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The supreme College Football Playoff expansion plan, according to the voting public

How big should this thing get? It’s the playoff of Playoffs, and you decided which plans advanced.

The drumbeat to expand the Playoff is getting louder. Several Power 5 commissioners have been talking publicly about expansion. Expansion seems like it’s coming, sooner or later, so the next question will be: how big should this thing get?

There will likely be another committee in the new iteration. Unfortunately, neither you nor I will get a chance to sit on it. But I would like to invite you, dear reader, to be part of a committee open to anyone and everyone.

We gathered here to judge the Playoff of Playoffs, as you decided which formats advance in each round.

First, keep in mind:

  • We attempted to seed by a guesstimate of how likely these formats are to actually happen within the next several years or so.
  • These don’t necessarily include or exclude campus games. Fans love them, but the powers are married to the bowl system. If you’d like to pretend all these plans involve games in campus stadiums, go for it.
  • These formats are loosely connected to certain autobid or scheduling setups in the writeups, but mentally adjust those however you like. We only voted on sizes at this point, rather than lists of exact stipulations.
  • Polls were open for one day each round
  • Every single one of these would disappoint you at some point.

Here’s the updated bracket, and below are explanations and polls:

The final matchup

No. 4 seed: A 12-team Playoff

The best argument here: the infrastructure is clearly there, with the New Year’s Six bowls already elevated above all others. People have been speculating since 2012 that a 12-team tournament is the eventual plan.

This format is definitely big enough for every Power 5 champ and the top non-power to get autobids, with six spots left for at-larges. The top seeds would get byes, so you’d preserve the sanctity of the top four.

This season, that would have given us these opening-round games:

  • No. 5 Georgia vs. No. 12 Penn State
  • No. 6 Ohio State vs. No. 11 LSU
  • No. 7 Michigan vs. No. 10 Florida
  • No. 8 UCF vs. No. 9 Washington

And then these matchups (either with reseeding or not):

  • No. 1 Alabama vs. opening-round winner
  • No. 2 Clemson vs. opening-round winner
  • No. 3 Notre Dame vs. opening-round winner
  • No. 4 Oklahoma vs. opening-round winner

No. 7 seed: Full March Madness style, with 64-plus teams

You know, the model Mike Leach has spent the last decade making headlines by advocating for.

To make it a true Madness-style tournament, unify FBS and FCS into one bracket. Here’s what that could have looked like in 2017.


Playoff expansion tournament final round

This poll is closed

  • 30%
    No. 4: A 12-team Playoff. It’s just so simple!
    (890 votes)
  • 69%
    No. 7: March Madness style, because I want to see Alabama favored by 48 in the postseason too!
    (1982 votes)
2872 votes total Vote Now

[Note: If the polls aren’t loading for you, click here to go to the actual post.]

And here are the previously eliminated plans

No. 1 seed: An eight-team Playoff

This seems to be the most popular general size, hence the No. 1 seed.

To get more specific, there are many ways to do this, but let’s go with the most common proposal: Power 5 champs, the top Group of 5 champ, and two at-larges. (No, this plan wouldn’t dilute the tournament with terrible champs.)

Straight expansion from four to eight would add an extra game for two teams at the end. The quickest and easiest move to address that is one the NCAA is already looking into: adding a 14th Saturday, allowing for two bye weeks. That would mean starting the season in August every year, not just when the calendar breaks right.

And for those of you who wonder about what an extra game will do to academics, get in line with people who have pearl-clutched about football outstripping academics for over a century.


Playoff expansion tournament round 2

This poll is closed

  • 35%
    No. 1: An eight-team Playoff, juuust big enough.
    (603 votes)
  • 64%
    No. 7: March Madness style, because 6-6 teams deserve national title shots too.
    (1099 votes)
1702 votes total Vote Now

No. 2 seed: A four-team Playoff like the current one

Keep it the same, and keep the increasingly mad factions mad, even though the committee’s mostly done a fine job.

Despite the signs pointing toward expansion, you can’t discount the status quo, at least until the end of the Playoff’s first ESPN contract after the 2026 season. The talk of change could just be that: talk. The Pac-12, Big Ten, and Big 12 could keep getting left out every so often and getting upset, or we could add new pissed off leagues.

