It’s a question that divides households, ends friendships and gets children cut out of wills. It is debated by the most distinguished of academics before things eventually come to blows. There are a few fanatics that even look forward to death because they know God will finally give them the answer.
Should the College Football Playoff stay at four teams, or expand to eight?
While meeting with the media last week, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott fielded this very query. For the third consecutive year, and fourth year out of five, his conference was left out of NCAA football’s final four.
Scott noted that these consistent, self-inflicted omissions were “harmful” to the conference, and he stressed that the league has “got to be better.” But does that mean he would be open to doubling the postseason field? Yes, but only if it guarantees a spot for all five of the Power 5 Conference champions.
This, of course, would end the incessant embarrassment of the Pac-12 being college football’s Rudolph. Try as they might, its teams never get to play in the most meaningful games.
But self-serving as it may seem, Scott and the rest of college football should push to extend the CFP to eight teams. Done correctly, it would enhance the regular season and the playoffs.
Though it hurt the Pac-12, CFP committee members got lucky last weekend when Utah lost to Oregon and all the other favored playoff contenders won their games. It made it so their four selections were about as controversial as Big Bird.
But had Utah won, or had Wisconsin upset Ohio State, or had Georgia beaten LSU, it could have been chaos. Regardless of who the CFP would have selected, at least one left-out team would have a legitimate gripe.
But an eight-team field would shoot such controversy with a shrinking ray. It wouldn’t eliminate it, as there will always be perceived snubs — but it would put a huge emphasis on conference-championship games, almost giving it the feel of a four-week playoff.
But Matt, wouldn’t that devalue the regular season?
No, it would likely increase the value — particularly if you gave the higher seeds home-field advantage in the first round.
One might argue that a loss such as Oregon’s to Auburn last August would be inconsequential under this new format. Wrong. Not just because teams need to build résumés in case they lose their conference-championship games, but because such defeats could cost them a first-round game on campus.
If you had the first round played on the higher seed’s home turf, the marquee nonconference games would be just as enticing as they are now. Every conference game, meanwhile, could be the difference between you making the CFP or not.
The final four would remain as it is, with both teams playing on neutral sites. As far as all the bowl games go? Haven’t they already lost their majesty?
The Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl or Cotton Bowl don’t mean what they once did. And though the pageantry of the Rose Bowl still sparks emotion, most fan bases would rather see their teams play for a chance at the national championship.
I realize that we’re talking about the Granddaddy of Them All — but the thing about grandaddies is that they eventually have to make way for youth.
But isn’t this putting the students’ safety at risk with these extra games?
Well, the NCAA is already OK with teams playing 15 games, and a 16th would only affect two teams. Don’t get me wrong — that’s a lot of hits to endure. But I don’t think there’s a magic threshold where the body can withstand 15 and then just collapse upon the 16th.
For now, the NCAA is locked in a deal that binds it to a four-team playoff through 2026. But when it has the opportunity, it should expand to eight and give the higher seeds home field.
The suspense of the season wouldn’t change a bit. But the satisfaction at the end of it would surge.