After college football’s conference championship weekend, it became definitively “bowl season.” However, starting in the 2014-2015 season the College Football Playoff was born and focus shifted from the bowls to that. Everyone wants a piece of the action and even without the Bowl Championship Series there are always teams that get “snubbed.” See Ohio State, University of South California and...University of Central Florida? So much of the discussion has shifted to expanding to an eight-team field. More participation, more football, more money. It’s a good idea. Or is it?
Matt Barresi: Let ‘em play. Let them all play. I like football. I like passion. I like high stakes. The college football playoff is a nice mix of all three. Incorporating more teams like Ohio State, USC and UCF, or whoever is excluded from the power five juggernauts and Group of Five championship will do a couple things in my opinion; all good things as well.
For starters, it will give us fans more high-level football. The additional games expansion would create would be competitive matchups between high-level programs. As a football fan, I simply want to see more of those games. I think it is reasonable to assume teams will approach those games with a different vigor; they’re, in theory, contending for a national championship. Any bowl game they’re in now, despite its prestige, pales in comparison from a value standpoint.
More games that are entertaining and meaningful will also generate more attention for the sport. Fans have many different options to consume now, but nothing draws the eye like the word “playoffs.” Not to mention the anticipation of the caliber of these games will likely pique the interest of more casual fans.
The media will also gobble it up. These games will get high ratings and the networks know that. They will treat them as valuable properties and contribute a good deal of airtime to cover and bubble up interest around the game. That all traces back to gaining more attention and focus for the sport. Why wouldn’t college football want more fans and more high-level games?
Luke Swanson: First off, more games in a college football season isn’t always a good thing for the players. If the playoff did expand to eight games, there would be the possibility of athletes playing 16 games in a year—a full NFL schedule. That’s way too much to ask of them, especially if we’re not gonna pay them, or even guarantee them adequate healthcare for life after football.
But even if we’re looking past that, we already get plenty of high-level games without an eight-team playoff! We still get all the bowl games, which feature huge matchups with high stakes. We get two of the most storied schools in college football in Ohio State vs. USC in the Cotton Bowl, two very quality teams in the Penn State vs. Washington Fiesta Bowl matchup, a hungry UCF team looking to prove itself against a college football blue blood in Auburn, and so on.
All these matchups are intriguing, and they don’t need the arbitrary label of “playoff” to make them interesting. To say these games aren’t meaningful, not meaningful to who? The coaches and teams are still stoked to get a win against a high-quality opponent, to show off to recruits, invigorate the fanbase, and kick off the next year on a high note. (Of course, all these matchups were even more interesting before the playoff started, but that’s another story).
Matt Barresi: Opportunity. According to Herb Brooks, great moments, are born from it. He’s not wrong. Imagine undefeated UCF taking on Clemson, Oklahoma and someone else en route to a national championship? That would make quite the story. National names like Notre Dame and Miami, who faltered late this year, might have had some juice to make a go at things and entertain the masses. But we’ll never know. Expanding the field just creates more opportunity for excitement. It also allows for wider representation. All the Power Five conferences would be able to get their best in the mix. In all likelihood, the Group of Five would get a team in. Everyone would have their heavy weights going at it. That’s all these programs and conferences can ask for, a chance to make something happen.
Anecdotally, in my home state of Massachusetts they somewhat recently adjusted their playoff system to incorporate more divisions and more playoff teams per division. It is still a flawed and evolving system; but numerous teams have gone on to win the state championship over the years, whereas in the old system they would not have been eligible for the postseason. If you want to chalk that up to luck, “getting hot,” fortuitous matchups or accepting that they may be the best team is up to you, I suppose. What cannot be denied is that these schools have used their new life to capitalize and win.
I certainly think it is plausible for the same thing to happen in college football. Notre Dame barely lost to Georgia this year. Auburn beat Alabama and just barely lost Clemson. When Penn State was on, they were eviscerating teams. UCF isn’t a fluke. Are we sure one of them isn’t the best team in college football or at the very least capable of winning the national championship? Casting a wider net and vetting more candidates allows those who caught a bad break a chance at redemption or to prove themselves. Ask any of the teams excluded this year and I’m confident they want in. I don’t see how this is a bad thing.
Luke Swanson: Even if we expanded the playoff to eight teams, UCF still wouldn’t have gotten in. In fact, in the playoff’s entire existence, no G5 team has ever ranked in the top eight. The committee has basically done everything in their power to exclude Group of Five schools from the conversation, and if they keep the committee around for an eight-team playoff, one may never get in.
When we talk about adding more games to the college football playoffs and adding more excitement to the postseason, there’s another side to the coin. Adding more spots means that games in the regular season don’t matter as much. One of my favorite parts of college football is that regular season games mean the world, and the slow expansion of the championship has partially ruined that. The Iron Bowl is one of the most heated rivalries in the sport, and Auburn finally humbling Alabama was a great moment, but it didn’t matter at all in the grand scheme of things. Alabama still got in, and if there was an eight-team playoff, they likely could have dropped the Mississippi State game the week before as well and still gotten in.
The huge importance of the regular season is one of the things that I love about college football, and that pretty much every NFL regular season game seems the same is why I’m mostly ambivalent toward the NFL. I really hope college football doesn’t change from something I love into something I don’t really like.