The university leaders who oversee the College Football Playoff decided Tuesday to continue exploring the possibility of a 12-team playoff this summer. The procedural step gives administrators the authority to start thinking through some of the unknowns of the expansion proposal.
Like this: What would eight more playoff teams do to the coaching carousel?
The answers are complicated, as three of Florida’s programs show. If the 12-team playoff had started in 2017, recent coaching searches at Florida State, UCF and USF would have been much more challenging — and might have ended differently for the programs and the coaches who guide them.
In 2017, Scott Frost parlayed a perfect season at UCF into his dream job at Nebraska. Two years later, a 12-win season and AAC title at Memphis earned Mike Norvell the FSU job.
With the current four-team playoff and its Power Five bias, neither the Tigers nor the Knights had a realistic shot at competing for a national title. The best they could hope for was a spot in a prestigious New Year’s Six bowl.
But under the proposed 12-team format, both teams would have earned automatic playoff bids given to the six highest ranked conference champions. The coaching carousel would have spun differently.
Because coaches routinely change jobs before bowl games — even big ones — it wasn’t a surprise that Norvell left the Tigers before their bowl game so he could focus on recruiting players and coaches for the Seminoles. But it’s hard to see him (or any other coach) making that same decision if Memphis was facing Georgia in the playoff instead of Penn State in the Cotton Bowl.
Perhaps Norvell could have done what Frost did in December 2017: Juggle the responsibilities of his new job (Nebraska) while getting his soon-to-be-former team (UCF) ready for its big bowl. But the playoff makes that choice harder, too.
The pressure of playing Auburn in the Peach Bowl cannot compare to what Frost would have felt if his Knights were playing Alabama in the playoff. The preparation can’t, either. Frost had a month between UCF’s conference title game and its bowl game; under the 12-team proposal, his first-round game would have been a week or two after the AAC championship.
The most obvious solution for schools — hire the coach after his season ends, even if it’s a couple weeks later — creates new challenges.
When Jimbo Fisher bolted FSU for Texas A&M in 2017, the Seminoles rushed their hiring process to give Fisher’s replacement as much time as possible to land recruits before the early signing period began two weeks later. Maybe the ‘Noles (or any other program) would be willing to sacrifice that precious recruiting time if it meant hiring the right long-term coach. But the delay could cost that coach much of a signing class, making his job even harder.
Expansion wouldn’t only affect Group of Five coaches considering bigger jobs. The Alabamas and Ohio States would be impacted, too.
Jeff Scott spent a month in late 2019/early 2020 straddling jobs as incoming USF head coach and outgoing co-offensive coordinator at Clemson during the Tigers’ run to the national title game. It’s an unrelenting grind, even by the grueling standards of workaholic coaches. Kirby Smart called his 2015-16 double dip (Alabama defensive coordinator/new Georgia head coach) “probably the hardest month of my life.”
In a 12-team playoff, that month would turn into a month and a half. Will playoff teams and staffs embrace lame-duck assistants for another game or two? How will those lame-duck assistants effectively recruit for their new programs if the national championship gets pushed into late January, only a week or two before the traditional signing day?
To be clear, the coaching carousel shouldn’t stop the progress toward an expanded playoff. The handful of coaches and administrators who would be inconvenienced every year are paid millions to figure these things out.
But these questions show the types of ripple effects a 12-team playoff will present — and give the sport’s powerbrokers another thing to sort through between now and their September meeting.
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