Sports Take: How big should College Football Playoff be?

Senior running backs Abram Smith (left) and Trestan Ebner celebrate after winning the Big 12 Championship on Dec. 4 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Josh Wilson | Roundup

By Marquis Cooley | Sports Editor, Nate Smith | LTVN Executive Producer and George Schroeder | LTVN Managing Editor

After the birth of the College Football Playoff (CFP) in 2014, it quickly became apparent to college football fans that four teams in the postseason tournament wasn’t enough — especially when certain conferences seem to get priority over others.

Including in upcoming playoffs, the Southeastern Conference (SEC) has had at least one representative every year, twice taking up two of the four spots. The Big Ten has missed out two times, and this year will be the first time the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) won’t have a team in the mix. For those conferences, as long as a team loses no more than two games in the regular season and finishes with a conference championship, a spot in the playoffs is essentially guaranteed. However, for a Pacific-12 or Big 12 team to be viewed as good enough to be in, they have to be flawless, as one loss can essentially negate their entire season in the eyes of the committee.

While playoff expansion seems to be coming to fruition eventually, there is a debate on what that magical number is that’s fair to everyone without diluting the overall product. Here are our opinions on what amount of teams would make for a perfect CFP.

Marquis: Case for an eight-team playoff

While there should be expansion, it doesn’t need to be massive. Doubling the amount of teams to eight makes for an easy transition, while also creating a more exciting playoff atmosphere. While it’s often obvious who the top two teams are by the end of the regular season, most years the third and fourth teams aren’t decisively better than those ranked fifth and sixth, so why not let them settle it on the field. Also, eight spots allows for more opportunities for Group of Five teams and independent schools to make it in if they’re able to prove themselves against their competition, even if their schedules may not compare to those in Power Fives.

Look at the top eight teams from this season and think about the matchups we would see in the first round alone. No. 8 University of Mississippi would get a shot at redemption against No.1 University of Alabama. No. 2 University of Michigan and No. 7 Baylor would play each other for the second time in history, only seeing each other in 1997. You would get a battle between college football powerhouses in No. 3 University of Georgia and No. 6 Ohio State University, while wrapping up with No. 4 University of Cincinnati trying to prove beating No. 5 University of Notre Dame earlier in the year wasn’t a fluke.

There is an argument to be had about whether or not Power Five champions deserve an automatic bid, but I don’t think that’s necessary. I understand in this particular scenario the Pac-12 still wouldn’t have a representative, however, a two-loss Pac-12 champion would’ve been ranked top eight. The same goes for every other Power Five conference champion. I don’t think we need to reserve spots for conferences because winning a conference doesn’t necessarily make you one of the top teams in the country. It’s hard to argue a 9-3 Pac-12 champion Utah is better or more deserving than a 10-2 Ole Miss or Ohio State.

Going above eight teams for a playoff would give way to three- or even four-loss teams making it in and first round playoff games would often just be top-ranked teams massacring the lower-ranked opponents. The line has to be drawn somewhere, and eight provides the perfect place to put it. It still gives teams a chance to recover from one bad loss and perhaps a thriller in which they were upset. Losing three or four games in a 12 game season, especially when considering most teams’ first few games are essentially preseason games against FCS opponents, doesn’t make a compelling case for a playoff berth, which is why talk of postseason expansion should cease at eight.

George: Case for a 12-team playoff

We’re all tired of seeing the same three teams and Alabama sitting at the top of the CFP Rankings basically every year, but it’s not necessarily the fact that they get in every year that bothers us. It’s the fact that they take the spot from someone else. A four-team playoff is not enough.

The perfect number is 12. Less, and the window for non-conference champions to enter is slim, and a playoff larger than 12 teams could essentially mean the regular season doesn’t matter.

Every Power Five conference champion would be an automatic qualifier. This would leave seven at-large bids, still leaving more room to get in than currently available, even if offering a spot to the highest ranked Group of Five champion.

The value of conference championships has been lost, starting back in the BCS era and continuing with the College Football Playoff. It’s even worse now because some teams don’t even have to win their conference to make it in. Conference play needs to mean more, and a 12-team playoff would help to re-localize college football. “What if there’s a major upset in the conference?” Well, If you proved you’re good enough, you’ll still be able to earn your spot in the bracket after a loss in a championship.

Four games could be added before the New Year’s Six bowls in a 12-team playoff situation. The top four teams would sit out during the first four games, then join after the first round. This preserves the important bowl games, and the rotating bowls can continue to circulate every year as the semi-finals. The first four extra games needed for the bracket would be at homesites. Considering this year is the first time a championship game will be played in the Midwest (the closest it’s ever gotten to the North), it’s about time the SEC was welcomed to the snow of Ann Arbor.

A 12-team playoff expansion allows for the prevention of regular season “elimination games.” Essentially, one bad loss at the wrong time and you’re done. Even a loss in a top-10 matchup can prevent entire conferences from a shot at a national title.

The CFP selection committee gets a lot of things right every year, but it will always make people mad regardless. So let’s forget the endless arguing and subjective, back-and-forth ESPN drama. You say Baylor is better than Georgia? Let them go prove it. The ranks of college football shouldn’t come down to a committee. Our national champion should be the one who earns it, and a 12-team playoff is the perfect way to prove who does.

Nate: Case for a 24-team playoff

The debate ends here. The magic number to make the best version of the College Football Playoff is 24. It already exists in the FCS (the lower half of Division I football), and it is magical. In fact, even with a 24-team playoff, Division I FBS would still have the most exclusive playoff of any division of NCAA football. Division II has a 28-team playoff, and Division III hosts a 32-team playoff. To put it in the simplest terms possible, more teams equals a larger chance for chaos, and more chaos means more fun.

The reason we all love college football is because of this chaos. The exciting finishes, the upsets and the games that just make absolutely no sense is what makes college football great. Allowing 24 teams is the way that we can best take advantage of that. Since a 24-team playoff is employed by the FCS, there is already a proven model for it in place. As a frame of reference, you can find this year’s FCS playoff bracket here.

In an FBS context, the bracket would theoretically have the first two rounds of the playoffs hosted at the home stadium of the higher seed in a given matchup, and the top four seeds would get a bye to the second round. Despite the addition of playoff spots, this keeps the regular season as an integral part of college football. As we all know, things like home field advantage or an extra week of rest are vital to a team’s success.

One of the biggest criticisms of the current format is that it doesn’t give the little guy a fair chance. It takes teams like Cincinnati two years of near perfection to ever garner consideration. One of the strengths of the current four-team format is that the exclusivity of a four-team playoff ensures that the regular season matters. Under a 24-team format, you are rewarded for having a stellar regular season, but your playoff hopes aren’t ruined by an uncharacteristic loss in September, or by the fact that you don’t play in the SEC.

Most importantly, it gives us the opportunity to witness the occasional Cinderella run in college football. One of our biggest complaints about the current format is that we find ourselves watching the same four teams play every year. Take this year for example. As unlikely as it would be, under this format, great Group of Five teams, such as San Diego State, Louisiana and Houston, would get their shot to take down the big dogs, and powerhouses having a down year such as Clemson would get their chance at redemption. A 24 team playoff would have the chance to provide some of the greatest college football moments we’ve ever seen. It would be a shame if we missed out on them because we were afraid to think outside the box.