The College Football Playoff is like many things in 2018: It’s fine, and it works, but it could be a whole lot better. A four-team playoff, which the sport has had since the 2014-15 season, is a marked improvement on the two-team BCS system that exactly no one liked, but there are obvious ways it can improve. For that reason, some powerful people in the sport want to try and make things better by expanding.
Nicole Auerbach of The Athletic wrote a piece that included quotes from folks like Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, Wisconsin athletic director and former selection committee member Barry Alvarez, and West Virginia president Gordon Gee. The consensus among them was that this version of the Playoff is worth examining before the current television contract is up in 2026, with Alvarez going as far as to say that expansion is something that’s going to happen at some point no matter what.
“Everyone has the same feeling; expansion is inevitable,” said Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, who served on the CFP’s selection committee from 2014-2016. “When you can do it, and I think we need to serve more people. I think four was the right way to get started. In my opinion, we need to take a look of adding more teams into the Playoff, giving more opportunities. …
“I don’t know whether we’re serving all of our people now, when you have some leagues — our league (the Big Ten) as an example. Two years in a row, we don’t have anyone represented. The Big 12’s been the same way. The Pac-12’s been the same way.”
Alvarez, as he mentions, has a horse in the race, as the Big Ten hasn’t made the Playoff in the last two years. Two major conferences — the Big Ten and the Pac 12 — have run into this issue recently, as both haven’t had a representative in the Playoff since 2016-17. There’s also the matter of Group of 5 teams having next to no shot to make it in, something that Gee and Alvarez mentioned while discussing UCF.
“I also want to be very clear: I think that there’s arrogance of us not taking a look at someone like the University of Central Florida, just saying, ‘Well, they’re not worthy of it,’” Gee said, which is a bit of a surprise to anyone who remembers his tenure at Ohio State. “Maybe they are worthy of it based upon a number of considerations that need to be taken into account.”
As for what this would look like, former Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas has given his proposed plan to some powerful people in the sport. It would get rid of conference championship games, move to an eight-team playoff, and have the first round happen on college campuses. The five Power 5 champions, the best Group of 5 team, and a pair of at-large squads would get in. Compared to the current system, it is a very good plan, one that casts a wider net than what currently exists and gives safeguards against things like the perceived bias toward southern teams and the very real bias against Group of 5 squads.
It’s not perfect, because no plan is perfect, but it is a marked improvement on the current system. It does the radical thing of actually defining how you can make it to the Playoff for six of the eight teams that would earn entry, something that changes from year-to-year based on how much the committee values conference championships and good wins and bad losses and bad wins and good losses and a billion other things that no one can quite define in a given season. Win your conference and you’re in. Don’t win your conference and you still have a path if you’re very good — think Georgia this year or Ohio State in 2016-17.