Staying at four teams leaves open the possibility for the gold standard of college football yelling: the day the SEC gets left out. (Nick Saban can’t stay at Alabama forever.) Whenever that happens, the Playoff damn near might change the next day.

As far as the Group of 5 is concerned, we’ll just keep finding teams to marginalize as we pretend they aren’t good. That’s what this sport’s been doing since the BCS began.


Playoff expansion tournament round 1

This poll is closed

  • 42%
    No. 2: Four teams. Just keep the thing the same.
    (868 votes)
  • 57%
    No. 7: 64/68 teams because I like college basketball a lot.
    (1173 votes)
2041 votes total Vote Now

No. 3 seed: A six-team Playoff

With all the expansion talk, a six-team Playoff gets lost in the middle, but there’s a lot to like. It’d be an easy change (just putting the New Year’s Six games in a two-year rotation, rather than three, would be the simplest move), likely only add a 16th game to one schedule every few years, and would reward the top two seeds by giving them byes.

You could make this work like the current Playoff and just rank teams 1 through 6, or you could arrange a really exclusive tournament by giving autobids to each Power 5 league and one top non-power. (Or maybe you include a rankings stipulation, with only teams in the top 10 or 15 eligible for autobids.)

This would elevate conference championship games and preserve the regular season really matters, things we love about college football.


Playoff expansion tournament round 1

This poll is closed

  • 43%
    No. 3: Six teams. It’s not too big, not too small.
    (614 votes)
  • 56%
    No. 6: 24 teams. The FCS playoffs are awesome, and every FBS conference should have a chance.
    (813 votes)
1427 votes total Vote Now

No. 5 seed: A 16-team Playoff

Proposed by many throughout the years.

This is a way to expand the Playoff without any byes, but not to a level that gets truly unwieldy.


Playoff expansion tournament round 1

This poll is closed

  • 64%
    No. 4: 12 teams because the New Year’s Six games are often semifinals anyway.
    (910 votes)
  • 35%
    No. 5: 16 teams because byes are for cowards.
    (506 votes)
1416 votes total Vote Now

No. 6 seed: An FCS-style 24-teamer

This would bring FBS in line with most American championship tournaments. As Redditor lolophynarski calculated, FBS’ postseason is laughably exclusive. Out of the whole level, 3 percent of teams get in, as opposed to between 19 and 27 percent in FCS football and Division I basketball, baseball, soccer, lacrosse, and hockey.

Also, it’d mean an automatic bid for every FBS conference, meaning no more complaints from anyone about not having Playoff paths. You win Conference USA, you get a shot, period.

A 24-team playoff would match the FCS playoffs, which are great. Going to 28 (like Division II) or 32 (like Division III) could be options along this line, too. But 24 creates some more intrigue right at the bottom of the top 25.


Playoff expansion tournament round 2

This poll is closed

  • 56%
    No. 4: A 12-team Playoff, because it’s ALREADY RIGHT THERE!
    (372 votes)
  • 43%
    No. 6: A 24-team Playoff, because FCS has had this figured out for years.
    (289 votes)
661 votes total Vote Now

No. 8 seed: 128 or more FBS teams in one Playoff

Welcome to total anarchy.

At this point, we’re basically making the college football version of domestic soccer competitions like the FA Cup in England and U.S. Open Cup. Those are extracurricular tournaments while the regular season goes on concurrently. This playoff would mean nuking the college football regular season just about entirely, but it’s fun to dream.

This would be a large season tournament with almost every FBS team (unless you capped FBS at 128 teams or gave the top few teams byes). You could have an abbreviated regular season of five or so games to determine seedings, and you could keep some rivalry games. It’d be the purest tournament structure the sport could produce, albeit not necessarily the best way to find a champion.

Eliminated teams can have a ball in bowl games.


The Playoff expansion tournament round 1

This poll is closed

  • 86%
    No. 1: Eight teams
    (1317 votes)
  • 13%
    No. 8: Let’s. Get. Weird. 128 teams.
    (208 votes)
1525 votes total Vote Now