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Let’s talk about a College Football Playoff expansion

Everyone else is doing it, so let’s just get this talk out of the way

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff-Selection Sunday Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

It seems like no matter where you turn right now, if there’s talk about college football going on, it’s talk about expanding the current four-team College Football Playoff. Most people are on board with an expansion to an eight-team format, but you will occasionally hear proposals for an FCS-style 16-team format.

Let’s just go ahead and get one thing out of the way here: there’s no chance in hell that the CFP will expand to 16 teams. To do so would mean the elimination of the 12th regular season game and/or the conference championship games. The 12th regular season game means too much financially to every school, especially the smaller or non-championship caliber teams, for that to get approved. Meanwhile the conference championship games are also cash cows and I highly doubt that conferences would be willing to sacrifice those for the sake of a 16-team playoff. So schools won’t go for sacrificing the 12th regular season game and conferences won’t sacrifice their championship games. Everyone good with moving on here? Okay, good.

Actually, for sake of completeness, let me just add that going to a 16-team format would be detrimental to the health of the student-athletes (not that the NCAA really actually cares about that) since it would mean cramming more games in a tighter window or extending the season even further into January, and it would also severely water-down the significance of the regular season. Both bad ideas. Okay, moving on for real this time.

This brings us to what is widely considered the most logical and sensible expansion proposals:

An Eight-team College Football Playoff

For those unfamiliar, here’s the gist of it:

  • Power-Five (P5) conference champions get an automatic bid
  • Top team from the Group-of-Five (G5) conferences gets an automatic bid
  • Two at-large selections

It’s pretty simple right? Right. If this format were in place for this season, you’d have a playoff of 1. Alabama (SEC) vs 8. Washington (Pac 12) and 4. Oklahoma (Big 12) vs 5. Georgia (At-Large) on one side of the bracket, and 2. Clemson (ACC) vs 7. Central Florida (G5) and 3. Notre Dame (At-Large) vs 6. Ohio State (Big 10) on the other side. Try and tell me you’re not stoked about that.

Do any regular season games need to be eliminated to make it happen? No. Do the conference championship games need to be eliminated? No. Does it water down the regular season? No, at least not to any significant degree.

Even the scheduling works out perfectly. Play the first round of games two weeks after the conference championship weekend, then two weeks after that is the semifinals, and another two weeks later is the national championship game. It fits inside the current length of time between when the conference championship games are played and when the national championship game is played. Perfect!

But I’m going to propose two items that are slightly different than the proposals of most everyone else.

P5 Relegation

No, not full-on FBS-to-FCS relegation for whole conferences or conference-to-conference relegation for specific schools; that’s never going to happen. But relegation of a poorer performing P5 conference and the promotion of a better performing G5 conference to P5 automatic bid status is beneficial for all involved.

There is a risk involved with outright giving automatic bids to the current P5 conferences. What happens, for instance, if the American goes out and adds Appalachian State, Boise State, and Utah State (with all three schools maintaining their current level of play) while dropping UConn, and shortly thereafter Texas and Oklahoma decide to leave the Big 12 for the Big 10 or SEC? At that point in time the AAC is probably a better conference than the Big 12 and more deserving of an automatic bid to the CFP.

In this scenario (or in a more general, though far less likely, scenario where over time the AAC naturally becomes stronger than the Big 12 or another current P5 conference), the AAC would be given one of the automatic berths into the 8-team CFP. This would be the best option for placing the most deserving teams from the most deserving conferences into the playoff. It would also appease the G5 conferences, while not really giving too much worry to current P5 conferences about losing their auto-bid.

Of course, there would need to be a system for determining overall conference strength (the Sagarin Rating already do this... scroll about halfway down the page). That’s not hard to figure out and shouldn’t be construed as some sort of hurdle here.

Bring back the NCAA Football video game series and pay the players

Expanding the playoffs from four teams to eight teams will produce a ton more cash for the NCAA and it’s member schools. There’s already little excuse not to pay the players, but this is really a win-win opportunity here for the NCAA to be proactive, settle the lawsuits without being dragged through the courts any more than they already have been, and look like the good guys (for once).

Chances are that the NCAA is going to lose the lawsuits already placed against them and that they’re going to have to pay players sooner or later (but probably sooner). The NCAA can get out in front of this and posture an expanded playoff as being about and for the players. Offer the players a cut of the playoff revenue that would/will be generated from the four additional games and also off the players their fair share of revenue from using player likenesses in a newly instituted NCAA Football video game series (another cash cow).

An 8-team playoff is going to happen; it’s just a matter of time. There are ways to make it even better, though.