College Football Playoff debate: Will we be at four teams forevermore? – Sporting News

This article appeared in the Street & Smith’s 2017 College Football Yearbook, which is available here and on newsstands now.

Four is more, but would eight be great? 

College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock squashed talks of expanding the College Football Playoff before the championship game in January. Hancock maintains that the four-team playoff format likely will stay in place through the length of the current 12-year contract. Hancock maintained the stance most advocates of the four-team playoff uphold.

“The disappointment that team No. 5 feels would be the same disappointment that team No. 9 feels,” Hancock said. “There wouldn’t be any change in that. For me, it’s about the regular season. Our regular season is so compelling, and I don’t think our leadership would do anything to diminish the regular season.”

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That’s not going to stop the debate. Let’s do a hypothetical point-counterpoint between a four-team and eight-team supporter.


The four-team playoff works. It’s like the Final Four in men’s basketball, except all the No. 1 seeds are guaranteed. Hancock makes a great point. Once the format goes to eight teams, then the pundits will spend all of November debating Nos. 7-9. A four-team format protects the regular season. How do we know? Through the first three cycles, no team with two losses has advanced to the playoff.


How can you have five Power 5 conferences and four playoff spots? You’ve created one ridiculous argument before the process even starts, and it finds systems to create other ones within those conferences. Like Baylor vs. TCU in 2014 or Ohio State vs. Penn State in 2016. An eight-team format allows those arguments to be settled in a playoff atmosphere. Why not take advantage of it?

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We already have that in the regular season. Ohio State beat Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Michigan in the regular season; the final game an unbelievable double-overtime thriller with more drama than most NFL playoff games. Why water that down for an extra round of playoff games, something that feels like wild card weekend in the NFL? For those complaining about the blowouts in the College Football Playoff semifinals the last two years, what are you going to do if there is an extra round of blowouts?


It’s more football. At least with an eight-team playoff all five Power 5 conferences would be represented and there would be no doubt about who the true champion is. Plus, you could put those first-round playoff games on campuses. Imagine Ohio State traveling to LSU or USC heading up to Michigan. Or better yet, Alabama traveling to face a Group of 5 sleeper such as South Florida or Boise State. Who wouldn’t watch that?


At home or in the stands? People would have to travel to a conference championship game, then a quarterfinal, a semifinal and a national championship game. That’s a lot of money, and the risk for empty seats grows each time we do that. If you’re going to go to eight teams, then you might as well eliminate conference championship games altogether.

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Or you could make those conference championship games mean something more by giving the winner an automatic bid to the College Football Playoff. Imagine the intensity of those games then. Wisconsin-Penn State played in the Big Ten championship game — a fantastic game, by the way — and it meant essentially nothing in terms of the playoff. Give the winner guaranteed a spot in the College Football Playoff.


That’s a slippery slope. Virginia Tech and Florida lost three games apiece in the regular season. What if they would have beat Clemson and Alabama in the conference title games? Do you leave the Tigers and Tide out and reward losing three games? We’d rather leave deserving teams out then let undeserving teams in. Tell me there would have been a better championship game than Alabama vs. Clemson.


That Rose Bowl game between Penn State and USC was darn good, too, and they were playing as well as anybody. Both had slow starts, but at least they played tough competition in September. Same goes for Oklahoma. Michigan lost two regular-season games by four points. An eight-team playoff puts all those teams in the mix, not to mention creates some great matchups. Don’t you want to see Nick Saban vs. Jim Harbaugh?


You get those in the semifinals and we’ll get them again this year. Keep in mind this is just the fourth year of this format. The first three years have created some great championship games, and we’ll probably get another one in 2017-18. People who want an eight-team playoff are asking for too much too fast, and they’ll probably ask for another round of expansion after that. Be careful what you wish for.


Probably, but we’ll argue all season about how a few more teams deserve their shot, too. The BCS started in 1998 and we had to wait almost 20 years for that playoff. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait that long for common sense to prevail. 

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