Sports

Sadly, proposed College Football Playoff expansion puts the emphasis on access over excellence

Support has been growing for College Football Playoff expansion ever since the four-team event started following the 2014 season. Those calls were answered Thursday when the CFP working group announced that it is recommending expanding to 12 teams — the top six conference champions and six at-large teams. 

I’ll take a hard pass. 

College football did a disservice to itself Thursday. It made a resounding statement that its postseason is in the business of granting access, not rewarding excellence.

College football isn’t like other sports. Heck, it isn’t even like the professional version of its own sport. It’s a sport that has 130 teams divided up into 10 conferences based largely on geography and academics. It’s a sport that has six independent teams just to make things more complicated. It’s a sport that has teams, conferences, rosters and budgets that are not equal. 

It might seem fun to dream in some fairy-tale world that opening up access for the “little guy” would change that, but it won’t. That’s fantasy, not reality. Subjectivity is mandatory in college football, and no postseason format will ever change that unless the sport goes through a much bigger transformation.  

Our sport is beautifully dysfunctional, which is exactly the way the postseason should be. 

Nothing is clean in college football. The beauty of the postseason is that the selection committee judges the definition of “excellence” based on the landscape of each specific season. Often times, it’s a disservice to the sport’s regular season and it’s truly excellent teams to even have a fourth team in the mix … much less teams ranked Nos. 10-12. 

Did three-loss Iowa State deserve a shot at the national title last year? No offense to the Cyclones — I really do love ya — but no. Did three-loss Florida, fresh off back-to-back losses to LSU (and a shoe-toss) and Alabama? Of course not. Yet, in the proposed new format, they’d get a chance to be crowned “the best team in the nation” (sarcasm very much intended).

CFP director Bill Hancock has used the phrase “scarcity breeds passion” quite often during the current era. He’s right. 

When Ohio State lost to Virginia Tech in Week 2 of the 2014 season, we thought it was over for the Buckeyes. It was a huge upset. It reverberated through the college football world. It brought out that passion because we literally didn’t know what it meant in the brand new system. What we found out is that it didn’t matter because Ohio State made the playoff and won the title. That was in the current four-team structure. Can you imagine what that Virginia Tech game would mean in a 12-team format? It would be met with a yawn, a pat on the back and a “we’ll get ’em next time out.”

The sense of urgency and uncertainty about what any given regular-season win or loss means in the long run is a feature, not a bug. It brings out the passion that makes the college football regular season the best regular season in all of sports. The emotion immediately after a massive win or loss, no matter where it falls during the three-month regular season, is what college football is all about. That visceral response exists because of the unknown. 

Sure, we are going to get some great regular season out-of-conference matchups in this new world of a 12-team playoff. It seems like virtually all of them have already been announced since, let’s be honest, expansion was inevitable in the minds of athletic directors. That’s awesome. I can’t wait to see them. But do I want to see an undefeated MAC champ that has the opportunity to be named the best team in the nation get worked by at-large Georgia in Sanford Stadium in mid-December? Nope. I’d rather see that in September — where it belongs.

Expansion was inevitable because demand for access from the masses built into a roar. In the process, it has diminished the definition of “excellent.”



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