time it was a one loss B1G Champion Ohio State. Combine that with many thinking a two loss Georgia team deserved a spot (they didn’t) after a close loss in the SECCG, and reports have surfaced that there have been preliminary discussions to expand the playoff.

Expansion always seems to bring up a bevy of opinions. Six or eight teams? How about 16? Automatic qualifiers or no? With such an assortment of talented writers here at STS, who also happen to be rather opinionated, we thought this would be a good time for another roundtable. It will have each writers take, with a thought or two of my own pertaining to each, and ending with my own thoughts on expansion. It is rather lengthy, so it will be divided into two parts. Enjoy!

Quacking Tiger: “I was always for an 8-team playoff and thought that the conference pressure and potential money would push this forward quickly. Having been through the process now of going to two different sites and the amount of work, money, and buy-in--I’m still in favor or expansion, but understand if they keep it at 4 or move to 6 teams. with the top two getting a bye.

If you add another playoff game you might need to remove conference championships to lessen the burden and not extend the schedule even further (teams also get to practice continually, which is a tiny bit of competitive advantage). If there was expansion the first playoff game would also need to be played on the home field of the higher seeded team. Then fans wouldn’t be going to three different locations and it would still incentivize being ranked higher.

One thing to remember is that although we debate and argue about the difference between the 4 and 5 spots--that is SO much better than arguing about the 2 and 3 spots. Night and day.”

I love the idea of playing the opening round game being played on the higher seeds home field once we see expansion. It keeps teams motivated by giving them one more thing to play for. If expansion includes automatic qualifiers, this could keep help keep the importance of the regular season intact.

Ryan Kantor: “Here’s my concern with expanding the playoff - we already have enough boring games, let’s not make them meaningless too. For example, Clemson played Duke after clinching the division. The Tigers had no losses. If they lose that game, they’re on the bubble and depending on how other games went, they could miss the playoffs. With an automatic bid, why not bench your starters? Why attend? That game would only matter for seeding purposes. I’m not totally opposed to a six-team playoff (seeding would matter more), but they’d have to be very careful not to lessen the intrigue of other games. If they went to 8, I think they should remove conference championship games completely (and probably divisions too).”

My thoughts are very similar to Ryan’s. Going to 8 teams and giving the conference champs automatic bids would devalue what to me, is the best regular season in sports. Unless you do away with conference championship games, but how close are we to that really happening?

Colby Lanham: “I am all for expansion. However, I am still of the mindset that instead of an an 8-team playoff, it should be six teams in a style similar to the NFL, where top 2 seeds get bye week and 3-6 seeds duke it out to get shot at top two seeds. Imagine watching that playoff reveal on ESPN.

8 teams does, however, add more controversy and extends an already weary-bowl season while opening the skeleton laden closet of “amateur sports” by piling on more games. But, if 8 team is what we go with, more things must change. I propose several options that SHOULD COME WITH IT (besides allowing players to benefit off their own likeness): elimination of de-facto 13th meaningless conference championship games. These would be pointless if teams like UGA or Michigan could lose and still make the 8-team playoff, and an addition of an extra regular season bye week.

I’d be lying if I said a 6 or 8 playoff couldn’t work. But college football has to be willing to make overall structural changes for the most success.”

Players not being able to make money off of their own likeness is something that certainly needs to be looked at.

Connor Cummings: “I think it should expand to 8. P5 champs, best G5 team, and 2 at large bids. This keeps the conferences and the conference championships relevant while also not eliminating the chance for great teams that had a bad game and missed the championship. This also allows a team like UCF to get a chance but stay on a little lesser stage until they prove themselves.

FCS playoffs are held at campus sites until the Final, allowing fans to really rally around their team without having to pay an arm and a leg. Having a home atmosphere for the first round would add an extra layer of excitement to those early round games.

I think an 8 team playoff preserves the importance of the conferences while also allowing a team to prove that one loss doesn’t define them. And having campus games is a win for fans because nothing is better than a top flight game at home.”

Is there a G5 team worthy of inclusion every season? UCF would be without question, but there might be some years where there isn’t one that is worthy.

Make sure to check back with STS for Part 2.