The College Football Playoff (CFP) needs to expand to eight teams.
No, it shouldn’t do so because I was worried my Wisconsin Badgers wouldn’t get in despite being potential Big Ten champions. It should expand because including four teams — as the current system does — just isn’t enough.
An eight-team playoff would be large enough to include the champions of all five of the Power Five (P5) conferences, plus three at-large bids. Maybe even an undefeated team from one of the smaller Group of Five (G5) conferences could sneak in there, and we could finally have a true Cinderella story in college football.
This year, that change would make the eight teams in the playoff conference champions Alabama, Penn State, Oklahoma, Clemson and Washington, and at-large bids Ohio State, Michigan and Western Michigan.
Expanding to eight teams solves a lot of problems with the current system, including the possibilities of one P5 conference getting left out, strong conferences only being able to field one team in the playoff and not allowing G5 teams to make the playoff.
In each of the first two years of the CFP, both the Big 12 and Pac-12 have been excluded. Dominance in college football is unsustainable, so one day, the Southeastern Conference (SEC) or Big Ten could be the odd ones out. With eight teams, none would be excluded — and we could get a more accurate picture of who the best team in college football is.
This season is the first year a conference has been strong enough to reasonably have three teams in the CFP. Good teams shouldn’t be punished for playing in a good conference. An eight-team field would allow a strong conference to send multiple teams to the playoff. This year, the expansion would benefit the Big Ten. But it’s just as likely to imagine Florida State, Clemson and Louisville from the Atlantic Coast Conference making it one year; and Alabama, Louisiana State University and Florida from the SEC making it the next.
The best part of the NCAA basketball tournament isn’t seeing teams such as Duke or Kentucky go to the final four every year; The best part is seeing the Cinderella stories. The most iconic moments of March Madness are the underdog moments. These are moments such as head coach Jimmy Valvano running around looking for someone to hug after his North Carolina State team won the 1983 National Championship; the 2010 Butler Bulldogs beating Syracuse, Kansas State and Michigan State on the way to the title game; and a lanky Steph Curry leading the Davidson Wildcats all the way to the final four in 2008.
A Cinderella story in college football is a rare sight. A G5 team stunning the country by winning the CFP would be amazing, but with just four teams, it’s hard to imagine a G5 team making the playoff without having a spotless record and a few wins against ranked opponents. If the NCAA expands the field to include eight, what is the harm of giving the best G5 team the eighth seed and seeing what happens? Maybe that team would get crushed by the stronger competition, but maybe we would see some magic. I want a team like the 13-0 Western Michigan Broncos to have a chance to make some magic.
Now, I understand that the logistics of adding four more teams are complicated. Asking college students to play 15 games a season is a lot, but maybe a game could be dropped from the regular season. Every year, teams pad their schedules with at least one easy win, and dropping that game would allow more games to be played at the end of the season. For instance, Alabama wouldn’t need to play Chattanooga, which the Tide beat this year 31-3.
Adding more games would push the playoff well into the second semester, and the NCAA has an issue with two-semester sports. That can be solved by eliminating the almost month-long break between the conference championship games and the start of the playoffs.
Another issue is how to split the games between the six major bowl games. The first two rounds will fill those bowl games with the bowls rotating position. One year, the Rose Bowl would have the No. 1 vs. No. 8 matchup, and the next year, it would have one of the semifinals.
It’s also likely that a team would have to play in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, and then travel 2,166 miles to play in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta the week after. But this isn’t much different from the travelling some teams have to do during the season, and any of the cost would be covered by the increased ad revenue from the additional games.
The pros far outweigh the cons, so the CFP should expand to eight teams.