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Please, please, please expand the College Football Playoff to 12 teams

John Romano | The time has finally come for college football to join the rest of the sports world with a real postseason.
The national title won by LSU, and quarterback Joe Burrow, in the 2019 season is the only time a team other than Alabama or Clemson has finished on top since 2015. Expanding the playoff field to 12 teams will make it harder for one or two programs to dominate, and it will give everyone else a little more hope.
The national title won by LSU, and quarterback Joe Burrow, in the 2019 season is the only time a team other than Alabama or Clemson has finished on top since 2015. Expanding the playoff field to 12 teams will make it harder for one or two programs to dominate, and it will give everyone else a little more hope. [ SUE OGROCKI | Associated Press (2020) ]
Published Jun. 15

If you’re still not sure how you feel about the proposed expansion of the playoff field in college football to 12 teams, allow me to offer this simple argument:

The first year will involve more teams than we’ve seen in the entire seven-year history of the current College Football Playoff monopoly.

Yup, the current four-team format has had 28 openings since it was introduced in 2014 but, because the field is so limited annually, only 11 schools have gotten invitations. That means more than 90 percent of college football’s Division I-A programs have had their faces pressed to the window for seven long years.

To put that in perspective, only 3 percent of NFL teams have failed to earn a playoff berth during that same timeframe.

Ultimately, that’s what this proposal is all about. It’s about cash, too, of course. And television ratings, stadium expansions, athletic budgets, bowl games and cocktail parties, as well.

But for the average fan of the average program, it’s about hope and relevance. Two of the rarest commodities in college football.

Alabama coach Nick Saban and offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood hold the national championship trophy after their win against Ohio State in the College Football Playoff title game this past season.
Alabama coach Nick Saban and offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood hold the national championship trophy after their win against Ohio State in the College Football Playoff title game this past season. [ CHRIS O'MEARA | Associated Press ]

I love tradition as much as the next guy, but college football has sold pageantry, customs and gimmicks for far too long. Actual competition for the national championship, on the other hand, has been limited to a small handful of elite programs.

Now, by itself, an expanded playoff field may not drastically alter that reality. Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma and Ohio State will still be the big boys when it comes to winning championships.

But an expanded playoff field will mean more teams and more conferences are at least involved in the conversation, and it will also mean a more rigorous road to the title. You know, sort of like every other major sporting endeavor in the nation.

Look, I know the arguments against expanding the playoff field. Some people say it will ruin the integrity of the regular season, but I think that’s nonsense. People still seem to watch pro games every Sunday, and the NFL has 14 playoff spots for 32 teams.

So I think college football’s purity will remain intact with 12 teams out of 130 making the playoffs.

Plus, the proposed plan will still provide plenty of incentives during the regular season because seeding will be critical. The six highest-rated conference champions will all get automatic bids, and the top four among that group will get a first-round bye. Not to mention, seeds 5-8 will play at home during the first round.

So if you’re keeping track during the regular season, you’ve got specific motivations to finish in the top four, the top six and the top eight. And you’ll be tracking teams in other conferences to monitor their bids to finish in the top 8. When you look at it that way, it could make the regular season a heck of a lot more enticing. Losses in September and October no longer mean the Citrus Bowl is the best a team can hope for.

Speaking of bowls, the plan keeps those folks involved by turning over the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds to the traditional New Year’s Day bowls.

If there is a drawback, it is the lengthening of a college football season. The way it’s set up, some teams could play as many as 16 or 17 games in a season. That seems extreme. Maybe some schools will want to rethink adding superfluous non-conference games against cupcake opponents. Yes, there are financial advantages to those games but the new playoff could add $1.9 billion to college football’s coffers.

With an expanded playoff field, teams like Florida, who lost a tight SEC title game to Alabama this past season, still have championship hopes with multiple losses.
With an expanded playoff field, teams like Florida, who lost a tight SEC title game to Alabama this past season, still have championship hopes with multiple losses. [ JOHN BAZEMORE | Associated Press ]

And that means it will be incumbent on university presidents and NCAA officials to make sure the wealth gets spread around. Sure, we love to follow the marquee teams and conferences, but the sport benefits when the playing field is somewhat equal competitively and economically.

So is there any chance this is going to happen?

Well, the College Football Playoff management committee is meeting in Chicago on Thursday to discuss it and they could deliver it to a committee of university presidents by early next week. It won’t happen in the next two seasons, but there seems to be enough momentum to assume some sort of expanded playoffs is on the horizon.

The bottom line is that conference championships and the four-team playoff have been nothing but enticing. Winner-take-all showdowns have gradually moved us away from the inanity of meaningless bowl games, and college football is now ready to take a final plunge.

The time is right.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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