Expand College Football Playoff to eight teams



Derrick Henry (2) of the Alabama Crimson Tide strikes a Heisman pose after scoring in the fourth quarter during the National Championship game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Clemson Tigers at the University of Phoenix Stadium on Jan. 11, 2016 in Glendale, Ariz. Alabama won 45-40. (Charles Baus/CSM/Zuma Press/TNS)

I can’t be the only one sick of Alabama’s football dynasty after the Crimson Tide won their fourth national championship in seven years on Monday.

For myself and everyone else wanting more diversity in finalists, what if there was a way for more teams to have a crack at the title each season?

The College Football Playoff and its four-team tournament has only functioned for two years after replacing the single-game BCS national championship format in 2015. But some fans, players and media are already clamoring for that playoff to expand to eight teams. Indirectly, it would also make the path for the very top teams more challenging, as they would have to win three games instead of two to grab the title.

With 128 FBS teams competing for playoff inclusion at the start of the season, an expanded postseason would incentivize borderline teams at the end of the season and provide a more exciting system for fans.

As a result of the four-team system, Iowa, Stanford, Ohio State and Notre Dame each narrowly missed the College Football Playoff while Clemson, Alabama, Michigan State and Oklahoma made the cut. Last year, No. 8 Michigan State would have made the playoff as opposed to the Cotton Bowl.

Some of those deserving teams instead played in highly regarded — but ultimately pointless — bowl games like the Rose Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl, which serve as appetizers for the main course days later, the College Football Playoff. In a more inclusive system, those games would become part of the Playoff.

A misconception might be that the same top teams would make the semifinals regardless, due to a talent disparity from No. 1 to No. 8. But it’s hard to argue that No. 8 Notre Dame, which lost to Clemson on a late failed two-point conversion, is not in that upper tier as well.

Ohio State, last year’s champion, and Iowa each lost only once this season and to the same team: No. 3 Michigan State. Stanford featured Heisman runner-up Christian McCaffrey, and Notre Dame has NFL-level talent across the board and plays high-tempo football. Did none of these teams deserve a chance at the title because of just one or two losses to equally talented teams?

Between their pedigree and next-level talent, each of those teams could win the title, and, shockingly, others want to pit more top teams against each other as well..

“Any of these aforementioned teams could win a national championship this year,” USA Today’s Laken Litman wrote in December. “If the Playoff field were set at eight, more deserving teams would get their shot.”

One snag with this proposal is the major conference commissioners have already signed a 12-year agreement to keep the field at four teams through 2026. But numerous head coaches have expressed a desire for an expanded field, and increased pressure might cause the commissioners and College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock to reconsider before the contract expires.

“I just think four teams is too little, regardless of our situation,” Stanford head coach David Shaw said after his team lost this year’s Rose Bowl. “With enough evidence of how the seasons end, I think eventually whether it turns into an eight-team playoff or six-team playoff with two teams with a bye … at some point, we’re going to change it.”

Of course coaches who consistently find themselves at the top of the rankings do not welcome a change. Alabama coach Nick Saban said a four-team playoff “creates the most excitement for the fans.”

There are a few ways to go about the change. The CFP committee can simply expand the playoff using its own rankings and cast the net to include eight teams.

Or, to fix another problem, the Power 5 conference champions can receive automatic playoff bids, leaving three slots for at-large bids.

Meaning, after those five, use the next three highest ranked teams or two highest with the final spot going to a mid-major conference like the American Athletic Conference or Mid-American Conference.

Otherwise, teams in deep and talent-rich conferences will continue to suffer for it.

“Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan are paying a penalty for being in a division with two other strong teams,” Forbes’ Brian Goff said. “Undefeated teams may benefit from a conference that isn’t as deep as some others, as with Florida State the last couple of seasons.”

There are also financial incentives. The College Football Playoff games received by far the highest ratings of any game during the season. Last year’s championship garnered a lofty 18.5 overnight rating, though this year’s championship rating dropped 15 percent in comparison.

Additionally, with only two semifinal games before Monday night’s championship, those contests aired on the night of New Year’s Eve and subsequently received worse viewership. More games would give the committee and the networks added flexibility to create schedules to accommodate them.

We may not see this change for a few years, if at all, before the current contract expires. But if more writers and coaches continue to clamor for an extended playoff, the committee may finally acquiesce and give the people what they seem to want: more meaningful football.