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Should The College Football Playoff Expand to 8 Teams?

Andrew Schultz |
January 15, 2015 | 1:46 a.m. PST

Staff Reporter

The 2014-15 college football season was expected to be a step in the right direction for the sport with the introduction of the College Football Playoff, replacing the BCS Championship system that had been in effect since 1998. And it delivered. The season ended strong, with the #4 Ohio State Buckeyes running to a 42-20 win over the #2 Oregon Ducks.

Would Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes have won the championship with four more teams in the mix? (Wikimedia/Creative Commons)
Would Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes have won the championship with four more teams in the mix? (Wikimedia/Creative Commons)

The Buckeyes and the Ducks both earned their spot, despite suffering tough losses early in the season. The game pitted third-string quarterback Cardale Jones, who started only his third game of his collegiate career after injuries to Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett, against Heisman winner Marcus Mariota, who entered the game with a 36-4 record as a starter and is considered one of the best quarterbacks to ever play college football, as well as a possible #1 pick in the upcoming NFL draft.

If the BCS system was still in place, the championship would have likely featured #1 Alabama Crimson Tide against the #3 Florida State Seminoles, who would have earned the #2 ranking due to being the only Division I team with an undefeated record. Both of those teams lost in the first round of the playoff. The Tide lost 42-35 to the Buckeyes, while the Ducks thrashed the Seminoles 59-20.

However, despite the success and reception to the inaugural playoff, there are people hoping for a more improved playoff system. The most common suggestion is to expand the field to 8 teams, giving more programs a shot at the title and adding another set of games to the season. The question is: would this really be an improvement?

For starters, let’s take a look at the first-round matchups that would likely have taken place this season with an 8-team bracket:

#1 Alabama vs. #8 Michigan State

#2 Oregon vs. #7 Mississippi State

#3 Florida State vs. #6 TCU

#4 Ohio State vs. #5 Baylor

In this scenario, the SEC, Big 12, and Big Ten conferences all have two representatives, while the ACC and Pac-12 have one each. The first two teams out would be #9 Ole Miss, who lost 42-3 to TCU in the Cotton Bowl, and #10 Arizona, who lost 38-30 to #20 Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl.

If the above matchups were to take place across a two-day span, college football fans everywhere would be stoked. The Crimson Tide and Spartans would be a classic hard-fought battle in the trenches. Ducks vs. Bulldogs and Seminoles vs. Horned Frogs would both be battles of high-powered offenses and top-tier quarterbacks. The game between the Buckeyes and the Bears would feature the best scoring offense in college football against the “never give up” attitude of the Buckeyes.

Not only that, but fans could still get the matchups we saw to start this year’s playoffs, assuming the higher seeds won their games. An upset in any of the games would add more storylines and excitement to the second-round.

Another benefit of adding more playoff games is more revenue generated. Maximizing profits is a large factor in these types of decisions, as college football programs look for additional funds to support their facilities and programs, as well as increased publicity for their schools. It’s the main reason why the NFL is looking to expand its playoffs from 12 teams to 14 teams, and part of the reason MLB added two wild-card teams starting in the 2012 season.

That being said, adding additional games to a team’s schedule can cause added wear-and-tear on players, as well as change the impact of making the conference championship. Teams that played in their conference championship games (Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State) would have an extra game on their schedule compared to that of the other four teams. While this may not seem like much, that extra game can take a toll on a player’s body, and a conference champion that makes the championship game would likely be playing in their 16th game of the season, the same length as the NFL regular season.

Teams that didn’t play in their conference championship, or come from the Big 12, which doesn’t have a conference championship, would likely be competing in their 15th game. It’s a small difference, but one that could increase their odds of pulling off the upset. The players’ health also has to be taken into consideration, as the deadline to declare for the NFL draft is a few days after the championship (this year it's on January 15th), and many top prospects will declare for the draft after the championship and begin strength and conditioning. Having four teams in the bracket gives the playoff a Final Four-type feeling, bringing the absolute best teams together on an even playing field.

There’s no way to know what kind of impact an additional four teams would have on both the playoff system and the product on the field, but the current setup, at least after its first season, seems pretty solid. The top four teams are given a little less than a month to prepare for their semifinal game, then the winners have a week and a half to get ready for the championship game. Other teams are selected to New Year’s Six bowls which, although they don’t have the stakes of a playoff game, still provide revenue for the schools (and the NCAA), and should still be played and cheered for with the same intensity of a playoff game.

This conversation will likely be had throughout the life of the College Football Playoff, and we’ll have a better idea of how successful the current format is after a few more seasons. In the meantime, teams that are upset about being left out of the playoff have something to focus on in the offseason: building off of this season and finding a way to crack the top four next season.

Reach staff reporter Andrew Schultz here or follow him on Twitter.




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