Expand your understanding of why growing the College Football Playoff isn’t a good thing
Look up at the clock on the wall. Or look down at your watch. Fine, just look at your phone. With each passing second — tick, tick — do you know what we’re getting closer to?
That’s right, death.
The death of the four-team College Football Playoff, that is. Come on, did you really think I was being that dark?
This weekend in Indianapolis, the 10 FBS conference commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick — otherwise known as the CFP management committee — will gather in an attempt to make progress toward expansion. If all goes well, university presidents and chancellors will be looped in before the Alabama-Georgia championship game Monday and maybe, just maybe, there will be some big news spinning out of the climactic event of the season.
For the record, I’m using “progress” and “well” very loosely.
The likeliest outcome: a 12-team playoff model that would feature the top six conference champions, according to the CFP rankings, and the six highest-ranked other teams. To this point, the clearest, most consistent talk has been about the four highest-ranked conference champs receiving first-round byes and all playoff games continuing to be hosted by existing bowls.
And when might a bigger, not-necessarily-better playoff take hold? It’s hard to pinpoint, but you can bet it will be well before the end of the CFP’s current, exclusive contract with ESPN. That runs through the 2025 season — at almost a half-billion dollars per year — but nothing is going to stop either side from upping the ante. ESPN already airs all the New Year’s Six bowls and so many others that it’s really little more than a matter of moving some puzzle pieces around.
So, yes, out with the “old” model, which, frankly, has been a competitive failure, and in with a new one that potentially adds eight more teams that have utterly zero chance of winning the title. It’s understandable if college fans don’t wish to share such a fatalistic outlook, but, hey, welcome to reality. So far, 12 out of 16 playoff semifinals have been decided by a minimum of 17 points. Four of seven title games have been, too. And many of the 16 lopsided games have been biblical beatdowns, about as enthralling as the typical Aaron Rodgers mismatch against the Bears.
Yep, exciting stuff. So exciting that I might be forced to light my own heels on fire just to stay awake and finish this column.
So, we come down to Alabama-Georgia again. Where have we seen this before? On the first Saturday of December, when the Crimson Tide beat the then-No. 1 Bulldogs. Why do we need to see it again? Because nobody else in the country has any business being on the field with either of these teams. Clearly, that would be no less true if the playoff field were expanded to eight teams or 12 or 16 or more.
“If this is the best four teams and they played each other, I don’t see the logic in [saying] if we had more teams, there would be better games,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said in a news conference in Indy. “I don’t know how that adds up.”
That’s because it doesn’t. All that adds up instead is the national focus on the playoff, which already has gotten out of control, thanks mainly to ESPN’s single-issue coverage of college football. The more teams in the playoff, the less anything else matters. Certainly not the non-playoff bowl games. And, far less than before, the rivalry-fueled “showdown Saturdays” that always have made the college game’s regular season uniquely compelling.
There’s something strange about the way this season is ending, meanwhile. With a repeat of a matchup we just saw. With bowls season — outside the four playoff teams — having been defined as much by who wasn’t playing as who was. The transfer portal is more clogged than ever. Show me an NFL mock draft, and I’ll show you a long list of college stars who blew off their bowl games to begin preparing for the next chapters of their football lives. And why not do just that? Why play in a completely watered-down non-playoff exhibition and put one’s professional career at risk?
ESPN analysts Kirk Herbstreit and Desmond Howard threw a wet blanket over the season the other day when the former complained that college players don’t “love football” anymore and the latter whined that they have a “sense of entitlement.” Sorry, fellas, but that’s not it. Those in power in college football are stopping at nothing to send revenues into orbit. Players would be foolish not to look out for No. 1, whatever that means to them on an individual basis.
Maybe one good thing will be that more playoff teams will mean more teams competing in the postseason at full strength or close to it. Alabama and Georgia are loaded to the gills with NFL talent, but their guys are still in the fight.
“War daddies,” Saban calls his best ones.
That’s about as unromantic as it gets. The love of the game? Please. College football is all about the national championship — and more so than ever. Late Monday night, only one team will be left standing. Apparently, it’s incumbent upon the rest of us to be so cynical that we don’t give a damn about anybody or anything else.