Change may be coming to the College Football Playoff, just not the type you might expect
Everyone is focused on potential CFP expansion, but there are other ways to improve the system
As the fifth College Football Playoff National Championship looms, it's clear after speaking with multiple sources that there is little momentum for an immediate expansion of the current four-team bracket.
That doesn't mean that changes to the field and/or the process are off the table.
The 11-person CFP Management Committee (10 conference commissioners plus Notre Dame) and its board of managers (university presidents) will meet Monday in Santa Clara, California, in a regularly-scheduled meeting ahead of the CFP National Championship.
"Right now, it's [just] talks," said a source intimately involved in the process. "I don't think anything is imminent, but I'm guessing we're going to start digging into it a little bit. If people are expecting us to walking about the door saying, 'Here we go,' it's not going to be that way."
Several sources mentioned the word "logistics." Expanding from four to even six teams would have a profound effect on the postseason. Think of pulling a single thread that eventually unravels a garment.
For example, if the bracket is expanded to eight teams, that would create the possibility that of a pair of third-place teams from the Pac-12 and Big Ten could play in the Rose Bowl in any given year. That is assuming the format remains selecting the "best" teams instead of conference champions.
Currently, the system is open to multiple teams from a single conference.
"What are we doing to the bowl system?" that source asked rhetorically. "The guys who are really at risk [are those who would see] property values devalue in the upper bowl games."
That is just one concern. Adding more teams to the bracket would inevitably -- at least some years -- take worthy teams away from the Rose and Sugar Bowls. The so-called "contract" bowls in the system have deals with conferences in years they are not hosting semifinals or championship games. The Sugar has such an agreement with the Big 12 and SEC.
Might as well call it a physical exam from the neck down. The head is fine. That would be thefor myriad reasons.
But the underlying foundation of how teams are selected and how many teams are selected from a single conference could undergo some scrutiny.
"I feel good about it," ACC commissioner John Swofford told reporters at the Cotton Bowl last week of the four-team field. "… I think it has by and large been very well received. I know what it took to get from the BCS to this place in time. That was not an easy path, and it was a hard path. So I feel very good about where we are."
As for the complicated structure of the CFP? "What I see is a willingness to evaluate and take a look and gauge what a bigger field would mean," Swofford added.
Several sources remind that it took a period of years to go from two to four teams. That included altering bowl ties and the not-insignificant process of signing a deal with ESPN.
For years, BCS defenders said the regular season would be impacted by expansion. If anything, doubling the field to four has enhanced regular-season interest.
The CFP semifinal games have by and large become blowouts (average 20-point margin of victory). But that's not a function of the CFP. It's largely the luck of the draw and perhaps the fact that.
"We already have expanded playoffs," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said last week. "I say it every year. There are only 12-15 teams that can make it."
Some have hinted that it's time to dig down on the protocol. The four bullet points to which the CFP Selection Committee adheres have no single emphasis: championships won, strength of schedule, head-to-head results and comparative outcomes of common opponents.
For example, Notre Dame can't win a championship as an independent. The Big Ten champion has been left out three straight years. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany seemed to change his approach within a 13-day period when he told The Athletic he'd be willing to look at the CFP "structure."
There was also the concern (by some) this season that a 9-3 Florida with two FCS victories snagged a Peach Bowl spot ahead of 10-2 Washington State and 9-3 Penn State.
In general, the ACC and Big Ten don't schedule FCS teams. The ACC and SEC play only eight conference games. The Pac-12, Big 12 and Big Ten play nine. It can take up to six years for an SEC team to play the entire conference. That occurs each year in the Big 12.
"You've got to be open as a business to looking at your business," Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick told USA Today. "It doesn't mean that there's a need to change or that there's momentum to change."
Asked what it would take for ACC presidents to consider a playoff expansion, Swofford told USA Today, "A lot. A lot."
After Monday's meeting, more substantive discussions could occur at conference spring meetings in April and May.
Somewhere in the discussions, there has to be concern over player safety. Expanding to an eight-team bracket would create the possibility that two teams could be playing the equivalent of an NFL regular season, 16 games.
"That's a lot of football," said Kansas State coach Chris Klieman.
Klieman is coming from North Dakota State, which has dominated the FCS in recent years. The FCS stages a 24-team playoff each season.
On Saturday, Klieman's Bison will be playing their 19th playoff game since 2014. Alabama and Clemson will play their 15th game of the season on Monday.
"I think [the FBS has] got to be careful if they want to expand it any more than 15 games," Klieman said. "Then you really start to have an impact on those student-athletes."
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