Now that it seems all but certain we're getting a college football playoff beginning in 2014, the main item for haggling is where to play the games. If it's a four-team model, the two most likely options are to play semifinal games at the home sites of the top-seeded teams and a championship at a neutral site, or to play all three games at neutral locations.
The latter seems to be the favorite, with the Chicago Tribune reporting that smaller campus stadiums worry the BCS conference money people, and CBS Sports reporting that the off-campus plan is the most likely. The SEC also doesn't like the idea of flying all around the country, but maybe that's another issue*. There's also the luxury box angle -- NFL stadiums have them, while many college stadiums would need several years worth of playoff revenue to upgrade there.
* Probably not.
If basic stadium capacity is actually a concern, and not just a desire to appease the influential (RRRICH WITH CASH) committees behind the Rose, Sugar, Orange and Fiesta bowls, then somebody hasn't crunched the numbers yet. This is where we come in!
Let's say a college playoff was limited to cities that currently host BCS games, as Pete Thamel reports could happen. The average capacity of the Rose Bowl, the Superdome, and whatever we're calling the Arizona and Miami NFL stadiums these days is 77,363.
Add in, say, the Georgia Dome, Lucas Oil Field and Cowboys Stadium, all of which have collegiate bona fides, and we're at 78,128. Get crazy and use all 32 NFL stadiums as potential destinations. The average capacity? 71,093.
Now let's average together the home stadium capacities of every team that would've hosted a college semifinal since the BCS began in 1998:
An average of 86,710, with only three games in 14 seasons winding up at relatively small stadiums. Those three games would've sold out in minutes anyway, which we can rarely say about neutral-site games under the current arrangement. Most of the time, school stadiums will allow better attendance than NFL stadiums can.
That's not including the home stadiums of Michigan (109,901 capacity), Penn State (107,282), Georgia (92,746) or Texas A&M (82,600), all of which are bigger than every NFL stadium save Jerry Jones'. That's also not factoring in the endless facilities arms race -- LSU's Tiger Stadium, for one, is set to approach 100,000. Notre Dame's, Wisconsin's, South Carolina's and Clemson's home fields all already exceed 80,000, with about another dozen at the NFL average or bigger, depending on whether we really want to count, like, the Superdome in Tulane's name.
Almost by definition, successful programs make more money, which they use to make room for their growing fan bases. Therefore, teams with bigger stadiums are going to be more likely to host playoff games. And speaking of more money, a playoff could mean another $150 million or more for football programs to split up, which translates to bigger buildings across the board.
In summary, we can hope the powers don't try and sell college football fans on the idea that college football stadiums aren't big enough for college football. We can think bigger for college football's playoff system than mere NFL stadiums.