The NCAA’s head man spoke in New York on Wednesday at the Learfield Intercollegiate Athletics Forum. Besides sporting a sweet new head salad, Mark Emmert talked about his view for a new-look playoff, and he had an idea: taking the College Football Playoff from four teams to eight, so every power conference champion could be guaranteed a bid.
The NCAA does not have any bearing on the Playoff. That’s something the organization very clearly wanted us to know before the final rankings came out Sunday:
DYK? The NCAA does not run the College Football Playoff or bowl games, aside from setting the playing rules of those competitions. pic.twitter.com/smAnaUGl5k— NCAA (@NCAA) December 4, 2016
The College Football Playoff Board of Managers — a group of 11 university presidents and managers — structures how the event works. The NCAA’s president doesn’t have the final call here, even if he might have some influence.
The rationale for an eight-team field is straightforward, even before you get to money. If you have four teams, No. 5 will be upset. With eight, No. 9 will be mad, and so on, but automatic Power 5 entrants would avoid a lot of complaining about a conference champion that doesn’t get into the dance (looking at you, Penn State).
Under this year’s final pre-bowl Playoff ranking, here’s one way to plan an eight-team field:
All five Power 5 leagues would be in it, and the highest ranked Group of 5 champion would get in along with two “wild cards” (Ohio State and Wisconsin in this case). The New Year’s Six bowls currently reserve one spot for the top non-power champ.
There are plenty of different ways to skin the cat. You could have all the Power 5s as the top five seeds, then the wild cards and the Group of 5 champ. You also don’t have to stop at eight like we illustrated last year.
Where the games would actually be played is also another story entirely. Maybe you ape the current bowl system, maybe you have them at on-campus sites. Who knows.
But how soon could a different Playoff be put into place?
Thanks to the structure of the Playoff’s media contract, the answer is not immediately. This puppy’s on a 12-year deal through January 2026. Sure, the Playoff’s executive director is on the record saying this:
"We think the four-team playoff doesn't go too far, it just goes the right distance." - Executive Director, Bill Hancock #4ward— CFBPlayoff (@CFBPlayoff) April 24, 2013
But if there’s anything you should know about college football, it’s that with enough money, mountains can move. Hancock was a strong proponent of the BCS when it was his job to be that. He’s now a strong proponent of the four-team Playoff because it is his job to be that. It could become his job to tout an eight-team Playoff, too.
If the folks in charge really wanted to put their heads together, a natural date to implement a reworked deal could be the 2019 season’s Playoff. Currently, the title games from January 2021-26 do not have locations decided, while 2021, ‘22, ‘24, and ‘25 are yet to have one of the semifinal sites pegged.
There’s a hole there to retool the thing and announce a fancy extension of the Playoff with a beefed up television contract and more teams involved, along with new title game sites and a defined semifinal bowl rotation. Maybe it will happen, maybe it won’t.
But if they want it bad enough, there’s a window to put Emmert’s wish (and the wishes of many others) into place.