The College Football Playoff is exploring an expansion that would increase the field to 12 teams, facing off in a bracket format eventually leading to the National Championship game.
It’s a polarizing move that pits purists against those who want to see the sport evolve, much like the original proposal of the playoff itself. However, there are far more reasons why expanding the playoffs would benefit for the sport rather than hurt it. A meeting scheduled for next week will establish whether the motion will pass, which could set in motion expansion for the 2025-26 season, when the current playoff agreement expires. The reasoning behind the decision was fairly clear from those speaking to ESPN.
“This proposal at its heart was created to provide more participation, for more players and more schools,” CFP executive director Bill Hancock said. “In a nutshell, that is the working group’s message.”
So, what’s the advantage of expanding the field?
No. 1: No more “what ifs”
Okay, that might be a little bit of an exaggeration. There will always be questions about the field in any playoff-style tournament. However, take the 2020-21 season into consideration. We finished the year with Coastal Carolina and Cincinnati both going undefeated in the regular season, but eliminated from the playoffs by virtue of their low strength of schedule.
Would either Coastal or Cincinnati have a shot against Clemson or Alabama? Probably not. But we never got a chance to even see if these teams could hang with the sport’s elite. Fans of those teams argued for their teams’ inclusion in the playoffs, only to fall on deaf ears.
In an expanded 12 team playoff we would have seen both teams in, giving them an opportunity to control their own destiny. There is no good reason why this wouldn’t be better for the sport.
No. 2: It makes the season more exciting
This is based on a caveat that an expanded College Football Playoff would eat into the regular season and shorten it as a result. We don’t know what the structure of a new-look playoff season, but the hopeful result is less cupcake games are put on the schedule to run up the score and bolster a playoff bid, and more, actual quality football games would be left.
Without the pressure of finishing in the top 4, more teams can take risks in scheduling. There’s still the motivation to perform, but it’s not as pronounced as it is now — which theoretically should lead to better games.
No. 3: It makes early playoff games can’t-miss television
The problem with the top 4 format as it stands is that because of the heightened TV attention these games are always played at neutral sites. It’s fine, but it fundamentally takes away from the rabid home-field atmosphere that makes college football unrivaled.
In a 12 team playoff we’d still have the top 4 played at these large neutral sites, but the early rounds would likely be based on home-field advantage. That is awesome, and it’s sorely needed. The idea of having home field is enough motivation to continue to make teams play hard during the regular season, and offers a heck of payoff on the back end.
This just makes the game even better.
Despite all this good, there are a couple of problems ...
There is a working assumption that the NCAA’s solution to expanding the playoffs would simply mean adding more games to the season. That is not the right way to handle it, but it’s profoundly in the wheelhouse of college football to force more on players without much on the back-end.
Forcing players to participate in a 17-game schedule is not good for their futures. It’s as simple as that.
Also there’s worry that expanding the playoffs would cheapen the regular season, allowing teams to have too many errors and losses, while still making the postseason. Only time will tell whether that’s a real fear or not.
Overall, the idea of a 12-team playoff is a net positive that will largely make the end of the season more exciting and give us better games. Even casual fans will like the idea of a longer bracket and it will increase interest beyond just the four teams at the top, and die-hard CFB fans who want to see how it all ends.
We’ll know a lot more about the structure of the potential playoffs next week, and we’ll be here to keep you up to date.